My Halle (Saale): Making White Gold Since 3000 BC
What do the following six towns and cities have in common?
- Hall in Tirol, Austria
- Hallein, Austria
- Hallstatt, Austria
- Schwäbisch Hall, Germany
- Bad Reichenhall, Germany
- Halle an der Saale, Germany
Hall, more than a large covered room
With “hall” in their names, all six towns listed above are historically associated with salt production1,2,3. The word “salt” is represented in Greek as hals and in Celtic (Brythonic) as hal. In pre-Roman Europe, the towns of Halle, Hallstatt, and Hallein were three centres for salt-evaporation4 which eventually became salt-making centres for the surrounding regions of Prussian Saxony, Salzkammergut, and Salzburg, respectively. Archaeological finds around Halle and along the Saale river5 uncovered evidence of heated brine (at Doläuer Heide) from the mid-neolithic age (about 3000 BCE) and briquetage ceramic vessels from the late-Bronze age (about 1000 BCE).
Mark Kurlansky wrote1: “… Salt is so common, so easy to obtain, and so inexpensive that we have forgotten that from the beginning of civilization until about 100 years ago, salt was one of the most sought after commodities in human history.”
Once a rarity, salt was a unique additive to improve quality of food preparation and consumption. Food preservation with salt also became a critical measure for survival, but also for improving the quality of food preparation and consumption. Whoever controlled salt production, sales, and distribution held power, wealth, and prestige.
German sayings with salt:
• “Freundschaft ist des Lebens Salz.” (Friendship is the salt of life.)
• “Das Essen ist versalzen, du bist verliebt.” (The food is too salty; you must be in love.)
In Halle an der Saale, a small geologic fault, the Halleschen Marktplatzverwerfung, runs underneath Halle through present-day Marktplatz (Market Square), creating the right conditions for rock salt deposits and salt leached and dissolved by groundwater into trapped pools within the bedrock. With their presence recorded as early as the 8th-century AD/CE, discovered about 20 metres underneath present-day Hallmarkt (“Das Thal”) were four brine springs6 which were significant to the city’s history of salt production. Systematic mining of salt began as early as the 10th-century AD/CE, and by the late 13th-century, Halle became a member of the Hanseatic League, providing further wealth and prestige to the region in the Middle Ages. Town residents who worked in the extraction and production of salt earned great respect and became known as the “Halloren”.
Siedessalz (evaporated salt)
Salt was extracted from the brine springs with the evaporation method. In large boiling pans, brine with a saturation rate about 20 percent is heated and boiled to temperatures of at least 70 degrees Celsius which removes water content and leaving behind salt crystal deposits; higher boiling temperatures creates finer crystals. The deposits are removed from the pans, then dried, ground, sifted, and packaged for culinary or commercial use.
The Königlich Preußische Saline (Royal Prussian Saline Works) was founded in 1721 on an island in the river Saale to create competition with primary salt production at the Thalsaline (Thal salt works at Hallmarkt) by the Halleschen Pfännerschaft (Panners Brotherhood); ironically, the latter took over operations in 1868. After operations halted in 1964, the facility was eventually converted to the Technisches Halloren- und Salinemuseum. The museum continues to produce salt using traditional boiling and panning methods.
At a modest haul of 70 tonnes (over 150-thousand pounds) per year, the Salinemusum is presently the smallest salt producer in Germany and the only museum in Europe to produce organically-certified salt regularly for tourism for visitors to buy and commerce to bakers, butchers, and grocers in Halle. The museum houses exhibitions of the city’s history; of the history of salt extraction and production; and of the Halloren, including their customs, privileges, and traditions. The museum has operated under the sponsorship by a non-profit association since 2010.
Food and drink also highlighted salt made in the museum. Soleier are eggs (Eier) hard-boiled in a brine solution (Sole). The solution preserves the eggs without the necessity of keeping the eggs cool. The production and sale of Soleier was and is among the privileges and traditions of the Halloren. That privilege also extends to the Schlackwurst (German salami) whose tradition goes back to 1704. Fresh Schlackwurst starts with ground or minced pork, Halle salt, and herbs and spices. The mixture is stuffed into natural casings and smoked with beech wood, followed by a three-week maturation period before consumption. Both eggs and salami are delicious and are easily washed down with the Saline-Bräu, a Oktoberfest-Märzen style beer from the Brauerei Landsberg near Halle.
The museum’s general manager, Mr. Kohlert, in traditional Halloren attire serves me a 2-litre glass of beer, because yes, I am served! The silver sphere buttons (Kugeln) on his red coat are the basis for Halloren-Kugeln chocolates. Later, Mr. Kohlert is leading and teaching a local group of children (4-6 years of age) about the city’s history of salt production.
Notes & Sources
1 “Salt: A World History”, by Kurlansky, Mark, Penguin Books, 2003 (Google Books).
2 The present-day words for “salt” are halen in Welsh and Salz in German. A halophile is an organism which can tolerate and thrive in saline conditions. A halogen is any chemical element (e.g., chlorine) from which strong acids are produced with hydrogen and from which salts are produced. For example, high-school students can make a soluble salt by neutralization whereby an acid (hydrochloric acid, Hl) and an alkali (sodium hydroxide, NaOH) react to form a soluble salt (sodium chloride, NaCl) in a water-solution.
3 “Celtic culture: a historical encyclopedia,” Volume IV (M—S), pg. 1555. Editor J. T. Koch, ABC-CLIO, 2006 (Google Books).
4 “Salt and Civilization”, by Adshead, S.A.M., Palgrave Macmillan, 1st ed. 1992 (Google Books).
6 The name of the “Saale” river is related to the German “Salz” for salt. Halle (Saale) is located in the southeast corner of Saxony-Anhalt, and is not to be confused with Halle in North Rhine Westphalia.
6 “Geschichte der Stadt Halle an der Saale von den Anfängen bis zur Neuzeit”, by Hertzberg, Gustav Friedrich, Halle an der Saale, Buchhandlung des Waisenhauses, 1889 (British Library image scan).
7 “Halloren Lexikon”, von Jugendwerkstatt “Frohe Zukunft” Halle-Saalekreis e.V. 2016 (PDF).
My thanks to the museum’s general manager Steffen Kohlert, IMG- and Sachsen-Anhalt-Tourismus, Isabel Hermann and Julia Oppat from Halle Stadtmarketing/Tourismus, Claudia Böttcher for her time, and Dorint Charlottenhof Halle (Saale) for their hospitality. IMG- and Sachsen-Anhalt-Tourismus supported my visit to the German federal state of Saxony-Anhalt from 25 October to 3 November 2016 inclusive. I also received assistance from the cities of Eisleben, Mansfeld, Dessau, Wittenberg, and Halle (Saale). I made the photos above on 1 November 2016. This post appears on Fotoeins Fotografie at fotoeins.com as http://wp.me/p1BIdT-9f8.
3 Responses to “My Halle (Saale): Making White Gold Since 3000 BC”
[…] started by the Celtic people, “white gold” brought immense wealth and prosperity to the area. (‘Hall’ is related to the Celtic word for ‘salt’.) At its peak influence, the Hallstatt culture spanned a large swath across western Europe from […]
[…] salt known as the “white gold”, providing the city of Halle its wealth and success. Today, the Technisches Halloren- und Salinemuseum continues to produce salt using traditional boiling and panning methods at a modest haul of 70 […]
[…] Halle’s historical Halloren and salt museum, Steffen Kohlert is the museum’s general manager (2016) and is dressed in the traditional […]