National Geographic : 1954 Apr
Coal Makes the Saar a Prize Belching Chimneys Write a Record of Prosperity in the Sky Above This Rich Valley Between France and Germany BY FRANC SHOR National Geographic Magazine Staff With Illustrations from Photographs by the Author THEY looked out of place and slightly comic as they filed out of the shiny aluminum bus and hurried down the cobblestoned street of the little village in the Saar-husky men with faces smeared gro tesquely black, like badly made-up candidates for an amateur minstrel show. "Coal miners," said the Saarlander who was showing me around his little country. "Here a dirty face can be a badge of honor." In the Saar I found coal-streaked faces as common as lipstick on Broadway. Beneath the tiny state lie 6 billion tons of what Emerson called "portable climate." The 20 mines which tap that enormous fuel reserve are working around the clock. Coal Smoke over Forest and Field Coal made the rolling, heavily wooded val ley, bordering on France, Luxembourg, and Germany, a prize of war and a source of in ternational controversy. Today coal has made the Saar one of the most prosperous areas in Europe. The mines are working at top speed, and the open-hearth furnaces and Bessemer converters of the six Saar steel mills are never cold. Rolling mills, glass factories, and light industrial plants are producing at capacity. There is work for every Saarlander who wants it. Almost a third of the 976,500 population earned wages in 1953. Stores packed with food, clothing, and a thousand consumer articles are crowded with customers willing and able to buy. New homes are going up at a rate of nearly a thousand a month. War damage is being cleared, and new factories established. About the only people in Europe who are not worrying about the future of the Saar are the Saarlanders. It was coal, too, which gave the Saar its present status as a self-governing state, linked with France in a Customs Union. France also handles its defense and foreign affairs. The present government was established in 1947 in an effort to settle the century-old dis pute between France and Germany as to who should have the Saar and its fuel deposits. With the Saar coal, and the steel mills which sit atop it and draw from it their fuel, France is nearly the industrial equal of West Ger many. Without it, she lags far behind in coal and steel production. But the German Government has always in sisted that the Saar is part of the Reich. When the present Saar Government was established, a beaten Germany had no voice in the discus sions. Now, however, a renascent Germany is demanding drastic modification of the Saar terms. As a result, the Saar again makes head lines-and diplomatic headaches-as it did after World War I.* The Saar is deceptive country. Late last summer I drove into Saarbriicken, the capital, for the first time. The road curved through great beech forests, past carefully tended fields where whole families were busily harvesting a good potato crop. The scenery was pastoral, but the reek of coal smoke in the air dispelled the illusion. The asphalt highway mounted a steep hill, became a cobblestoned, tree-lined street, and dropped swiftly to the capital, a city of 115,000. War Smashed the Saar Capital Saarbriicken was 80 percent destroyed or damaged by Allied bombing in World War II. Much restoration has been completed, but great areas still lie uncleared. The new build ings, starkly modern, contrast sharply with the stolid 19th-century City Hall and the crumbling brick walls of wartime casualties. The Saar River meanders through the cen ter of the city, its slow-moving oil-coated sur face nearly hidden by long rows of barges. I saw laundry fluttering from clotheslines on the decks of some of the coal- and steel-carrying craft. Barge women wore wooden shoes to keep their feet dry as they sluiced the decks. * See "What Is the Saar?" by Frederick Simpich, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, February, 1935.