On 8 August 1905, the Heimbach hydroelectric power plant went into operation after two years of construction: it was then the largest storage power plant in Europe, well-known far beyond the Eifel region’s borders. The electrical energy it produced was fed into a dedicated 400-km-long overhead line network and supplied power to the city of Aachen, a large part of the Eifel region, and parts of Cologne. However, the demand for power increased over time as a result of rapid industrialisation. As the Heimbach power station was no longer able to generate sufficient volumes of electricity on its own, it was integrated into a network with other plants.
The Heimbach power plant has preserved its special charm: it is regarded as the most beautiful Jugendstil power plant in Germany. Its aspect reminds the viewer more of a church building than of a technical installation. Because of this unique combination of architectural beauty and structural engineering, the Heimbach power plant is now a protected historical monument.
A typical element of the art nouveau architecture of the turn of the century is the bas-relief image over the main entrance, symbolizing the installation’s function. The figure is centred on a turbine with guide blades, rotor blades, and a shaft, concentrically surrounded by generator windings and coils. Lines that symbolize electric energy spread out from the centre. In art deco letters, one can read: “Kraftwerk der Urfttalsperre, erbaut i. J. 1904” (“Power plant of the Urft Dam, built in the year 1904”).
Das Wasserkraftwerk Heimbach wurde 1905 in Betrieb genommen. Es besitzt seit seiner technischen Erneuerung in den siebziger Jahren zwei Turbinen mit insgesamt 16 Megawatt Leistung, die mit bis zu 18 Kubikmetern Wasser pro Sekunde versorgt werden. Als Spitzenkraftwerk eingesetzt, erzeugt es pro Jahr etwa 25 Millionen Kilowattstunden Strom. Die Wasserversorgung erfolgt über einen langen Stollen aus der Urfttalsperre. Hier bieten die vielfach gewundenen Flussläufe von Rur und Urft die Möglichkeit, eine Flussschleife von rund 28 Kilometer abzukürzen und so ein – für Mittelgebirge außergewöhnlich großes - Gefälle von 110 Meter auszunutzen.
The museum: historical technology close at hand
Today in the Heimbach Power Plant you can still view and admire two of the eight original machines, along with the switching station that is several stories high, all lovingly restored and maintained. With their astounding dimensions and marble panels framed in mahogany, they are right next to the new control system, and they offer a fascinating glimpse into the dawn of electric power production. The power plant’s upper storey houses a large exhibition of electric household appliances from the early 20th century to the current day. From bottle warmers to cigarette lighters, here you can view many different varieties of electrical devices stemming from all periods of the 20th century.
Chamber music recitals in the midst of old turbines and shiny copper machines
Ever since 1998, the Heimbach Power Plant has been turned once a year into a concert hall for SPANNUNGEN Chamber Music Festival, which is held during a week in June. World-class pianist Lars Vogt, born in nearby Düren, is the Festival’s artistic director.