Mine Tours and Snow

We found snow!  This weekend, we headed north, instead of south, to the town of Goslar.  We left after work on Friday and headed out.  On our way, we stopped and stayed in a small hotel in a small outdoor recreation area next to a river.  Conveniently, this was their first snowfall of the year, meaning the snow was still clean, and it coated everything.  It was absolutely beautiful! Inconveniently, the Germans apparently didn't know how to drive in the snow.  About 30 km away from our final destination, traffic on the A7 came to a screeching halt.  Navigation then politely informed us that the rest of the drive, which should have taken 20 minutes, would now take us an hour and forty minutes.  Fantastic.

We got off at the next exit, and took some back roads to get to the hotel, which managed to shave an hour off of our arrival time. We finally arrived at the hotel around 9 that night.  And guess what time the reception desk closed?  8:30.  I had booked a non-refundable room on Hotels.com, and I was already running though our options of where to stay and how I would call Hotels.com and complain that opening hours were not posted in the hotel information and how it was a big inconvenience.  Thankfully, by calling the hotel, we were able to get a hold of someone, who gave us our room key.  Crisis averted.

Yup, this is pretty much what the entire drive looked like.  Absolutely stunning.

The next morning when we woke up, we found more snow had fallen over night.  The temperature was close to the freezing mark, so it was a heavy, wet, sticky snow.  The perfect kind for making snowballs.  Alas, we did not have a snowball fight (although in retrospect we should have), but we were graced with some beautiful scenery as we drove from the hotel to Goslar.

The whole purpose of this weekend was to visit Rammelsberg Mine in the town of Goslar, another UNESCO World Heritage Site. Rammelsberg is the only mine in the that has been in continuous operation for over 1000 years.  Recently, archaeological evidence has also been discovered that indicates the mine may have actually been used for over 3000 years, but not necessarily continuously.  The plant closed its doors for good in 1988, and was turned into a museum soon after.  We did two tours: one of the processing plant, and an underground one of the mine.  They offer a lot more tours though, and English language ones by prior appointment.

a miner's ''locker.''  they hung their clothes up, overhead, so that the Would dry. and so that their street clothes would stay clean.

One thing that we've come to enjoy about traveling during the winter is that no one else does.  While this sometimes means things are closed, more often than not it means we get the place to ourselves.  This weekend was no exception.  We essentially had a private tour of the processing facility and our tour guide was awesome!  Tanja graciously did the entire thing in English for us, even though it was highly technical.  For the terms she didn't know, she was able to describe it and we figured out what it was.  Her passion for the mine, the science and the history really showed during the tour.

The processing plant was built over the span of 13 months in the mid-1930s.  It was actually slotted to close, but the rich mineral deposits strategically located in the middle of the country was convenient, and desirable, for the growing NAZI party.  As such, they put a lot of money into developing and building the complex. The primary metals mined here, in the form of sulfides, are lead, zinc and copper.  The tour starts at the top, where football sized rocks from the mine were hoisted.  Those ingenious German engineers were able to devise a system which utilized gravity and only required two workers per shift.  Those two workers could hoist an incredible 1000 tons of rock in a single shift.  Talk about productivity!  

The hoist for the mine. there were always two baskets - one going up and one going down.

The tour then continued on through the rock crushers, which crushed the football size rocks into fist-sized rocks. These fist sized rocks were then crushed again, this time in ball mill, until they were essentially powder.  Since the ore was in the form of metal sulfides, even the dust from the rock crushing was gathered via a vacuum system for processing later on.  The dust was then mixed with water and went through an ore separation step.  These are essentially long tubs to which chemicals are added to make certain elements float to the top and form a foam.  The foam was then scrapped off and partially dried.  The final product, which was far less than pure metal, was then shipped to other facilities for further processing and to be turned into a finished product.

One of the shafts on the underground tour

The second tour we did was the underground tour, all auf Deutsch, so we got less of the details than we did on the processing tour.  We were taken down in the trains that the miners themselves used to get to work.  Once there, we disembarked and began the tour.  They had different exhibits (I use that term loosely since it was really small alcoves) with working pieces of equipment.  We got to observe different methods for drilling (which were incredibly loud!), ore removal and blasting.  Although the blasting was simulated (not really safe to explode rocks in front of visitors, although that would have been pretty awesome).  This tour was much shorter, and due to the language, a little bit less informative, but still just as cool as the processing tour.  

hardhats are the height of fashion?  amiright?

If you're planning a trip yourself to the Rammelsberg mine, check out their website.  I think the medieval tour would be awesome to do (four hours in the mine and you get to see a large gallery that was chiseled out, by hand, in the 1200s to drain water).  But it requires prearrangement, which we didn't do.  They also offer a number of different above ground tours and a self-guided tour of the mine museum.  Prices are reasonable too; starting at 13€ for one tour, €17 for two, and €20 for three.

After we finished up at the mine, we headed to the nearby town of Wolfenbüttel to try to see if we could tour the Jägermeister distillery.  Alas, the only way to do it is to do a 4 hour tour, organized by the town, and is held only on Mondays. Talk about inconvenient!  

so close.  yet still so far away.....

By the time I booked hotels, all of them in Goslar were booked, or incredibly expensive.  As such, we did not spend any time exploring the town, but from looking at pictures, we should have.  Instead, we did some more driving through the Harz mountains to admire the natural beauty of the snow.  We even happened upon small town that had thousands of people visiting to downhill ski, toboggan (you know those old wooden sled that sit up high?  They're everywhere over here!), Nordic ski and hike in the snow (not snowshoeing, actual hiking). Germans appear to be much more active than Americans, as a whole, and they are easy to find in the mountains or enjoying nature on the weekends.

For dinner, we found this little place near the hotel we were staying at.  The best way to describe it would be a German version of a western UP hole in the wall bar, complete with bowling trophies (in this case, it was handball trophies), a jute box playing oldies, a dart board and the German version of Yoopers.  Minus the German, we felt right at home :)  After a few beers, we called it good and headed back to the hotel.  We needed a good night's sleep because the next day, we were off to check another item off of our Diving Bucket List!  Can you guess which one it is?  Check back in a couple days to see some pictures and hear all about it!

For more pictures from the mine tours and the snow, click through the gallery below.