As this issue of hidden europe goes to press, there is an air of eager anticipation in two small towns in the Moselle département of eastern France. Audun-le-Tiche is a town of about 6,000 which historically had a strong industrial base – initially producing crockery and later becoming a significant player in the iron and steel industry. But with the silencing of the last blast furnace in 1964, and the subsequent closure of the remaining iron-ore mines, Audun quickly acquired the feel of a community that had seen better days.
A few miles east of Audun is another much smaller mining community that once also thrived on iron ore. It’s called Volmerange-les-Mines, and these days its great claim to fame is having featured in a 2003 film called Le club des chômeurs (The Club for the Unemployed), a biting social comedy about communities affected by the decline of the iron and steel industry in southern Luxembourg and neighbouring parts of France. Unemployment in Volmerange today, as in Audun, hovers around eight per cent – a slight reduction on a decade ago, but still unacceptably high.
With the loss of heavy industry, these two French communities have reshaped their horizons, looking north over the nearby border for jobs in Luxembourg’s growing service sector. Both towns have railway stations, in each case nominally looked after by the French national rail operator SNCF. Yet neither Volmerange nor Audun are served by a single French train. Each station is a modest structure with just one platform, and in both cases the only passenger trains are run by the state rail company of Luxembourg – which has the engaging name Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer Luxembourgeois (CFL).