Touring the Historic Rammelsberg Mine

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Legend tells that in the year 968, a knight was hunting deer in the forests of Rammelsberg, a peak in the Harz Mountains.  Stopping for a rest, he tied his horse to a tree.  Restless, the horse pawed at the ground, unearthing a rich vein of silver.  Thus began over a thousand years of mining history at the Rammelsberg Mine – or so the story goes. Recent archaeological findings suggest that humans possibly began extracting ore from the region much earlier, from as early as 3 AD.  Regardless of the exact date of discovery, the mines of Rammelsberg have the distinction of being the only ore mines in the world that were in continuous operation for over 1,000 years. They shut down in 1988 because it was believed that the mine had largely been played out.

Our visit to the mine was arranged through Trav’s employer as part of a company-sponsored holiday outing. Boarding a chartered bus in the morning with about 25 co-workers from his department, our day of activities began with a one-hour ride to the historic town of Goslar, home of the Rammelsberg Mine.  Bundling up against the cold, our group filed off the bus at the mine headquarters and browsed the gift shop before collecting our pre-paid tickets. Spirits were high as we each chose a snazzy yellow hard hat and set off on our guided tour.

All guided tours at the Rammelsberg Mine start in the miners’ change room. Added in 1938, this giant room allowed miners to suspend their clothing from the ceiling to dry between shifts.  It’s hard to imagine that theft was really a big problem, but the system also prevented any miner with sticky fingers from pilfering garb that didn’t belong to him.

Miners' change room at Rammelsberg Mine, Germany
Old coats hang from the ceiling in the miners’ change room at Rammelsberg Mine.

Rammelsberg Mine is listed as a UNESCO site as much for its long history of ore extraction as for the complicated network of water canals extending across the mountain that aided in this extraction. These canals once provided water that powered the wooden wheels underground in the mine, hoisting the ore to the surface in buckets. A small pond and dam just up the hill allowed engineers to control the flow of water into the mine.  Long since retired, the canals and Herzberg Pond are now mostly enjoyed by hikers and visitors to the mine complex.

Transportation Cottage at Rammelsberg Mine, Germany
Just outside the main museum building, the “Transportation Cottage” used to provide underground access to a canal running between the mine and nearby Herzberg Pond.

Not far from the pond, the mine entrance is accessible through an arched black gate set into the hillside.

Entrance to the Rammelsberg Mine in Goslar, Germany
Part of our group listens to our tour guide before descending into the mine.

If you’re on this tour and aren’t sure about confined spaces, this is the time to fish or cut bait.  Within minutes, you’ll descend into the darkness, with no sound save the splash of footsteps through mud puddles and the steady plop, plop, plop of water droplets plunging from the ceiling.

Many of the tunnels are just barely tall enough to traverse without bending, but several short sections are much lower.
Ore deposits – copper, zinc, sulphur, lead – still ooze from the tunnel’s rock walls.
Velvety green moss that resembles Grinch fur grows inside the tunnels.
Three water wheels like this one once made up the Roeder Gallery, which funneled water through the mine to lift buckets of ore to the surface.
An old tunnel leads into the mountain from our vantage near the upper water wheel.

Know someone planning to visit #LowerSaxony? Share this guide to visiting the Rammelsberg Mine, an ore mine that was in operation for over 1000 years.

The tour group pauses at the lower waterwheel as our guide speaks.
Our guide lights an old-fashioned oil lantern so we can more fully experience the mine as miners would have.
Nearing the end of our tour, our path merges with train tracks that once carried miners to work.
Windowless and cramped, an old train still stands on an abandoned track.

While it took us over an hour to slowly work our way down into the mine, we exited by way of a series of narrow grated metal stairs leading nearly straight up to the surface.  Without fanfare, we emerged into the daylight, happy to see the weak light of a wintry day in central Germany.

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Know Before You Go
  • A regular adult ticket to tour the mine costs €15.  Ticket includes entrance to the museum on site.
  • Parking at the mine is free for cars and buses.
  • Tours run several times per day but are in German.  English tours are available by booking in advance.
  • Small secure lockers are available on site if you’d prefer not to carry your purse or other personal items into the mine.
  • For children, a minimum age of 4 years old is recommended.
  • The tunnels are muddy and the mine has several flights of narrow metal stairs.  Wear layers and comfortable, sturdy shoes.
  • The regular mine tour requires stooping for short stretches which could be difficult for folks with back or knee problems.
  • Animals are not allowed, with the exception of assistance dogs.
  • Multiple tours are available.  Ours was the Feur und Wasser (Fire & Water) tour, which takes about 75 minutes.
  • Official website for Rammelsberg Mine (DE)
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