… three words that sum up the charms of Siegen. In a city surrounded by countryside with a river running through it, flowering riverbanks in the heart of town exude a very special appeal. The inviting steps by the river are both a defining landmark of the city and a popular meeting place for people of all ages. It’s scarcely believable, but for almost 50 years – until 2012 – this river was virtually invisible. It remained hidden under concrete, with an artificial riverbed, forlorn and hardly moving.
The motto of the 1970s: “Drive over the Sieg”
When the Siegplatte overhang was created in 1968/69, the planners were clearly focused on functionality rather than beauty. This was a symptom of the times: at the end of the war, 80% of Siegen lay in ruins and the priority was to establish functional infrastructure and residential space. The guiding principle of urban planning was to build a car-friendly city of wide roads, with space to park in the centre. With multi-storey car parks still far in the future, the decision was taken to construct a 5,100-square-metre concrete embankment offering parking space for 230 cars.
Celebrating the demolition: Goodbye Siegplatte, hello Sieg!
Nearly 50 years on, with redevelopment now an urgent need, the city was more than ready to say goodbye to the parking area covering the River Sieg. On the weekend of 7th/8th July 2012, some 25,000 people came to bid farewell to the Siegplatte. Around 600 students from local schools produced a giant artwork, painting their ideas for Siegen as images on the asphalt. Then the party started with live music, childrens’ entertainment, information stands, food, fireworks and a big sale of souvenir stones as locals bought up chunks of asphalt by which to remember the Siegplatte.
Returning to nature
Beneath the Siegplatte, the river and the riverbed had languished in a stone straitjacket for decades. Of the flora and fauna usually found in rivers, there was no sign. To restore the natural state of the Sieg, biologists removed the fish before construction work started; the fish were then released into another section of the Sieg for their protection. Professional hydraulic engineers took care of the new level of the river, the distribution of stones and the planting of vegetation. They replaced the paving stones with a natural ground substrate, planted trees and extended the steps directly to the renaturalised riverbank. Now, one look at the river is enough to confirm its revival: it teems with eel, trout, perch, pike, carp and many other creatures.
Meeting at the river
The 700-square-metre, 180-metre-long system of steps leading straight to the water has become the latest “place to be” in central Siegen. It has defined the modern face of the city while revolutionising the popularity of the city centre zone between the Oberstadt and Unterstadt. Today it is a gathering place for young and old, students, schoolchildren, families and groups of friends. When the heat rises, sitting in the shade of silver willows with a cold drink and an ice cream makes the temperatures bearable. Of course people also gather in the evenings, when strip lights atmospherically illuminate the Siegufer steps.
Successful project opens up new shores for Siegen
The successful implementation of the courageous and far-sighted plan to restore the river to the heart of city life, making it something for people to experience, continues to be lauded across Germany. In 2017, the city was awarded the German Landscape Architecture Prize in the ‘Green Infrastructure as Strategy’ category. Then in January 2021, the new Siegufer provided the cover image for a brochure on ‘50 years of promoting urban development in Germany’ published by the Federal Ministry of the Interior, Building and Community. The brochure highlighted the project as a prime example of such development.