Mon 23 November 2022

The emergence of the Minett

When did the Minett actually become the Minett? When and why did the iron and steel industry develop in southern Luxembourg? Learn more about the history of Luxembourg’s industrial region with the virtual exhibition

Until the mid-19th century, the south of Luxembourg was largely shaped by agriculture. The small towns in the region that later came to bear the name “Minett” mostly made a living from agriculture, forestry and commerce. Mining of the so-called minette ore, an iron ore with a relatively low proportion of iron and high proportion of phosphorus, gradually became more intensive. The Luxembourg ore deposits are the northern extension of the huge Lorraine iron ore basin that stretches as far as south as Metz. The construction of the first Luxembourg railway lines further accelerated iron mining.

The building of modern smelting works in Esch-sur-Alzette and other towns in the region around 1870 intensified the presence of the iron and steel industry in the south of Luxembourg. The introduction of the Thomas process that converted the phosphorus-rich pig iron into steel resulted in further expansion of the smelting works from the mid-1880s onwards.

However, the industrialisation of the Minett was not just a technical and economic affair. The population began to grow rapidly along with mining and iron and steel production. The mass immigration of the urgently needed workforce, initially from the Greater Region and later also from more distant regions and countries, turned the communities of the Minett into small industrial towns; however, housing construction and housing shortages, growing prosperity and poverty, consumer society and environmental pollution were all two sides of the same coin.

Overall, the iron and steel industry shaped the region and its mentality and identity for a century. With the 1975 steel crisis and the resultant deindustrialisation, the self-image and external perception of the region began to falter. What was an industrial region without industry, and what would its future place be within the country? Find out more about the history and identity of the Minett in the Minett Stories virtual exhibition.

Naming the Minett

“Minett”, “Bassin Minier”, “Land der Roten Erde”, “Terres Rouges”… How did the south of Luxembourg come to be known by these different names? What do these names have to do with the industrial history and regional self-awareness of southern Luxembourg, and with the development of Luxembourg’s national identity? And last but not least: what remains of these names today? Come with us on an exciting journey to explore the history of the naming and renaming of Luxembourg’s southern region!

Before industrialisation, the south of Luxembourg was part of a larger region known traditionally as “Gutland” because of its fertile soil. The landscape underwent major changes as a result of the industrial mining of minette ore. From around 1850, open-cast mining and underground quarrying brought the colour of the red-brown minette ore to the surface at more and more points in what was otherwise the green landscape of the south.

From the mid-1860s, variants of new names for the region began appearing in the Luxembourg newspapers, relating explicitly to the mining of minette ore: “Erzbassin”, “bassin minier”, “Minettsgegend”, “Minettskanton” and “Minett-Revier”. There had only been very occasional references to the “red earth of the Minett” since the 1870s. But a historical event caused the colour red to be even more closely linked to the name of the region: from 1892 onwards, the German company Aachener Hütten-Aktien-Verein Rothe Erde bought multiple smelting works and ore mines in Esch-sur-Alzette and the neighbouring town of Audun-le-Tiche in the French region of Lorraine (known in German as Deutsch-Oth in the annexed Reichsland of Alsace-Lorraine). The ironworks known as “Brasseur Schmelz” in Esch changed its name to “Rothe Erde”. No one in Luxembourg seemed bothered by the fact that this import of “Rothe Erde” was actually derived from the German word “roden” (meaning to clear an area of forest) and related to a district of Aachen where there was an industrial plant of the same name.

The literary works of Luxembourg poet Nikolaus Welter (1871-1951) were a defining point for the renaming of the region in the early 20th century. Welter’s poem An das Land der Roten Erde from 1906/13 glorified industry and the southern region. Alongside the name Minettsgegend (Minett region) and its variants, it now became known as the “Land der roten Erde” (land of the red earth) or “Land der Arbeit” (land of work). The term “Terres Rouges” only became part of public discourse after World War I, for example in the name of a new steel consortium, the Esch smelting works “Terre Rouge” and a new street name in Esch. The poems by Paul Palgen (1883-1966), advertising films and tourist guides now also made the name “Terres Rouges” popular amongst the French-speaking Luxembourg population. With Harry Rabinger’s (1895-1966) monumental painting “Terres Rouges”, exhibited in the Luxembourg Pavilion at the 1937 Paris World’s Fair, the concept of the Minett as the “land of the red earth” and the industrial cradle of Luxembourg as a modern industrial nation became known on the international stage. The terms “Rote Erde” and “Terres Rouges” experienced a revival in the industrial boom after 1945 and live on in today’s post-industrial era.

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