A historic ironworks overlooks the city of Saarbrücken on the French–German border.
  • A historic ironworks overlooks the city of Saarbrücken on the French–German border.
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Saarbrücken, the capital of the German state of Saarland that’s right on the French border, was part of an independent nation-state created after WWI. It changed political control back and forth: at times it was part of Germany, France and Prussia as well as briefly being the nation of Saar.

The Saarland State Theater.

In 1935, pursuant to the Treaty of Versailles, the region was given the opportunity to vote on its future destination. 90% of the people voted to be part of Hitler’s Germany. Out of gratitude, Adolf Hitler had a substantial theater built – Saarland State Theater – still in operation today.

Where to stay. Victor’s Residenz Hotel is owned by Best Western, but operated at more of a luxe level than the chain in the U.S. Travelers are welcomed with a special fruit drink in champagne glasses. There’s an in-house spa and “beauty farm.” The rooms have queen-sized beds, which is rare in Europe. The breakfast buffet is rather sumptuous, with delicious Teewurst sausages, sparkling wine and luscious baked goods. Watch out for the fizzy vitamin tablets: I put two in a small orange juice and it kept overflowing like something out of Fantasia/The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.

What to do. How about checking out an ironworks in a place where iron has been wrought for 500 years? Völklinger Ironworks is the only complete antique ironworks in the world. It was the only industrial site the area not bombed during WWII; whispers of Freemason connections abound. With no money for updates after the war, some parts of it fell into corrosive disrepair, though only the blast furnace is officially closed. So, what to do with a huge monument to technology of a past era?

Art at Völklinger Ironworks.

The answer: keep it as it is forever! Thanks to its designation as a UNESCO heritage site, Völklinger Ironworks has transformed into a place of fascination for everyone: history buffs, those interested in manufacturing, artists and music aficionados. Concerts with incredible acoustics are held inside, including pop, hip-hop and even opera. There are night tours to see the complex in a different atmosphere. The site was the inspiration for Bethlehem Steel’s conversion into a casino/concert complex.


Die Bauernstube, Saarbrücken

What to eat. Völklingen’s Platform 11 3/4 keeps that industrial theme going after a visit to the ironworks. Located in a former train station, the restaurant is definitely not touristy. While casual in ambiance and serving traditional German cuisine, it has upscale touches like cooking classes and an exquisite rare liqueur collection kept in vintage cabinets.

There are people who wander the planet trying the barbeques of various regions. What about German barbeque? Okay, so it’s really more what we’d call grilling, but Saarbrücken’s Die Bauernstube is tasty just the same. With indoor patio furniture and open grills, you'll feel like you’re at a cookout year-round. Of course, they have a great selection of the local beers for which Germany is so famous.

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