Palatinate sea breeze

Sea air in the Palatinate – how the new Saline graduation works has transformed Bad Dürkheim.

In the spring of 2007, a massive fire breaks out. Sirens wail through Bad Dürkheim early in the morning and a gleam of red light flickers ominously above the vineyards. The Saline, the graduation works located at the Wurstmarktgelände (sausage market grounds), is engulfed in flames. A good 330 metres of brushwood are ablaze. Sandstone pillars are the only remnants of the construction that had burnt down in parts 15 years ago already and that was rebuilt through hard work. “It was unbelievable, the entire construction fell victim to the fire,” head of the building control department, Dieter Petry, recalls. The next morning when he was summoned there, it became apparent it was a crime scene. Arson. The perpetrators went to prison. The brushwood burnt like tinder and hastened the fire. The last of the remaining six graduation works for which Bad Dürkheim, since 1847, had had its reputation as a salt producer and later as a salt air producer, disappeared from the townscape in a flash.

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The Bad Dürkheim town council and the mayor at the time, Wolfgang Lutz, decided to rebuild it without hesitation. The council took on the ambitious task after the federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate had declined to assume any responsibility. A powerful citizenry movement arose. The project was driven forward by a support association, which had already been involved in the first fire disaster. And even today, the association under the direction of Petra Dick-Walther is first in line when it comes to maintaining the Saline. At the moment, the graduation works association is committed to raising funds for the replacement of the 160 stone pillars of the construction.

“Graduation works are unique structures,” Dieter Petry recalls of the time when the Saline had to be reconstructed. “It started in May 2009. The construction had to be rebuilt entirely. A new technique was required in order to make the salty air blow through the construction again.” Brine spraying enriches the air with microscopic salt particles. It works today in a manner true to how the original from the 18th century did – with wooden taps.

A total of 158 lorry loads transported countless tons of brushwood worth 2.4 million euro to Europe’s biggest timber construction site. Today, the building proudly displays a sun deck, an observation deck and two portals, ten metres high and twelve metres wide that open up to provide expansive views. A café is located in the southern tower and a photovoltaic system, which could handle the annual electricity consumption of about 70 households, sits enthroned atop the roof.

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“The total cost of the construction was 5.6 million euro – which is below the projected costs,” Dieter Petry says. Every day, he was at the construction site, collaborating with the architects and tradesmen on new methods for the salt water to trickle along the brushwood smoothly.

Ever since, Palatinate inhabitants no longer have to travel to the North Sea for a gentle sea breeze along with a glass of Riesling. Bad Dürkheim now offers visitors a chance to recharge themselves, to stroll along the pretty, new salt air filling station and fill their lungs with its fresh breezes. About 100,000 visitors enjoy the amenities annually. Before the fire, only 25,000 came.

It’s simply the best thing you can do for your lungs, according to confirmed Saline fans. When they are visiting their graduation works they tend to stop over at Isenach river. Meandering from the heart of the Palatinate Forest, the stream has been partially uncovered for a few years now, after having led a shadowy existence in sewer pipes underneath the town for a long time. It was a huge project, driven forward with great commitment by the district council and realized through the dedication and participation of the locals. About 20 organisations and several hundred individuals supported the project, under the slogan “We take part.” “We have uncovered the stream along a 1.5 kilometre long stretch. It now flows through the Kurpark (health resort gardens) giving it a totally new quality,” says civil engineer Steffen Wietschorke, who is the person in charge for the project at the building control department.

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The Isenach winds its way along the graduation works once again and returns a beautiful piece of nature to the town. To date, the project has cost 8.6 million euro. It is a worthwhile investment, because uncovering the Isenach is both a practical and aesthetical improvement. On the one hand, flood protection matters are taken into account through relief and expansion and on the other hand, the place is enhanced ecologically and visually because of the stream’s natural design. All in all, along with the Saline, a magnificent ensemble has been established, consisting of 13 bridges, a waterworks playground and a water wheel. If initial returns are any indication, people are embracing it. Visitors stroll along the stream, take their dogs for a walk or go jogging, while children play at the water’s edge and school classes come here for a trip.

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The dedication of the people and the council succeeded in creating a touristic highlight. Today, visitors from the region and from throughout Germany see Bad Dürkheim as being more vivid, vigorous and healthy than ever – just like the inhabitants of Bad Dürkheim, who have rediscovered their town, do. A place with a fresh sea breeze in the midst of vineyards.


Gradierbau Bad Dürkheim