Germany Holidays: Solingen, city of blades

Around 40 miles south east of Düsseldorf lies the modest and largely unprepossessing city of Solingen. Many come here to visit Solingen castle, out on a hilltop in the town’s forested hinterland, or to experience the Schwebebahn, the upside-down railway in the adjacent town of Wuppertal. However Solingen itself has one big claim to fame: it is the centre of knife production in Germany.

Much like Meissen and its connection with porcelain, Solingen is synonymous with the manufacture of metal blades. Its topography, with soft water in the the streams running through the town and the quality of the ironstone in the surrounding hills, have made it a natural home for crafting swords and other blades.

Evidence of blacksmiths’ smelters going back over 2,000 has been uncovered here. During the Middle Ages, swords from Solingen were used throughout northern Europe and have been uncovered in numerous architectural investigations. In fact several blacksmiths from the city fled from religious persecution in the 17th century and relocated to Shotley Bridge in the UK’s County Durham to continue plying their trade.

Modern industry

In a country with so much manufacturing expertise, it is no surprise that Solingen has continued to develop its reputation. The city exports its wares throughout the world, and goes under the soubriquet of Klingenstadt, ‘City of Blades’. Sheffield in the UK has a similar reputation, but unlike Sheffield, which has seen most of the manufacturers in this industry disappear over recent decades, Solingen has gone from strength to strength.

Today the city is home to dozens of related businesses, including Wüsthof, Zwilling JA Henkels and Marsvogel. Dotted around are factory outlet stores and specialist retailers selling direct, often at considerably reduced prices. The most popular outlet is attached to the Wüsthof factory, a little over a mile north of Solingen Mitte train station.

Chefs throughout Europe use knives manufactured here, but they are only part of the story. Scissors, hunting knives, cutlery, razors and manicure equipment, basically anything that involves cutting with steel, are all produced here. Wüsthof has created an Urban Farmer knife designed to be used in the garden for harvesting fruit and vegetables.

The story of the city’s specialism is told in the Deutsches Klingenmuseum, three miles north of the city centre, where it has a huge collection of anything that chops or cuts. – Mark Arrol


Looking for more? See other destinations in Western Germany

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