The Thalsaline – Halle and salt around 1700

An online exhibition of boiling hut models from the Cabinet of Artefacts and Natural Curiosities of the Francke Foundations

[Translate to Englisch:] zwei Modelle von Salzsiedehütten

From the Middle Ages until the early modern period, Halle was a respected salt city. The production and sale of salt helped it to prosper, because the »white gold« was indispensable for seasoning food or preserving perishable foodstuffs. As a sought-after commodity, salt not only shaped the economy, society and identity of the city, but also the immediate living environment of its people.

There are four noble salt wells in Saxony-land/ From which the sharp salt comes with heaps of water/ There is built the far-famed city/ Which has no equal in the whole country. This is the beautiful city / that is called Halle

Susanne Elisabeth Zeidler (1657–1706), From a poem in praise of the visit of the »Great Elector« Friedrich Wilhelm to Halle on 4 June 1681

For centuries, Halle extracted its salt from the old Thalsaline. This is where the brine wells and boiling huts were located, where salt workers produced granular table salt from liquid brine and sold it to traders. The salt works were run by the so-called »Pfänner«, who earned a good and reliable income. They traditionally had great influence on the fate of the city.

Ground Plan of the City of Halle 1748

Grundris der zum Herzogthum Magdeburg gehörigen im Saal-Creyse gelegenen Stadt Halle Anno 1748, copper engraving by Gottfried August Gründler, 1748. Halle, Franckesche Stiftungen: AFSt/A 01/05/21

In 1680, the archdiocese of Magdeburg, to which Halle belonged, fell to the electorate of Brandenburg. The electors and later kings of Prussia as the new sovereigns were very interested in the salt from Halle. They soon established their own salt production with different heating material, improved technology and streamlined distribution – first in a few boiling huts on the Thalsaline, and from 1721 in the newly built Royal Salt Works outside the city gates. As a result, the familiar world of Halle’s Pfänner, salt workers and dwell men was increasingly shaken.

Discover the Thalsaline around 1700 with our online exhibition in the four chapters »Tradition & Change«, »Man & Work«, »Production & Technology« und »Trade & Transport«, explore virtual models of historical salt boiling huts from the Chamber of Artefacts and Natural Curiosities of the Francke Foundations and follow the transformation of a pre-modern working world.



[Translate to Englisch:] Krumme Salzsiedehütten mit rauchenden Schornsteinen und drei Menschen

From today's perspective, the Thalsaline appears to be a confusing place. But even for the people back then it was not always easy to see through the special conditions there. These had developed in the Middle Ages and had hardly changed until the end of the 17th century. The changes around 1700, however, confronted the traditional working world of the Halle salt works with new, more efficient forms of economic activity and finally heralded the slow end of the old Thalsaline. The time of the »modern« state-owned salt companies had dawned.

Place and border

Ground plan of the Thalsaline 1705

Grundt: Riß des Thaals in Halle, zusammt denen darinnen befindlichen Saltz Kothen und Brunnen […]. ao. 1705, coloured pen and ink drawing, 1705. Magdeburg, LHASA MD, Standort Wernigerode: Rep. F 2 1d, Nr. 1, fol. 12R

Since the Middle Ages, salt was extracted from an enclosed area within the city walls of Halle, called the »Thal« or »the Halle«. Here, to the west of the market square, were four brine wells: Deutscher Brunnen, Gutjahr, Meteritz and Hackeborn. All the wells – up to 35 metres deep – carried brine of varying quantity and quality. Around them, about 110 boiling houses crowded into a very small space. These were called »Kothen« in Low German, which means small simple huts. In these Huts, salt workers and their servants boiled the brine to produce table salt.

The area of the Thalsaline was precisely marked out with boundary stones. The carved coats of arms indicated whether one was moving on city or Thalsaline territory.

Every few years, a commission walked the boundaries of the Thal area and also checked the proper condition of the boundary stones. The dates on the stones confirmed these inspections. Today, only two boundary stones remain.

Brine and owners of brine

As city and regional rulers, the archbishops of Magdeburg basically owned the rights to the Thalsaline. They gave the brine in varying proportions mostly as fiefs to wealthy citizens of Halle, who thus became owners of a certain amount of brine. In 1479, as a result of intense inner-city conflicts, the archbishop confiscated a quarter of all Thal estates – the »Quartsole« and some boiling huts – for his own purposes. These sovereign rights were also claimed by the Hohenzollerns as new sovereigns in 1680.

The owned amount of brine was inheritable, but only to male descendants. Surviving women, however, could claim compensation for their livelihood. Brine could also be sold, exchanged or mortgaged, which happened quite often in Halle. As a result, the owners changed again and again, but they always belonged to the upper class.

The feudal bond was converted into free, hereditary property in 1722. This meant that for the first time women could dispose of her amount of brine on an equal footing. From 1730, they were also granted the right to boil.

The ceremonial »Lehntafelhalten« at the end of the year served to officially confirm new brine owners. In the presence of representatives of the court, the town and the salt works, all the ownerships were carved into wax tablets with a stylus. Each well had three of these elaborately bound wooden tablets with the same content: one each for the Thal court, the sovereign and the town council.

The enfeoffment of Halle citizens with shares in the saltworks was an important court-city ritual that underlined the great influence of the sovereign on the saltworks. At the same time, all those involved were able to present themselves in an advantageous light and demonstrate the harmonious and prosperous cooperation between the saltworks, the city and the court. Behind the scenes, however, there were often disagreements.

Pfänner and Pfännerschaft

Those who let boil the salt from the brine in the boiling huts are called Pfänner.

Dr. Friedrich Hondorff, Saltz-Werck, 1670

Brine owners were not allowed to have their brine boiled into salt without further ado. Only Pfänner – many of them successful merchants – were entitled to do so. To do so, they had to be married townspeople with their own house and household in Halle, own a boiling hut and have an amount of brine. That is why most Pfänner were also owners of brine amounts. Those who did not have a boiling hut or brine amounts could lease both from other owners for a fee.

As independent entrepreneurs, the Pfänner organised themselves into the Pfännerschaft, an early form of cooperative with its own assets, coat of arms and seal, in order to run the saltworks collectively for the benefit of all. They were responsible for the maintenance of the saltworks and issued instructions to their workers. As many Pfänner were usually represented on the city council, they formed a weighty factor in Halle's city affairs.

Each Pfänner was only allowed to own one boiling hut. This rule was intended to prevent a few from dominating the salt works. On the other hand, two Pfänner could also share a boiling hut as so-called »Spänner«.

The solemn »occupation of the Thal estates« determined each year anew which persons belonged to the Pfännerschaft. Those who wanted to be Pfänner and earn an income from the sale of salt, went to the town hall shortly before the end of the year. There he had to explain to a commission of the sovereign and representatives of the town and the salt works in which boiling hut he wanted to let boil. Only then was he granted the boiling right.

When the town changed, there was also movement in the Pfännerschaft. This is particularly evident in the Brandenburg-Prussian period after 1680. Around 1700, most Pfänner still came from a Pfänner family or had married into one, but there were more and more newcomers: professors from the Friedrich University founded in 1694, for example, but above all Prussian civil servants.

The physician and university professor Friedrich Hoffmann, for example, worked with salt out of medical interest and published on the subject. As a Pfänner, he was keen on innovation and experimentation and was one of the first members of the Pfännerschaft to convert their boiling huts to run on hard coal.

The close social intertwining of Pfännerschaft and Prussian administration is typical of the time around 1700. It was quite profitable to combine the office of a privy councillor, court councillor or justice councillor with the Pfänner income. The prospect of a career in the civil service led many a person beyond the city limits to Berlin, sometimes crowned by the award of a Prussian title of nobility. For example, Johannes Andreas von Kraut (1661–1723), the son of a Pfänner and founder of the Royal Warehouse, rose to become one of the most influential personalities in Berlin's economic life as an entrepreneur, banker and minister. For his services, he was raised to the Prussian peerage, as was his older brother Christian Friedrich von Kraut (1650–1710), who was also a Pfänner.

Thal House and Thal Court

[Translate to Englisch:] Zeichnung eines altes Hauses
The Thal House, also known as the »Thalamt«, stood right next to the Market Church. A boiling hut can be seen on the left of the picture, the tower-like building behind it could be a well house. Thalamt in the 16th century, clay lithograph by Hermann Schenck, in: Gustav Friedrich Hertzberg: Geschichte der Stadt Halle an der Saale von den Anfängen bis zur Neuzeit. Bd. II. Halle: Waisenhaus, 1891, nach S. 294. Halle, Franckesche Stiftungen: BFSt: S/VERL:850:2

The exclusive position of the Pfännerschaft was also evident in the Thal House, first mentioned in 1464, with its magnificent rooms. Not only did the Thal Court meet here, but it also provided a dignified ambience for meetings and festivities of the Pfänner. The Thal House was demolished in 1882, but the interior furnishings of the courtroom and banqueting hall were saved. Today, the historic rooms can be seen in the Talamt of the Moritzburg Halle, a free replica of the former Thal House built in 1904.


»Thal's Law«

The saltworks formed a separate legal area within the city. Production and administration, ownership and use, peacekeeping and sanctions, but also occupational health and safety and disposal issues were regulated in the Thal Law – a kind of company code. It ensured the smooth running of salt production and provided the greatest possible yields.

The oldest known record of Thal Law dates from 1386. The norms formulated there in Middle Low German go back to even older law, were repeatedly revised over time and supplemented by several rules. The 1482 version remained valid in essence for the following two centuries, but inhibited innovation in the face of changing times. After 1680, Thal Law gradually lost importance as an independent form of jurisdiction.

Those who had done something wrong in the city sometimes sought refuge in the Thal, where they were more or less safe from the immediate grasp of the city courts. Quite a few students hid temporarily with salt workers, with whom they maintained a good relationship, for example after serious confrontations with the city guards.

The salt count

The salt count represented the rights of the sovereign to the saltworks. As the highest judge, he presided over the Thal court, which met several times a year to hear violations of the Thal Law: from negligent handling of fire to embezzlement of brine to homicide. He was assisted by several lay assessors. In addition, the salt count appeared at traditional ceremonies and public events as a representative of the saltworks and the Pfännerschaft. He was thus an important mediator between the peasants and the authorities. Among the most famous salt counts in Halle were Friedrich Hondorff (1628–1694) and Johann Christoph von Dreyhaupt (1699–1768).

Salt counts have been documented in Halle since 1145. They were usually elected for life by the city council and confirmed by the sovereign. The 48th and last official salt count, the Halle jurist Karl-Friedrich Zepernick (1751–1839), was inaugurated in 1785.

Well master and Thal Head

Three senior well masters stood by the salt count as administrators. They supervised the brine wells and the entire salt production and were elected annually by the city council. Subordinate to them were the sub well masters, who supervised the correct distribution of the brine to the boiling huts as well as necessary construction measures and mediated in disputes. In addition, four Thal supervisors were responsible for the maintenance of the wells and well houses as well as the paths and buildings in the Thal.

Incidentally, there has probably never been a saltworks whose ownership and legal relationships were as complicated as they were in Halle.

Johannes Mager (1925–2015), Salz, Gott erhalt's, 1993, S. 27

From archdiocese to duchy – the new sovereignty of the state

With the death of its last administrator, August of Saxe-Weissenfels (1614–1680), the Archdiocese of Magdeburg – to which Halle also belonged – became a secular duchy in the dominion of the Electorate of Brandenburg in 1680. Now the Brandenburg electors and later Prussian kings from the House of Hohenzollern were the ruling sovereigns.

Halle's salt for Brandenburg

Until 1680 there were no salt works on Brandenburg soil. That is why the electors had to import their salt at great expense, mainly evaporated salt from Lüneburg, but also sea salt from the Atlantic coast. Now, however, this time seemed to be over at last. For Magdeburg's newly acquired territory had no fewer than five productive salt works, including the salt works in Halle. Above all, its salt was to supply the provinces of Electorate Brandenburg in the future, end the long dependence on Lüneburg and fill the state coffers.

The salt works in Lüneburg

City view of Lüneburg with Saline, coloured copper engraving by Franz Hogenberg in: Georg Braun (Hrsg.): Civitates orbis terrarvm; 5: Vrbivm Praecipvarvm Mundi Theatrvm Qvintum […], Coloniae Agrippinae, [1599?], [o. S.]. Heidelberg, Universitätsbibliothek: A 330 A Gross RES::5,, Public Domain Mark 1.0

Brandenburg's subjects, however, were dissatisfied with the salt produced by the Pfännerschaft of Halle. It seemed too coarse and not as brilliantly white as the Lüneburg salt, which was boiled in lead pans. The Pfänners also declined the offer to lease the sovereign shares in the Thalsaline and to boil salt for Brandenburg in the name of the Elector.

Two companies in one place

In order to be able to compete with the quality of Lüneburg salt, the »Great Elector« Friedrich Wilhelm decided to set up his own salt production. The proposal for this came from the Brandenburg finance official Christian Friedrich von Kraut, the son of a Pfänner. Kraut was appointed salt director and managed the electoral boiling plant. From then on, there were two salt companies directly next to each other on the Thalsaline: the old Pfänner's salt works and the new state salt works with their own boiling huts, separate administration and sworn salt workers.

Since the wells always carried more brine than the salt workers could boil, the Pfännerschaft simply let the surplus quantity – the so-called extra brine – flow into the Saale river. From the Elector's point of view, this was pure waste, of which he was already aware before his visit to the Thalsaline in 1681. He therefore ordered that these extra brines be profitably boiled in his own salt huts. It became the basis of salt production in the so-called "Domänenkothen" and the later Royal Salt Works outside the city. When production was running as desired, the king leased his own business to a knighthood.

Loss of interest and decline

In the 17th and 18th centuries, Halle's importance as a salt town dwindled and with it the value of the old salt works. This was not only for economic reasons. For the Pfänners were increasingly distancing themselves from their salt works, which offered a small, reliable income, but hardly any prestige. More social prestige was promised by the civil service, with or without a title of nobility.

The waning interest of the Pfänners is one of the reasons why the Thalsaline gradually lost touch around 1700. New technologies, production methods and trading opportunities were now being introduced by the competition – the new state-owned salt works of Prussia and Electoral Saxony. The Pfännerschaft reacted to this too late.



Conveying, boiling, packing – the path from brine to salt required several tightly organised work steps in which various professional groups were involved day and night. In addition, there were auxiliary workers and craftsmen such as carpenters, pan smiths and basket weavers who supplied the saltworks with tools. Thus the salt trade provided a livelihood for many Hallensians. Yet it was always a back-breaking job, usually dirty and sometimes dangerous. Technical innovations after 1700 brought relief, but increasingly cost jobs.

Hard times

The Thalsaline was slow to recover from the consequences of the Thirty Years' War (1618–1648). As late as 1680 it was still producing just half as much salt as before the war. When the plague finally ravaged Halle for the last time around 1682, salt workers were among its victims. The pans remained cold for most of the year, and at last more than 20 boiling huts were without salt workers and servants. Three years later, however, things were looking up again.

In 1682, the infection took over here in Halle, so that fifty, sixty or more died every day.

Johann Dietz (1665–1738), Apprentice of the barber trade in Halle

Today it is assumed that Halle lost about half of its population during the last plague wave. After that, only about 6,000 people lived in the city. Later immigration caused the population figures to rise again.

Working areas of the Thalsaline

The comic-like image shows the salt extraction process in Halle around 1670 and the people involved at a glance using numbered stations – from lifting the brine to loading the salt. Copperplate engraving in: Friedrich Hondorff: Das Saltz=Werk zu Halle in Sachsen befindlich […], Halle 1670. Halle, Franckesche Stiftungen: BFSt: S/A:1398

The well workers

The well workers (»Bornknechte«) – divided into »Haspeler«, »Radtreter«, »Störtzer«, »Zäpffer« and »Träger« – were at the beginning of salt production. Haspeler and Radtreter laboriously pulled the brine out of the wells by means of muscle-powered hoists, which was immediately collected by the Störtzer and Zäpffer in large troughs and filled into tubs for transport to the boiling huts.

In 1731, a horse-driven hoist (»Pferdegöpel«) at the Deutsche Brunnen replaced the old hoisting technology and thus made the work easier, but at the same time it made 20 well workers unemployed.

The hardest and most dangerous work of all the well workers was done by the brine carriers. Two of them carried the brine in heavy barrows over slippery wooden walkways from the wells to the salt huts. There they poured the brine into barrels and walked back to the well, where the next tub was already waiting for them.

In order to prevent one-sided physical strain, the well workers worked alternately in large and small shifts and relieved each other in a fixed rhythm, e.g. Radtreter with Zäpffer. The brine carriers also had to work in a precise order when carrying and detaching the brine. Nevertheless, the risk of work accidents with serious injuries and lifelong health damage was considerable.

As a wage, the well workers received a »Gerente« for life, i.e. a certain amount of brine, which was also boiled. From the proceeds they could not only earn their living, but also pay servants to do the work for them in case of old age or illness. By the beginning of the 16th century at the latest, the well workers were organised into their own brotherhood.

The salt boilers

The most technically experienced workers in the salt works were the salt boilers, who were also known as »Salzwirker«. They were employed for a limited period of time by their Pfänner, which was extended if necessary. They performed their strenuous work inside the boiling huts at the pans, surrounded by heat, brine fumes and acrid smoke. They were often assisted by their wives and children, but also by hired servants.

The daily work routine followed strict rules, and an oath had to be sworn to uphold them. Violations threatened expulsion from the saltworks or worse.

Corporal punishment and life sentences were carried out in particular if salt workers wasted, embezzled or used brine for purposes other than boiling – with the exception of extinguishing fires and boiling pickled eggs. They were also forbidden to sell spilled salt.

I vow and swear to my most gracious Lord of Magdeburg and his descendants and to the City Council of Halle, as well as to my squire and lord, whose brine and fire I diligently attend to for his benefit, that I will not boil outside the order and will at all times obediently observe this order.

From the Oath of the Salt Boilers

The Pfänners paid their boiling masters a fixed weekly wage even in the case of illness or when there was no boiling and the pans remained cold. Since the boiling masters were also responsible for selling the salt, they were allowed to demand a precisely defined tip from the trader – the »salt guest« – for each piece of salt. From this income, the master paid not only his assistants, but also tools, boiling ingredients and minor repairs. He kept the rest for himself.

The salt boilers were by no means only poor wage labourers, even if there were differences between simple boilers and higher-ranking boiling masters. Some even had their own house and land and were able to save a modest fortune. To support poorer colleagues, all casters paid into a common fund.

In the 18th century, more and more boiling huts were demolished in the valley, which deprived many boiling masters and servants of their jobs. Sometimes they found employment as lower-paid wage labourers at the royal salt works, but not infrequently they had to look for other work.

The salt workers – together with the loading workers – formed the »Salzwirkerbrüderschaft im Thale zu Halle«, which still exists today. In the 18th century, the name »Halloren« became established for their members. The Halloren developed their own traditions and customs, such as Whitsun beer, flag-waving and fishermen’s jousting, which are still practised today.

Die Halloren zeichnen sich allgemein aus durch einen wohlgebauten Körper, sind von schlanker, hoher Statur; sie bilden einen sehr wohlgebildeten, schönen, auch kräftigen Menschenschlag, wie man auch in den Kothen wahrnimmt, wo sie, wegen der Hitze, nur wenig bekleidet sind. Sie haben sehr regelmäßige Gesichtszüge, eine freie Stirn und schöne Augen. Ihre ganze Erscheinung erinnert an die kräftigen Gebirgsbewohner Tyrol’s und der Schweiz [...].

Christian Keferstein (1784–1866), Über die Halloren, 1843, S. 89 f.

The Halloren's festive dress

The Halloren's characteristic festive dress developed in the 17th and 18th centuries in line with bourgeois urban dress customs. It is still worn today on special occasions. It consists of a tricorn hat as headgear, a skirt decorated with fur in red or blue, a flowered waistcoat with 18 silver ball buttons, each with its own meaning, black velvet knee breeches with long ribbons, white or blue stockings and black loafers with silver buckles.

The salt boilers or Halloren enjoyed some special rights that were guaranteed to them in the Thal orders. These included fishing and birdcatching, which ensured their livelihood on days without salt production, and the manufacturing of smoked sausage and pickled eggs. From the 17th century onwards, they were also employed as corpse bearers for a fee.

In addition to these rights, the salt boilers also had duties: In the event of war, for example, they had to defend a part of the city wall. During floods, they had to seal the brine wells and bring the salt to safety. After a flood disaster, it was part of their job to drain the riverbed. And if a fire broke out in the salt works or the town, the workers had to interrupt their work and help extinguish the fire with other salt workers at the site of the disaster. The brine proved to be an ideal means of doing this.

The fire hazard on the Thalsaline was considerable not only because of the open fires in the boiling huts. Large quantities of ash also accumulated daily, which had to be disposed of with the greatest care and caution. Anyone who left a fire unattended or spilled embers on the paths had to expect severe penalties.

Träger, Läder and Stöpper

When the salt was dry and ready for sale, carrier (Träger) carried it in wicker baskets from the boiling hut to the loading place, where the carters were already waiting. They wore a bag-like bonnet to protect their heads. Before the carrier handed the salt over to the packaging staff (Läder and Stöpper), they used a brushwood broom to remove the soot particles that had settled on it during the drying process in the boiling hut.

The loaders and their servants loaded the carts and wagons of the salt guests, saving as much space as possible. To do this, the solid pieces of salt were broken into smaller chunks with the help of a hoe and then piled up. Large, four-wheeled carts for long transports held about 60 whole pieces of salt, and the number of horses harnessed varied depending on the quantity loaded.

The Stöppers were responsible for securing the load of salt for transport. To ensure that no salt was lost on the way, the carts and wagons were lined with canvas and sealed with straw. To protect the cargo from the wind and rain, the Stöppers stretched a large tarpaulin over it, which they supported with willow rods and wrapped with rope.

Like the salt workers, the carriers and the packaging staff belonged to the salt workers' fraternity and also received a monetary wage. Similar to the well workers, widows, surviving dependents and the sick were supported from a community fund.

Stegschäufler, Spulzieher and Flößmeister – the cleaning staff at the Thalsaline

Day labourers, who were subordinate to the sub well masters, ensured safety and cleanliness on the salt works premises. The »Stegschäufler« cleaned the footbridges so that the brine carriers with their heavy tubs could reach the boiling huts safely – especially at night, when they also carried lanterns.

Spilled brine as well as rain and melt water ran off into the Saale river via a system of wooden drainage channels, the so-called »Spulen« or gutters. They prevented puddles of water on the low-lying terrain, which would have contaminated the wells. The »Spulzieher« were responsible for clearing these gutters of dirt and mud so that the water could drain away quickly at all times.

The »Flößmeister« took whatever rubble and refuse accumulated on the Thalsaline to the Saale on a wheelbarrow. There he loaded the waste onto a timbered raft to dispose of it at a suitable place downstream. The raft master was the only one of the day labourers responsible for cleaning work who also received a certain amount of brine.

Pan smiths, basket makers and carpenters

Among the indispensable sidelines of the Thalsaline were the pan smiths, who were paid by the Pfänners. They made the large boiling pans from hammered sheet iron using rivets. A pan lasted about 20 full boiling weeks, after which a new one was needed. A lower quality »cross pan« could still be made from two used pans.

The freshly boiled salt was filled into special wicker baskets in which it could dry and be stored until it was sold. The baskets could be used several times, but had to be cleaned beforehand by basket washers in the Saale river. If new ones were needed, the Pfänner commissioned and paid a basket maker who had to make the baskets exactly to measure.

Houses of special construction, all smoked and in many places eaten away by the sharp salt, frequent moss on the roofs and everywhere a black soil coloured by cinders.

About the Thalsaline at the end of the 18th century, Topographie Pittoresque [...], 1798

The wooden salt huts were constantly exposed to smoke, soot and brine vapours and therefore quickly became dilapidated. They had to be regularly repaired by carpenters or, in the worst case, torn down and completely rebuilt. An official Thal carpenter was appointed and sworn to maintain the well houses and other communal buildings.

Change in the working world

Technical innovations and changes in work processes around and after 1700 permanently changed everyday life at the Thalsaline. They created the basis for early industrial salt production. This development was driven primarily by Prussian saltworks officials.

Mit Aufnahme der kurfürstlichen Salzproduktion auf der Thalsaline wechselte rund ein Viertel der Salinenarbeiter den Dienstherrn. Aus pfännerschaftlichen Salzarbeitern wurde nun kurfürstliches Siedepersonal, das nicht mehr dem Thalgericht unterstand.

1701 gehörten zur Belegschaft der königlichen Siedehütten 23 festangestellte, regelmäßig entlohnte Personen: ein Faktor, ein Obersalzsiedemeister, 16 einfache Salzsieder, zwei Salzzähler und drei Pfannenschmiede. Nicht festangestellt war hingegen das stets erforderliche Hilfspersonal. Handwerker wie Maurer, Schmiede, Böttcher, Schornsteinfeger sowie Steinkohlenfahrer, Boten, Salzpacker und Tagelöhner zum Stempeln der Salztonnen wurden je nach Aufwand bezahlt.

Modifications to the boiling houses and conveyor systems made the work easier and increased the salt yield, but also meant that fewer and fewer workers were needed. In particular, brine extraction with muscle power was gradually taken over by machines, and the transport of brine via pipes made brine carriers redundant.

Everyone's work at the Thalsaline depended on the amount of salt produced and the technology used. Political interventions, sales reductions and rationalisation always endangered jobs. Changes in the customary order and privileges were therefore mostly rejected by the salt workers.



The early modern period was not an era of groundbreaking technical innovations. Until the 18th century, the great inventions of the Middle Ages were instead developed further in order to use them more effectively. The spectrum of available energy sources was limited: Wood remained indispensable as a building material and the most important fuel, and machines could only be moved by the power of man and animal, water or wind. The salt works technology in Halle had also hardly changed over the centuries, and the salt was still extracted as it always had been. But with the introduction of hard coal in the state-owned boiling huts around 1700, a new era dawned.

Medieval conditions

Towards the end of the 17th century, the Thalsaline still extracted its salt almost as in the Middle Ages. The earliest illustrated description of it comes from Georg Agricola's (1494-1555) famous mining manual De re metallica. The precise explanations and woodcuts suggest that the Saxon physician and polymath probably knew Halle's saltworks from his own experience.

Salt extraction in a saltworks in Agricola's book

Salt workers and boiling tools in: Georg Agricola: De re metallica libri XII […], Basileae 1556, 448. Basel, Universitätsbibliothek: hv I 22,, Public Domain Mark

More than 100 years later, the Halle salt count Friedrich Hondorff (1628-1694) wrote the first standard work on salt production in Halle: Das Saltz=Werck zu Halle in Sachsen befindlich. In it, he describes in detail the ownership structure, legal system and work processes at the Thalsaline. Today, Hondorff's work gives us valuable insights into local boiling technology and salt production in the 17th century.

In 1749/50, the Halle jurist and salt count Johann Christoph von Dreyhaupt (1699-1768) published a two-volume Beschreibung des Saal-Creyses: a lavishly illustrated treatise on the history and culture of the city of Halle and the surrounding area. To this he added Hondorff's outdated writing on the Thalsaline as an appendix and supplemented what had changed since 1670. Today both editions of Hondorff's work are important sources for the history and technology of salt production in pre-industrial Halle.

Wood, straw and clay

The salt was produced in the salt huts. These were simple half-timbered houses made of fir or spruce wood, straw and clay. Each hut had a large dug-in barrel, half of which stood in the alley and half in the house. So the brine could be poured in from the outside and taken out from the inside.

In former times, down to this century, the houses were very badly built, and every 30 to 40 years the owner felt obliged to have his own rebuilt.

Johann Christian Förster (1735–1798), Beschreibung und Geschichte des Hallischen Salzwerks, 1793, S. 29

The heart of each hut was the boiling room. Here stood the boiling hearth, above which hung a pan made of sheet iron on a wooden frame. At the pan, the salt worker and his servants performed the strenuous, sweat-inducing work of boiling salt.

When the salt was ready, it had to dry for some time before being sold. To do this, it was carried to the salt place, a raised area at the back of the hut. There were also storage areas for straw and firewood.

They all wear straw hats on their heads and aprons because of the heat in the hut, but are otherwise naked.

Georg Agricola on the workers in the boiling huts in the mid-16th century

From exampel to model

The model of a large salt boiling hut from around 1700 is one of the few historical testimonies that can still give us a vivid impression of the old boiling huts on the Thalsaline. It was probably made as a teaching model for visual instrution in the orphanage schools. It was used to illustrate the typical construction of the salt huts and the traditional salt boiling process. The model is mentioned for the first time in the catalogue of the Cabinet of Artefacts and Natural Curiosities, which was newly established in 1741 and where it is still exhibited today.

The year of construction and builder of the model are not yet known. The still preserved equipment corresponds to a simple, wood-fired boiling hut of the 16th and 17th centuries. However, the remains of a pump in the brine barrel indicate that the model could have been built in 1699 at the earliest, when such pumps became common.

Large model of a boiling hut

Explore the virtual 3D model of the large boiling hut and follow the animated process of salt boiling.

How was salt boiled in Halle around 1700?

Salt extraction takes place in two phases: First, the brine must be heated, boiled down and purified. This is called »Stören«. Only during the subsequent »Soggen« process do salt crystals form in the concentrated brine. For coarse-grained salt, the brine should have a temperature of about 70° C during this process. One work of salt – two filled baskets weighing about 100 kg together – requires 36 buckets of brine and four hours of time.

  1. Two porters pour brine from a tub, which they carry on their shoulders by means of a pole, from the outside into the brine barrel at the boiling hut.

  2. In the boiling hut, a servant heats the cooker with logs. Then he pours 22 buckets of brine into the boiling pan on the cooker.

  3. The boiling process itself is now the responsibility of the boiling master, who is called the »Salzwirker« in Halle. He is assisted by his servants.

  4. The hut gradually fills with smoke and steam. Flames are shooting up the wall behind the pan.

  5. To purify it, the salt boiler stirs some cattle blood into the brine. This produces foam, which he skims off. The servant then pours another 14 buckets of brine into the pan and adds wood to the cooker.

  6. After some time, the brine swells up and the salt boiler adds some beer. The alcohol in it promotes the formation of salt crystals, which already form small islands on the brine. Now the brine must no longer boil.

  7. The salt crystals combine and sink to the bottom of the pan as coarse-grained salt. With the help of a so-called crutch, the boiler carefully pulls it to the edge of the pan. He now fills the dripping wet salt with a wooden shovel into two wicker baskets, which the servant has previously placed in a rack above the pan. The salt is layered and whipped up over the edge of the basket until the typical shape of the salt pieces is formed. Meanwhile, the excess brine drips back into the pan.

  8. The servant takes the filled baskets out of the rack and places them next to the cooker. Later he carries them upstairs to the salt place, where the still damp pieces of salt have to dry for some time. Later they can be sold to traders.

  9. After one work of salt has been boiled, a new work is started.

Is the detailed model possibly a replica of a very specific salt boiling hut? The house sign painted on the facade – a duck – at least suggests so, because a boiling hut called »Duckbird« actually existed. It is marked on the plan of the Thalsaline from 1746, in the middle of today's Hallmarkt. Even its ground plan and the location of the brine barrel match the model.

Among the changing owners of the »Duckbird« in the 18th century is the Kraut family, a family of Pfänners. Two of their sons, Christian Friedrich (1650–1714) and Johann Andreas (1661–1723), were influential Prussian civil servants in Berlin. They were in contact with August Hermann Francke and promoted his orphanage project. A connection between the Kraut family and the model is therefore probable.

Ground plan of the Thalsaline from 1746

»Grundriss des Thals zu Halle samt dessen Graentzen, Saltz-Brunnen und Saltz-Kothen. 1746«, Kupferstich in: Johann Christoph von Dreyhaupt: Pagus Neletici Et Nudcizi [...]. Theil 1, Bd. 2, Tab. AA. Halle, Franckesche Stiftungen: AFSt/B Sb 0056

From wood to hard coal

Like iron smelting and glass production, salt boiling also consumed vast quantities of firewood, which seemed to be becoming increasingly scarce. Therefore, resourceful minds were already trying to reduce consumption at the end of the 16th century by means of new boiling techniques.

In Halle, too, tinkerers and »project makers« experimented with wood-saving boiling cookers and alternative fuels, which was expensive but led nowhere. For fear of financial losses, many Pfänners later distrusted any promises of innovation and preferred to stick to the tried and tested method.

Climate fluctuations, harsh winters with frozen rivers and local deforestation repeatedly led to shortages. Halle also had to deal with wood shortages from time to time and worried about its energy supply due to rising demand and prices. Whether the forests were already too heavily deforested at that time or whether it was rather poor logistics that caused the shortage is still disputed in research, however.

The salt works in Saulnot near Mömpelgard in Württemberg (today Montbéliard, France) was one of the pioneers in the field of salt boiling technology. As early as 1593, Heinrich Schickhardt (1558–1635), a master builder at the court, had developed boiling furnaces of a high technical standard, with air ducts and flues for operation with hard coal. It was not until 100 years later that this technology also found its way into Halle.

New Technology

The Brandenburg Elector wanted to have high-quality salt produced in his boiling huts on a large scale, but as cheaply as possible. The cheap fuel was to be hard coal from his own mines in Wettin and Löbejün northwest of Halle, which could also be transported upstream on the Saale river to Halle. But the coal burned badly in the conventional boiling cookers and the smoke made the salt black and bitter. So the boiling technology had to be renewed from the ground up.

They did not even shy away from industrial espionage: The government of Electorate Brandenburg sent a spy to the Allendorf salt works in Hesse, which had already been heating its ladles with hard coal in the 16th century. Details scouted out there were incorporated into the boiling experiments in Halle.

After many attempts, the boiling master Johann Bötticher (1639–1713) finally achieved a breakthrough in 1693. His solution was similar to Schickhardt's construction in the Saulnot salt works: a cooker with an iron coal grate, ash fall and controlled air supply, a brick chimney for the flue gases and a fume outlet above the pan. The latter led the boiling steam out into the open via a roof outlet. Bötticher's real invention, however, was the heat pipes on the drying floor of the boiling hut, heated by the waste heat from the boiling fire. This way the salt dried faster than ever.

The salt is then taken to a yard, where it is roasted by the heat of iron pipes and sold immediately. It certainly makes these huts warm enough.

Albrecht von Haller (1708–1777), Reisetagebuch, 1726

With the new method, Bötticher succeeded in boiling impeccable salt that could rival that from Lüneburg: white, grainy and tasty. As a reward, he was appointed chief boiling master of the royal salt production. By 1701, all of the sovereign's boiling huts had been modernised in Bötticher's style. Not so with the Pfänners. Only a few were open to the new process and modernised their technology. It was not until the middle of the 18th century that all the Pfännerschaft's boiling huts were heated with hard coal.

Soot particles between the grains of salt were virtually a trademark of the Hall salt. With the new method, however, the salt became cleaner. After the Pfännerschaft switched to hard coal, they had soot added to their salt for some time to dispel doubts about its origin.

Bötticher's technology in the model

The small teaching model of a salt hut from the Cabinet of Artefacts and Natural Curiosities of the Francke Foundations features all of Bötticher's innovations in a simple form. It thus corresponds to the current state of boiling technology of the time and represents the important experimental phase of Prussian salt production. It was made by the Halle pastor, educator and inventor Christoph Semler (1669–1740). In 1708 he opened a Mathematical and Mechanical School in Halle for prospective apprentices of the craft – the first »Realschule«, a school for visual instruction, in Germany. There, a teacher taught technical correlations primarily using models that Semler made especially for this purpose.

In the Cabinet of Artefacts and Natural Curiosities there are other fascinating models from Semler's workshop, for example a brewery house and a lathe with miniature tools. Semler left them to his colleague August Hermann Francke in 1718, who was pursuing a similar school project, but it was never realised. Together with other teaching aids, the models initially belonged to the »Mechanical Chamber«, later they became part of the art and natural collection in the former orphan boys' dormitory.

Little model of a boiling hut

Explore the virtual 3D model of the little boiling hut.

The electoral boiling huts on the Thalsaline stand at the beginning of the Prussian salt industry around 1700. The technology developed there created the basis for the state-owned salt works in Halle and Schönebeck. For some time, the local royal saltworks were the largest salt producers in Prussia, until they were overtaken by the Schönebeck saltworks in the 1730s.

In the past, the royal cesspits were also located in the city, where the extra brine was boiled, but now they have been relocated outside the city to the Saale, where the brine is also conducted through pipes.

Johann Georg Brieger (1764–?), Historisch-topographische Beschreibung der Stadt Halle im Magdeburgischen, 1788, S. 18

The small salt-boiling encyclopaedia Verzeichnis Und Erklärung Der vornehmsten Wörter, Werckzeuge Gebäude und anderer Sachen So bey dem Saltz-Sieden Gebrauchet werden reflects the technical state of development of German salt works in the early 18th century. It is unclear who was behind the author named Janderson – a »lover of the salt works«. Possibly he was a Prussian saltworks official. Since he repeatedly mentions Halle, he must have been familiar with the conditions there.



[Translate to Englisch:] ein beladenes Schiff auf einem Fluss, das von mehreren Leuten gezogen wird

Around 1700, the usual salt trade changed: new, more efficient salt works were built, traditional sales markets disappeared and other transport routes became established. The expansion of rivers made the supra-regional transport of goods cheaper and safer. With the establishment and expansion of state salt production in the state-owned boiling huts on the Thalsaline, coal mining and shipping on the Saale also gained momentum. However, the Pfännerschaft, which was now able to sell less and less of its expensively produced salt, remained excluded from this upswing.

Plumes of smoke over the Thalsaline

Salt carters and traders approaching the city of Halle with their carts and wagons on one of the old salt roads could see the plumes of smoke above the Thalsaline from far away.

View of Halle with the seal of the Faculty of Law of the Friedrichsuniversität Halle: Sig. Juridicae Facult: in Univ. Elect. Hallensi, copperplate engraving, 1733. Halle, Franckesche Stiftungen: AFSt/B Sa 0051

In the meantime, the huts where the salt is boiled by the Halloren, as well as the steam from the hard coal, make the stay at the salt works unpleasant [...].

Andreas Meyer (1742–1807), Briefe eines jungen Reisenden durch Liefland, Kurland und Deutschland, 2, 1777, S. 122

Wood for Halle, Salt for Saxony

For a long time, mainly wood was used as fuel on the Thalsaline. As there was not enough wood around Halle, it had to be bought elsewhere. For this purpose, a contract was concluded with Electoral Saxony in the late 16th century. This was the basis of Halle's salt trade until the 18th century: Electoral Saxony supplied firewood and – as it did not yet have its own salt works – received salt in return from the Pfännerschaft. Payment was made in cash.

The wood was floated to Halle on the Elster and Saale rivers and sold there to the Pfännerschaft, the city and the sovereign, whereby the quality determined the price. The firewood for the saltworks was stored in the wood yard west of the Saale, well guarded around the clock.

As Halle belonged to Brandenburg-Prussia from 1680 onwards, conflicts soon arose with the immediately neighbouring Electoral Saxony. The previously unproblematic salt trade with Saxony, Bohemia and Silesia was now caught between the fronts of territorial conflicts. Moreover, the advent of cheap hard coal meant that Saxony hardly sold any wood to Halle, which also affected the salt sales of the Thalsaline. In addition, the salt produced by the Pfännerschaft had become more and more expensive due to high customs duties and excise taxes as well as the elaborate production that required a lot of personnel. Saxony's own salt works, which were gradually built, soon made imports from Halle superfluous.

In wind and weather

In order to preserve the quality of the salt during transport, it was not allowed to become damp under any circumstances. After boiling, it dried in the wicker baskets to form solid salt cones, which had to be crushed for transport and packed away protected from the weather. On land, it was transported on small carts, multi-horse carts and even on sledges in winter. If the journey was by ship, the salt was stored well stuffed in barrels and drums that protected it from the weather. Stamps or brands were used to control the movement of goods.

Salt guests on the road

In Halle, salt guests were the name given to the carters and traders who came to the Thalsaline to collect the salt. Before their wagons were expertly loaded with pieces of salt, they sold the merchandise they had brought with them: butter, eggs and cheese from Electoral Saxony, grain from Bohemia, iron and canvas from Lusatia and Silesia.

The pieces of salt had to be checked regularly to maintain the confidence of the salt guests – not by weight, but by the correct measure, which was largely predetermined by the baskets. Fraud would have spread quickly among the salt guests and endangered further sales.

It is also undeniable that our salt is one of the best, purest and healthiest salts in the world.

Dr. Friedrich Hoffmann (1660–1742), Kurtze doch gründliche Beschreibung des Saltz-Werks in Halle, 1708, Vorrede

Expertly packed, the wagons of the salt guests followed the old salt roads, for example via Saxony to Bohemia, once the most important market for Halle's salt. On the way, they stopped at the Saxon settlements of Leipzig, Dresden and Bautzen as well as Chemnitz, Plauen and Zwickau. There the salt was stored and distributed to the population. However, Halle's salt also reached Franconia, Nuremberg and Regensburg.

Anyone who wanted to earn money by transporting and selling goods in the politically fragmented Germany of the early modern period needed good nerves. Restrictions, blockades, privileges and levies made trade costly. There were compulsory roads, monopolies, stacking rights, customs duties, escorts, lock fees and writing fees that had to be taken into account or paid. There was also the threat of confiscation and highwaymen.

Transporting salt overland was difficult in the 1700s. The bumpy paths and roads in the Duchy of Magdeburg cost time and wore down people, animals and materials. To make it easier for traders and travellers to find their way, the Prussian King Friedrich I had special signposts erected along the country roads at the beginning of the 18th century. These wooden »arm signs« indicated the direction and distance of the designated places.

The Saale as a transport route

In the 16th century, the archbishops of Magdeburg had the Saale regulated and equipped with wooden locks. Until the Thirty Years' War, the locks were used to transport goods, but then navigation on the Saale almost came to a standstill. Attempts to revive the river after the war were initially unsuccessful. In 1693, however, Brandenburg's Elector Friedrich III ordered the renovation of the river structures. This included six new locks made of stone, among others in Gimritz, Trotha and Wettin.

The Elector in Trotha

When Friedrich III visited Halle in 1694 to celebrate the inauguration of the university, he took the opportunity to personally lay the foundation stone for the Trotha lock on the morning of 3 July 1694. With the construction of the new Bernburg Lock by Prince Viktor Amadeus of Anhalt-Bernburg (1634–1718), from 1697 the lower Saale finally had the seven dam and lock stages it still has today.

The expansion of the Saale, Elbe, Havel and Spree rivers made it cheaper and safer to ship salt to the core provinces of Brandenburg-Prussia. That is why the state-produced salt was soon no longer transported with the state's own carts, but on the water with Saale and Elbe barges. This boosted the trade in salt, coal and wood around 1700. With the establishment of intermediate storage facilities – so-called »Niederlagen« – the Saale could now be used permanently as a profitable transport route.

Saale barges loaded with salt could easily sail with the current from Halle towards the Elbe. In the opposite direction, however, the barges had to be towed by human power on so-called towpaths with the help of a strong dew. These barges were usually loaded with coal for the salt works from the mines northwest of Halle near Wettin and Löbejün.

In order to be able to transport salt, fuel and packaging material quickly and cheaply between the saltworks and the Saale, an easily accessible transhipment point was needed. For this purpose, coal sheds and four salt magazines were built between 1700 and 1709 – the first buildings of the later Royal Saltworks in front of the Klaustor, which went into operation in 1721.

The significantly larger salt production of the state-owned salt works – with guaranteed purchase and well protected by a trading monopoly – gradually pushed the Pfännerschafts in Halle and elsewhere out of Brandenburg-Prussia's domestic market. From then on, they had to rely on selling their expensive and barely competitive salt abroad.

Free salt for the orphanage

At the behest of the Prussian king, the orphanage received half a load of salt – just under 800 kg – from royal production free of charge every year from 1709 onwards. In 1727, the amount was increased to 50 bushels and confirmed in 1868. Until 1940, the Francke Foundations still obtained the equivalent of around 1,300 kg of free salt annually on this basis.