The Colours of the Rammelsberg Mountain

A travel report

Anna Schütz, translated by Jessica Schewel

If you look at the walls, you might think that graffiti artists have made their way underground to leave their mark in the form of splashes of colour, with shades ranging from bright turquoise through to shimmering silvery white and right through to ochre with a matt sheen. What looks like the work of an artist armed with a spray can full of colour is actually a natural phenomenon. It looks so artistic that my children can't quite believe it when the mine tour guide tells them otherwise. And although they don't understand the chemical explanations revealing that the colours are the result of oxidation taking place in sulphidic ore deposits of non-ferrous metal (which, to be honest, yours truly doesn't fully understand either), the children are truly fascinated by their visit to the Roeder Gallery at the Rammelsberg Mine. They're so fascinated that they even forget their disappointment at the fact that 'going down into the mountain' only involves a short walk and they are actually visiting a museum.

It is, however, a very special museum: the uninterrupted extraction of ore from the Rammelsberg, which is located 2.5km to the south of the old town centre of Goslar, took place over a period of more than 1000 years, produced a total of 27 million tons and remained profitable right up to its final days. Archaeological finds confirm that ore was extracted from the site even as early as back in the Bronze Age. “That's 3000 years ago!” declares the tour guide, causing the children to open their eyes wide in amazement. For a long time, this involved the use of extremely primitive tools and methods, first in open-pit mines and later in underground mines. Shafts had to be dug and tunnels drifted, the pit water had to be removed from the mountain, suitable ventilation (above all fresh air) had to be provided, the ores needed to be extracted, mined and transported away from the mine and mine timber and firewood had to be felled and brought to the mine. Despite all of these requirements, the silver, lead, zinc and copper extracted from the mountain formed the basis of the wealth of the town's emperors and kings from the Middle Ages onwards. The mine was closed down in 1988 and in 1992, it was added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites together with the old town centre of Goslar – as a fascinating industrial monument that bears witness to over 1000 years of mining history and is truly unique on a global scale.

The first thing we see as we enter the site of the mine are its buildings dating back to the 1930s: typical wood-clad residential buildings along the avenue leading up the mountain and the three wooden workshops located directly under the headframe and constructed on the side of the mountain on various levels in terraced style. At first glance, you'd think that the miners had never left. "Look up there under the high ceiling!" I tell my children when we enter the wash house, "It looks like the workers' clothes baskets are waiting for them to finish their shift, doesn't it?"

If you decide to go on the "With the Mine Train on Site" tour, you'll genuinely believe that you have travelled back in time as you wait for a mine car full of ore to come roaring round the corner. On this tour, which is also very informative and understandable for children, the guide tells you all about the work carried out by the miners in the 20th century, which was transformed by the use of machinery. If you want to go on the tour of the Roeder Gallery too (which, of course, my children did!), you can go a good century even further back in time and discover how the Head Engineer Johann Christoph Roeder radically modernised the Rammelsberg mine at the start of the 19th century. The underground system of tunnels and water channels that he developed and had constructed was used right up until the installation of a new electrically powered drainage station in 1905.

You can really spend several days in, on and under the Rammelsberg mine and mountain. Make the most of a multitude of guided tours and events for both children and adults, which enable you to discover the history of mining and its culture up close and in person, as if the mine were still in operation today. Unlike other mining museums, the buildings are not simply a neutral storage area for exhibits, but form the core of the exhibition, providing an authentic insight into life and work in the very facility in which you are standing. Although we saw a great deal, we certainly didn't discover everything that the Rammelsberg has to offer. We’ll therefore definitely be coming back for more!

Rammelsberg mine

Find out about guided tours

Bergtal 19
38640 Goslar
Tel. +49 (0)5321 78060

Further information