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, Francke Foundations: 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 traders 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 traders – not by weight, but by the correct measure, which was largely predetermined by the baskets. Fraud would have spread quickly among the salt traders 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

On old salt roads

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 river 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.

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.

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