Lauchhammer is a relatively new town in South Brandenburg which was founded in 1950 by merging four municipalities to one and got city rights in 1953. However, Lauchhammer and its different parts can look back to an industrial tradition of almost 300 years. Its rise began in the 18th century with the discovery of bog iron ore deposits in the area which led to the development of metal processing industry. Even its name points to this history as it is a composite of the words “Lauch” (which is the name of a forest area nearby) and “Hammer” (another word for ironworks). In addition, the area around Lauchhammer is characterised be great lignite deposits which were exploited until 1990.
In the neighbouring town Schwarzheide, the chemical company BASF has one of its biggest production plants in Europe. Schwarzheide and Lauchhammer are classified together as so-called “Mittelzentrum” (mid-sized regional centre) which ensures the location of certain public services (e.g. secondary school, leisure swimming pool).
Population and landscape development
Already since the 1970s Lauchhammer witnessed a considerable shrinking of its population. The peak was in the 1960s with approx. 28.000 inhabitants. In 1990, the town still had almost 23.000 inhabitants whereas today the number shrank to less than 15.000. Today, Lauchhammer has a much dispersed townscape which is characterised by former mining areas within and around the urban area separating the different parts of the town from each other. With a surface of 88 km², Lauchhammer has four urban and three rural districts, the (topological) centre is a green area.
The former mining areas are both opportunity for landscape and nature regeneration but also threat as they are classified in great parts at hazard zones where landslides could occur. These geological conditions influence the development (in terms of the approval of both industrial zones and housing zones) considerably. Up to now, there was no overview about the areas which can be used for further development. Just recently a process started within which this task will be carried out connected to an overall town development strategy
Lauchhammer and energy production – a close relationship
The lignite deposits around Lauchhammer are known since the late 18th century and mining started already in the 19th century. Latest since 1900 industrialisation also started in Lauchhammer and was mainly driven by lignite extraction and processing. Until 1990, eight briquette factories and one coking plant have been established within the town but closed soon after reunification.
Lignite extraction also fuelled the development of other industries, especially heavy machinery. Still today TAKRAF, a company producing systems and equipment for mining, bulk material handling, minerals processing, beneficiation and air environmental industries, is one of the biggest employers in the town. One of its products, the former overburden conveyer bridge F60, can still be visited in the area and is witness of the region’s industrial history – both of lignite extraction and heavy machinery. However, the German lignite phase-out also affects TAKRAF which needs to reorient its economic strategy.
From 2002 to 2022, the Danish manufacturer of wind energy plants, Vestas, was also based in Lauchhammer. However, at the end of 2021, the company announced its intention to close its production facility because production costs were too high. In mid-2022, it was announced that the Chinese battery manufacturer SVolt intends to take over the site.
In addition to these economic assets, Lauchhammer is promoting its high quality of life, result of the regeneration of the surrounding lignite mining areas. In the close environment, one of Europe’s biggest water landscapes has been developed (Lausitzer Seenland) which should attract in the nearer future both tourists as well as new and returning inhabitants.
“Lauchhammer – Kunstguss-Stadt”
In order to better position itself as a tourist destination in the surrounding area of the Lausitzer Seenland, Lauchhammer decided in 2020 to give itself the byname “Kunstguss-Stadt” (Art Foundry City) and thus refer to the industrial and cultural history of the city, in which the old arts and crafts have a longer tradition than that of lignite. The Baroness of Löwendal, who is considered the founder of Lauchhammer as an industrial location, laid the foundation stone for iron smelting. The first blast furnace was put into operation in 1725. Iron casting and bronze were added later. Art casting made Lauchhammer world-famous, and in future it will be used as a slogan to boost the town’s marketing.
With the new name, the city wants to give itself a new identity, foster the identification of local residents and create new perspectives for urban development and tourism. To this end, Lauchhammer is planning to build up an education and experience centre for art casting and industrial culture under the working title “Transformation 1.535° – Kunstguss-Stadt Lauchhammer” using funding of the coal transformation funds. Under the designation “ERZ” (ore), the art foundry museum, the art foundry and the Friedensgedächtniskirche in Lauchhammer-East are to be developed into an event and education site. The designation “KOHLE” (coal) refers to the area of the so-called biotowers in Lauchhammer-West, only remnants of the lignite industry in the town, which is to be enlarged and professionalised.