Most of my life I’ve managed to avoid dark underground spaces like caves and mines. (The walls just feel like they close in… brrrr) So why was I suiting up in a slicker and hard hat to tour a mine? Because THIS special mine is in the Erzgebirge. In previous posts I’ve written about the Christmas decorations and toys, like Pyramids, Nutcrackers, and little animals created by Miners in the Ore Mountains. I’ve visited Seiffen and the fabulous Open Air Museum with its Reifendreher exhibition…all on the surface. Now it was time to learn more about what working life was like underground. Fortunately, the Abenteuer Bergwerk in Deutschneudorf, near Seiffen (and the border of the Czech Republic), offers a great mine tour.
Despite the tight squeeze through some of the passages, I emerged without feeling (much) panic. And now it’s time for me to share the Erzgebirge mine tour with you…
Abenteuer Berkwerk Mine
First a little History
The ground under the Erzgebirge is rich with minerals like copper, tin, and even silver. In the early 1500s, a successful mine operated just over the border to the modern Czech Republic (literally, across the street). So in 1621, August Rothe broke ground on his side of Berg Catherinaberg. Men chipped away at the hard rock, at the rate of 3cm per day, going deeper and deeper underground. Unfortunately, they dug in the wrong place,or they were terribly unlucky, because this mine produced far less riches than the neighboring mine.
But they dug on for close to 400 years.
In the end, the miners went down 5 levels and out hundreds of yards in different directions. They brought some precious metals to the surface, but just enough to get by.
(side note- When miners couldn’t make enough money digging underground, they supplemented their income by carving toys and decorations for sale. German Christmas Pyramids spin using the same mechanics that are used in the mines to lift rubble from the tunnels…and I’ve shared the history of the Schwiboggen, and how the Miner’s designed it to remind them of the lanterns they hung in an arch for their Christmas service underground. As the mines closed, more families turned to woodworking, which is why the area still has so many family workshops).
By 1881, the mine was abandoned, and the mine filled in. A few years later, a factory was built on the site, and the mine mostly forgotten.
Or was it? Some people speculate that hidden entrances, known only to a few, still existed. And that during World War II, the mine hid plundered treasures… most importantly, the famous Amber Room stolen from the Catherine Palace in St Petersburg. In fact, a group meets annually to search for it convinced that it’s hidden in one of the chambers. Searching began in Deutschneudorf in 1997, and kicked into high gear in 2008. They are convinced that the are on the right track.
After the factory closed and bulldozed, the mine was rediscovered in the 1990s! Owners decided to dig it out, and create a Demonstration or Show-Mine for visitors to the area. The excavation cleared some of the original tunnels, but not all. Many tunnels and rooms remain buried.. their secrets hidden. Who knows what treasure lies in the dark corners…. Nazi Gold? Panels of Amber?
Now, it’s time to go underground.
Abenteuer Berkwerk Mine Tour
It’s cold underground… and wet.
When we arrived for the tour, the guide directed us to a wall of slickers and hard hats, mandatory for the tour. (I’m glad… outside was warm, so I wasn’t prepared for the COLD). She led us down the stairs, then through a narrow opening. The guide assured me that the original airshafts had been expanded, and that there was constant flow of fresh air. (I’m saying all this for those of you who, like me, might have a few questions about leaving the surface).
Now, I know it seems obvious, but mines are DARK. No outside light makes its way in, and the walls seem to absorb the light coming from the fixtures set here and there along the path. Fortunately the guild carried a light! As we walked, she warned about wet or narrow bits. And it really was wet. The walls dripped from the damp, puddles formed on the path, and the air even felt moist. (The guide told us that the weather underground changed…sometimes foggy, sometimes clear…depending on the weather outside. )
Along the way, the guide pointed a few things out...
Here and there blue bits of oxidized copper still stuck in the walls. Maybe not enough for miners to go after?
She showed us set of tools that the Miners would use. Remember, this mine is pre-industrialization… it was hammers and picks.
The average Miner, using hand tools, dig approximately 3 cm PER DAY into the mine. That’s just over an inch. Imagine how many hammer strikes it took… how many years of constant chipping away… to dig out a huge mine that went 5 levels belowground.
The Miners dug enough to get themselves through, and they weren’t as tall as people are today. At just over 5 feet tall, I had no trouble with the height of the passages. My husband, at just over 6 feet, was incredibly grateful for his hard hat.
Deeper and deeper into the mountain…..
While the path was relatively smooth, some parts got a little tight…
(deep breaths helped)
The water wheel still works to take excess water that leaches through the stone out of the mine.
(And we asked, yes, they carried birds into the mine as proof of oxygen!)
A crossroads…. several paths and a staircase led off to different sections of the mine. Some of the mine’s original tunnels remain a mystery. In fact, there’s speculation that the famous Amber Room missing from St Petersburg since World War II was hidden somewhere deep in a cavern, and then lost. Every year a group of enthusiasts makes another excursion into an uncharted corner of the mine, hoping to finally find it.
The point where it’s easier to go forward than back. I’m still not entirely convinced….
The path ended at a tall room that held the elevator used to carry mine tailings out of the tunnels. Up and up… more than 5 stories.
Stalactites grow on the mine’s support arches because the moisture leaches calcium salts from the stones. These are only 30 years old! Imagine what it will be in another 100 years…
And then the tour ended…. and we could eat some delicious soup with Wiener to warm up again at the Abenteuer Bergwerk restaurant!
Visit the Abenteuer Bergwerk
Abenteuer Berkwerk hosts several tours a day through the mine. (And it’s possible to get the tour in English. Be sure to reach out ahead of time to let them know you are coming. )
Adults and children over age 6 are welcome to take part in the tours. They welcome groups (with reservation) and frequently host special events in the Bergwerks.
Click here for more information- Abenteuer Bergwerk
Tours take 45 to 60 minutes. WEAR COMFORTABLE SHOES. And be aware that it’s chilly underground.
You’ll find Abenteuer Bergwerk 6 km from Seiffen. RIGHT on the Czech Republic Border. (Honestly, the border is just past the edge of the parking lot)
Enjoy your journey into the Abenteuer Bergwerk! The perfect mine tour to round out your visit to the Erzgebirge!