In Tambach-Dietharz, Sven Völker keeps the whole operation running, right down to the last saw blade.

In every small town and village, there are people who keep things running - and it’s not always the mayor. Often it’s just ordinary people. In Tambach-Dietharz, one of these people is Sven Völker, a guy in his mid-30s, originally from Tambach - “actually, originally from Dietharz” - and the chances of running into him around town are pretty high. You might meet Sven down by the Spitterbach stream, clearing the green overgrowth and picking up trash. Or maybe you’ll spot him mowing the lawn in the little spa park. In the winter he brings salt to the icy roads and in the summer he brings the grill to the folk festival. He happens to be the deputy city fire chief of the volunteer fire department as well.

From an early age, I rode the logs here all the way to the gang saw.

But you can also make an official appointment with him. Sven leads the weekly tours of the sawmill. It’s the last one left in a town whose prosperity was once based on timber and the potential industrial uses of the local waterways. Today, the 17th-century building with the saw from the 1930s and the nearby dam of the old Tambach reservoir is a technical museum. “From an early age, I rode the logs here all the way to the gang saw,” Sven recounts with a laugh. His grandfather worked there until the plant closed in 1997, and ”the first thing you did after school was get on the forklift here.” Now he shows visitors how the saw works, he makes the sparks fly on the grinder for the saw blades and in the basement, he demonstrates how the drive belts are set into motion.

From my class, very few have moved away. We are the generation that stayed here.

In rural Thuringia, you often hear stories about “brain-drain”, a lack of prospects and the compulsion of young people to leave. But Sven can only say the opposite about Tambach-Dietharz. The town still has a thriving middle-class industry. The “Schraube,” or Screw, the name of the local metalworks, has provided jobs for several generations. “From my class, very few have moved away. We are the generation that stayed here. I can't think of anyone who doesn’t have a job.” He likes “everything there is” about Tambach, he says, “the forest, the landscape, the feeling of home.” He has never even considered moving away. Today, he has settled into the house of his wife's grandparents, which they bought a few years ago to start a family - very close to the Luther Church. So maybe there's still one more chance to meet Sven - as a dad out for a walk after work.



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