Historic buildings of Rammelsberg Mine in Goslas

Touring the Historic Rammelsberg Mine

Legend tells that in the year 968, a knight was out 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 Travis’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
Miners’ change room, Rammelsberg Mine, Goslar, Germany

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.

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.
pond at Rammelsberg Mine
Herzberg Pond holds water that at one time powered the mine’s underground water wheels.

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
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.
Several fresh-cut Christmas trees with strands of lights decorate the tunnels.
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.
The faces of some of the other members of our tour group glow in the low light of our guide’s lamp.
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.

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)

What’s up next on our agenda?

Strolling through the Goslar Christmas Market with its own man-made forest in the town square…

38 thoughts on “Touring the Historic Rammelsberg Mine”

  1. This is such an interesting and offbeat experience. So few of us even visit places such as these. It is totally my kind of a place. Those are some interesting tips you shared at the end. It is interesting to know that there are metal stairs there.

  2. I had no idea there were mines like this in Germany! Looks pretty eerie to go in which is awesome because I love stuff like that! I plan on going back to Germany this year so I would love to check this out!

    1. I didn’t either until we visited. I don’t think Germany has many and none that are really world famous. It’s cool you’re coming back to Germany for a visit! I don’t know how long you’ll be in country, but unless it’s an extended period, I can’t say this mine should be at the top of your list. Too many other way cooler things in Germany!

  3. A great tour worth experiencing! They have taken care of everything for the tourist… from dresses to photographs. Kids will definitely enjoy this. I can imagine the thrilling ride in there.

  4. I really like mining towns, not the horrors of the ones in America. I found a copper mining town in Toros, Norway which is also an UNESCO heritage list. Do you get any places to eat nearby??

    1. I’m fascinated by mining towns too, Sudipto, but agree they come with their set of horrors. So many of them are known because of their poor working conditions, accidents, and their impact on the environment. I grew up “down-wind” of the smelting plant for Bunker Hill Mine in North Idaho, and like so many other residents, I was chronically sick from lead and other heavy metals poisoning until we moved from the area. Sad to see such a beautiful place contaminated.

      We’re planning a road trip through Norway next summer, so I flagged Toros. Thanks for the info!

      As far as where to eat, the mine is about 2 km outside the town of Goslar. The only eatery in the immediate area is the Rammelsberg Restaurant next to the mine. We ate in Goslar, and I’d especially recommend the Christmas Market if you happen to visit in November/December! So much FOOD! Barring that, we also had dinner at the Butterhanne, which was really good. They serve traditional German dishes like Schnitzel, wild boar goulash, and Rinderrouladen – tasty but definitely not healthy.

      Let us know what you think if you visit the area!

  5. Wow…this place sounds really interesting. I love visiting historical place, in my island (Sardinia in Italy) we have a lot of old mines. There is one which is very famous, it’s called “Porto Flavia”, it’s such an amazing place.

    1. I’ve never heard of Porto Flavia, Stefano, but just read a bit about the mine. Dang, it sounds really cool. I’ve never heard of mining that was done from seaside cliffs and lowered down onto boats. It’s amazing what people can dream up. We’ve taken a couple of trips to Italy but never Sardinia. Sounds like it needs to be on our bucket list. 🙂

  6. Sounds like a unique experience. I never have gone caving for historical reason so this is quite of a twist. Looks like a worthwhile tour to go on.

    1. It really is an interesting area in Germany, Brown Gal Trekker. Even though this mine was closed in 1988 because people thought it was “played out”, a Scandinavian company claims they’ve found huge ore deposits not far from the current mine. If you do visit Rammelsberg Mine, it just might be operational again!

  7. I love mines, been on several such trips in Slovenia as a kid on school trips! In one of them they even had a simmulator of a mining accident. Scary stuff!

    1. I love mines too, Jure! Or just being underground in general. It’s such a cool experience to be deep in the earth.

      Do you remember which mine you visited that was the one with the accident simulator? Sounds scary but super interesting! We visited Škocjan Cave in Slovenia last summer and loved it but didn’t know about any mines there.

  8. “Hard to Imagine” is a Pearl Jam song. I’ve never heard of the mine or the town. 1,000 years is a long time. Crazy thinking it just shut down in my lifetime!

    1. I tend to think the same thing, Brian – about the mine shutting down in our lifetime. We’re so removed from mining personally, except for when we visit mines as tourists, that I’m always surprised to hear that one is still in operation. Somehow I think of mining as a historic profession long since past its heyday because so many of the mines where we’re from in the Pacific Northwest operated in the 19th & 20th century, made a ton of money, then have struggled or were shut down in the face of environmental concerns.

      If you ever get a chance to visit the mines of northern Idaho, I’d recommend it! I was born not far from the Sunshine Mine near Kellogg. It’s one of the world’s deepest and richest silver mines and was the location of one of the US’s worst mining disasters: 91 workers died when a fire broke out in 1972.

  9. Working in a mine myself I love these articles about older mines and their history. Definately enjoy the story of how the Rammelsburg mine started, well I would like to believe it anyway. Really enjoyed your work and pictures.

    1. Holy cow, you work in a mine currently? That’s incredible. Where? Do you like it? It must be such hard work. Hopefully the mine where you work has good safety regulations!

      I know the story of how the mine started is probably too fanciful to be true, but I like to think it is too.

    1. Yeah, Rammelsberg Mine really isn’t that big, though it started feeling like it when we had to walk hunched over through the sections of low-hanging tunnel! Did you like the mine in Scotland? It must have been pretty huge if it didn’t feel like a mine. I liked wearing a hard hat too! I worked on crude oil ships from Alaska a long time ago and it made me miss those days.

  10. This is definitely not your normal tourist destination. I love going to mines and caves, it’s such a unique and kinda empowering experience, seeing what man and earth can both make. Super fascinating!

  11. I have never been in a mine like this but it looks super interesting! Do you have any idea how deep you went into it? It looks fascinating though!

    1. Hey Dane! That’s a really good question. I’m actually not sure, though I think it was around 400-500 meters deep. It’s definitely not one of the deepest mines. Oddly enough, I don’t recall seeing that info on their brochure, the English version of the mine’s website is currently not functional, and their German version doesn’t mention the depth. I’ll get back to you if I’m able to find the answer!

  12. I have never done the trip of a mine. I definitely would love to take. The worker’s life was definitely way to harsh in the mines in old days. It sends chills down the spine to read about it. Although, seems you had a wonderful experience touring this mine

    1. I agree with you, Neha. Being a miner was a really tough and dangerous job back in the days. I imagine it’s still difficult, even with newer, better safety standards. It seems like at least once a year, I read about a mine disaster somewhere in the world. We did enjoy it but we had the luxury of going as tourists and were only underground for less than 2 hours! I’m curious to know what you think when you do visit your first mine.

  13. Sounds like a really interesting place. Caves could be really fun for sightseeing. I have so far only been in one larger industrial cave. That was outside of Oskarshamn here in Sweden. There are a nuclear power plant there and they are doing research about the storage of used fuel. When vi visited a few years ago we got to see the tunnels and go all the way to the bottom, 500 meters underground. That was an amazing experience. 🙂

    How deep was it possible to go in the Rammelsberg Mine?

    1. Hey Jesper, I think that Rammelsberg Mine is also between 400-500 meters deep, though I’m not exactly sure. Our tour was in German so I only caught pieces and that info isn’t posted on their website.

      The cave in Oskarshamn sounds really cool, particularly the research about used nuclear fuel. My mom grew up near the Hanford Reactor in Washington State, which they recently turned into a US National Park Service attraction. I’d very much like to visit that as well!

  14. Looks like a very stirring and evocative experience. The only underground mine tours I’ve done are in Wales, and these were coal mines. Definitely also worth doing, but this looks great as well – would be fascinating to learn about ore extraction!

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