Esch-sur-Alzette is Capital of Culture

Red earth, steel colossi, industrial wasteland meets university town, a biosphere reserve and hiking trails on the Minett Trail with a cultural program and unusual accommodations, that’s all ESCH2022. Esch sur Alzette is the European Capital of Culture in 2022 and visitors can immerse themselves in the industrial cultural landscape newly created here in Luxembourg’s second largest city. Those who set out on the Minett Trail in 2022 will also be entertained with a varied cultural program along the way.

With the international awards for the region in the very south of Luxembourg, it goes one after the other. It was only in the fall of 2020 that the Minett region, Luxembourg’s former industrial center, was recognized by UNESCO as a biosphere reserve. Luxembourg has since been part of a scientific program established back in the 1970s. There are around 700 biosphere reserves in 124 countries worldwide. To be internationally recognized, the area must provide people with activities in nature, finding a balance between man and nature.

Rote Erde. Entlang des Minetttrails stößt man auch auf alte Abbaustellen für Eisenerz. Mittlerweile wachsen auch auf den Bruchkanten wieder Bäume / © Foto: Georg Berg
Red Earth. Along the Minett Trail, one also comes across old iron ore mining sites. In the meantime, trees are growing again even on the quarry edges / © Photo: Georg Berg

The Minett region, which includes Esch-sur-Alzette, Luxembourg’s second largest city, was the country’s industrial region from the end of the 19th century until the 1990s. The open pit mining of iron ore has left its mark on the landscape. What remains is the giant architecture of the steel industry wastelands, mines and railroad tracks.

Im Grubengebiet Katzenberg ist die ehemalige Eisenbahnstation heute ein Museum
In the Katzenberg mining area, the former railroad station is now a museum / © Photo: Georg Berg

Today, the focus is on the recapture of habitats by nature, the memory of the cultural history of the former industrial region and a bold urban renewal. All this can be experienced by visitors in 2022 at ESCH2022, embedded in an extensive cultural program, in Esch-sur-Alzette and the Minett region.

On the way on the Minett Trail

Preparations for the ESCH2022 cultural program are in full swing.
In the meantime, a 90-kilometer Minett Trail through the Unesco Biosphere Reserve has been completed. The trails are precisely signposted. There are short hiking trails with explanatory boards and forest playgrounds for families with children.

Im Naturschutzgebiet Ellergronn gibt es entlang der Wanderwege auch Spielplätze für Kinder
In the Ellergronn nature reserve there are also playgrounds for children along the hiking trails / © Photo: Georg Berg

However, extended hiking tours through the Minett area can also be undertaken without any problems. We take bus number 12 to the Ellergronn nature reserve and are in the middle of the former iron ore mining area. Ellergronn is located just south of Esch-sur-Alzette. The Katzenberg mine area has been restored to a habitat for many different species of animals. There are numerous small ponds and pools, grassy areas but also alder forest and ash forest.

Gelungene Rückeroberung durch die Natur. Auch das gibt es entlang des Minett-Trails. Aussichten in weite Waldflächen
Successful reconquest by nature. There is also that along the Minett Trail. Views into wide forest areas / © Photo: Georg Berg

The development of geographic space is a highly exciting facet of industrial culture. In preparation for the year as ESCH2022 Capital of Culture, unusual accommodations are being created along the Minett Trail that will allow for surprising encounters between nature, trail and buildings. For example, the circular water reservoir at Schiffling is being transformed into a vacation home that largely retains its original structure and materiality. In Sassenheim, an ultra-modern vacation home is being built that echoes the roofline and form of the adjacent small industrial building.

Auf dem Minett-Trail stößt man immer wieder auf Spuren des Industriezeitalters / © Foto: Georg Berg
On the Minett Trail, one repeatedly comes across traces of the industrial age / © Photo: Georg Berg

With these and other unusual accommodations along the Minett Trail, visitors can immerse themselves intensively in the industrial cultural landscape newly created here. Those who set out on the Minett Trail in 2022 will also be entertained by a varied cultural program along the way.

ALL WE NEED! In this case, a walk around the Belval site is enough to feel the positive energy of this creative place! / © Foto: Georg Berg
ALL WE NEED! In this case, a walk around the Belval site is enough to feel the positive energy of this creative place! / © Foto: Georg Berg

Conversion of the colossi – from blast furnace to think tank

In Belval, what is currently being created along the Minett Trail has long been implemented.
After the closure of the blast furnaces, Esch-sur-Alzette was forced to reinvent itself. The conversion of the industrial wasteland of Belval is a fantastic example of the change of use.

Welcome to the future! The former industrial wasteland of Esch-Belval has become a creative place of learning and the largest site of the University of Luxembourg / © Foto: Georg Berg
Welcome to the future! Aus der ehemaligen Industriebrache Esch-Belval wurde ein kreativer Lernort und der größte Standort der Universität Luxemburg / © Foto: Georg Berg

This is where the transformation of Esch-Belval into an internationally positioned university district began in the early 2000s. A trip to Belval, which is just one train stop away from Esch main station, is not only recommended for architecture fans. Here, historical heritage collides with futuristic visions. The result is an inspiring site. Walking through the university, you can feel the creative energy flowing between old steel colossi, massive concrete skeletons and ultra-modern places of learning.

Gelungene Konversion: Zwischen Hochofen und alten Betonstützen steht die futuristische Bibliothek der Universität Belval. Im Betonpfeiler ist eine regensichere Sitzgelegenheit eingepasst
Successful conversion: the futuristic library of Belval University stands between blast furnace and old concrete pillars. A rainproof seating area is fitted into the concrete pillar / © Photo: Georg Berg

Each faculty is housed in a differently designed building. The library stands in the middle of it like a space station that has just landed. Futuristic lamps have been placed in front of the faculties’ entrance areas. Outdoor seating is everywhere. Numerous cafés and restaurants as well as cultural institutions such as the Rockhal are nearby.

Campus Belval der Universität Luxemburg in Esch-sur-Alzette, Luxemburg / © Foto: Georg Berg
Belval University, with the House of Knowledge in the background. The white scaffolding offers students seating with a wide view. But the old steel colossi always keep alive the memory of the region’s historical heritage / © Foto: Georg Berg

Boarding please! A free ride through Luxembourg

The city of Esch-sur-Alzette with the Minett region is one of five regions we explored on foot. We covered the distances between the daily stages by bus and train. Luxembourg offers its residents as well as visitors a nationwide free public transportation system. Ticket booths have therefore had their day in the Grand Duchy. And with the nationwide Move We Carry service, we walked during the day without a care in the world, while our suitcases traveled from accommodation to accommodation with the luggage service. Up to six consecutive days can be booked online. Until the end of September 2021, this luggage service is free of charge in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg.
With Move We Carry, travelers can organize luggage transport in advance.

The research trip was partly supported on site by Luxembourg Tourism

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