Hundreds of years ago, some areas of the Black Forest were full of holes like a Swiss cheese. Where families now go for pleasant walks or exhilarating bike rides, people toiled in mines for 800 years, bringing ores and rocks above ground in a surreal and dangerous world. The Black Forest was an important mining area. Now, this is only alluded to by place names or at show mines, in which visitors can embark on an adventure by going underground themselves. In 1790, people worked shifts in the shaft of the “Segen Gottes” mine at Schnellingen in Haslach; now it attracts around 15,000 visitors each year.
Claustrophobics might be better off giving the guided tour a miss and instead relaxing by the beautiful Silbersee lake, which is fed by water from the mine. Those who dare to venture into the mine are first kitted out with helmets, waterproof jackets, mining lamps, and sturdy rubber boots. Stalactites and stalagmites jut out at all angles. The paths are narrow and cramped and the ground is full of water. Every so often, the tunnels become wider and enable even fully grown adults to stand upright. Adjoining tunnels and shafts heading upwards confuse you, and you’re glad to have a guide who knows how to get around here and can point out ancient beams, wooden drainage pipes, and an old pump. At one point, a hammer and chisel are provided. Once visitors have given it a quick go themselves, they begin to understand just how difficult people must have found it to create the 2-kilometer long, 4-story high cavity inside the mine. The only light they had were sticks of firewood, which they had to hold in their mouths. Today, the mine is sparsely lit, and yet every so often, you can still see the walls glisten and sparkle. The guide shows you and talks about barite – also known as “heavy spar” – which is still mined elsewhere in the Black Forest. It plays a role in high-tech deep drilling and is used in the production of photographic paper. Visitors are marvel at amethysts, real silver, fool’s gold, translucent fluorides, as well as copper and iron.
The guided tour takes them up four stories. The steps are steep and difficult and you can only guess what it must have been like getting into and back out of the mine when mining rights in the Kinzigtal region were first documented in 1234. At the lowest point, you were 130 meters below ground. So it comes as no surprise when even non-claustrophobics are glad to see the light of day again after a tour lasting some one and a half to two hours.
There is even an animal in the “Segen Gottes” show mine. In total darkness, a spider’s web stretches across the dripping roof. But there’s no sign of a monkey anywhere. They prefer sunshine – or the dim lights of an extravagant bar.