Below ground

Miners in Salzbergwerk Berchtesgaden

Below ground

Miners in Salzbergwerk Berchtesgaden

Andreas Neumayer was just 12 years old when his father took him to this underground world for the first time – the Salzbergwerk Berchtesgaden. But instead of taking him to the visitors’ area he took him to where the miners had mined salt for 500 years.

Neumayer still remembers it very clearly. “There was a very unique smell in the mine. I was underground with my father and just after a few metres I had no idea how to get out!” Later on he realised. “Some people want to be firemen or policemen, but I want to be a miner.” And thus he decided to continue in the family tradition, because his father, grandfather and great-grandfather had all worked underground at  Berchtesgaden.

Water releases the white gold from the rocks

The mountain is an integral part of the local culture and economy. The cultural landscape of the salt mine has shaped the region and its inhabitants – both as an employer and also as a rich source of salt. “They previously called salt “white gold” because it really was as valuable as gold. And Andreas Neumayer believes the following still holds true today: “Anyone who’s born in this area is simply proud of this product.”

'Anyone who’s born in this area is simply proud of this product.'

The methods for collecting the salt haven’t changed very much over the years. Using the so-called “wet mining” method, a hollow in the rock face is filled with freshwater. The miners keep filling this hollow with water so that the borehole continues to get bigger. The water releases the salt from the rock. About one centimetre of rock is washed out of the surface every day in this way.

This creates brine, a solution that is 26.5 percent salt. It is pumped through pipes to Bad Reichenhall where the brine is heated to filter out the famous Bad Reichenhall salt. Andreas Neumayer and his colleagues produce around one million cubic metres of this salt solution each year.

The miners still rely on their muscle power

If you thought that today’s miners just use machines, you’re wrong. In “wet mining“ the brine is fed into pipes. Large machines cut through the rock face in order to create tunnels for the pipes to run through. “We carry heavy cast iron conduits or chunks of salt by hand or with the help of hoists” – just like the miners 500 years ago when the Petersberg tunnel was excavated and one of the oldest salt mines in Germany started operations. In 2017 the brine pipeline between Berchtesgaden and Bad Reichenhall is celebrating its 200th anniversary.

Visitors will be able to experience at first hand the twelve degree coolness and the atmospheric sparkling of the mine during a one-hour guided tour.  A narrow-gauge railway will transport them along the small submerged shaft and into the mysterious underworld of the miners. Via stairways and footbridges, the adventure will take them from one excavation chamber to the next. Daredevils can slide down the two long miners’ chutes into even deeper caverns. The highlight of the tour is a trip on a raft across a mirror-smooth underground lake.

Despite this often painstaking work, the miners never fear there will be a lack of new workers. “To be honest, it’s the opposite. We get a lot of applications for every job we advertise,” says Andreas Neumayer with a smile. This just goes to show how highly traditional occupations are still regarded in Berchtesgaden.

Tradition upheld

It’s not just in his professional life that Neumayer honours the old traditions. “It’s important to me that traditions should be upheld, whether this is to do with the mine or my free time.” This is why the young miner is a member of four clubs: the Maria Gern brass band, the society for traditional costumes for the Berchtesgaden Region, the society for traditional mountain costumes and the Berchtesgaden fire brigade.

Salzbergwerk Berchtesgaden

Südwestdeutsche Salzwerke AG
address: Bergwerkstraße 83, 83471 Berchtesgaden
Tel: +49 (0)8652 6002-0
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