To gain insight into mechanisms controlling ecosystem regeneration, we investigated a grassland that was heavily polluted by a phosphate fertilizer factory between 1960 and 1990. Abiotic and biotic filters that influenced species assemblage and succession were monitored and restoration approaches assessed. Studies included the investigation of soil parameters, impact of abiotic stress on microbes and plants, plant succession, recolonization mechanisms, functional group interactions, mycorrhizal diversity and function, and food web analysis. Results indicate that after cessation of pollution, the system had high potential for self-recovery. About 15 years of research are now summarized by interrelating the results of all projects and fitting them into one conceptual model.