Der Sinteranlage
Germany

Sonnenstrahlen, "sunbeams", come through the kicked-up coke dust covering everything below the sintering floor.
Sonnenstrahlen, “sunbeams”, come through the kicked-up coke dust covering everything below the sintering floor.

From the rooftop, Duisburg’s Sinterenlage seemed perfectly in context. Steel mills, active and abandoned, carried on puffing smoke and becoming nature again, respectively. An absurdly tall smokestack topped a power plant between a half-full gas-o-meter and suspension bridge. In the distance, outlines of buildings exactly like the one I was on repeated until the haze made them indistinguishable from the horizon.

I came from a beautiful former railworks, which was far along in its demolition not too far away. Duisburg could be called Germany’s Pittsburgh. Every part of the city seemed tuned to serve to melt ore into metal and temper and form it. This alternative steel mill, called a sintering plant, took some of the 4,000 metric tons of iron ore dust and waste from blast furnaces and turned it into steel without melting it.

One of the three ovens where the powder would be heater to over 2000 degrees... hot enough to fuse iron, but not hot enough to liquify it.
One of the three ovens where the powder would be heater to over 2000 degrees… hot enough to fuse iron, but not hot enough to liquify it.
The smokestack for the sintering plant included a big blower room, to launch the fumes into the atmosphere and away from the town. What could go wrong?
The smokestack for the sintering plant included a big blower room, to launch the fumes into the atmosphere and away from the town. What could go wrong?

The ore was mixed with coke (for heat), lime (for purity), and other additives and placed on one of the three belts that traveled the length of the plant. Along the way, the compound passed through a series of furnaces which raised the temperature of the powder to about 1200°C/2050°F, just below iron’s melting point 2,800°F/1,538°C. The iron particles would permanently fuse in an oxygen-free environment, making steel.

Dating to 1955, this plant was expanded twice in its first decade of operation and employed about 100 workers. The steel mills sold the plant during an international steel crisis in 1983 to a slag (waste rock) processing company, which closed in 1995. Since then, the plant’s attracted rule breakers, artists, and rule-breaking artists. I like to think it’s never stopped being productive.

Thanks to Natalie Lorenzo Mato und André Winternitz for their historical research, which helped me investigate the backstory of this place.

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