CONTRIBUTED BY HEATHER LIDOWSKI
I have a confession to make. My German is terrible. If a cashier asks for an amount higher than ten, I’m lost. If someone offers a greeting beyond a simple “Guten Tag,” I’m not sure how to answer. My limited language abilities can make venturing out to explore Germany intimidating, so I get pretty excited when an activity or event advertises that it is English-friendly. When it’s an activity that will interest my husband and I as well as our three kids, I get even more excited. So, I felt a double dose of excitement when I found out that the Weiβe Grube or White Mine/Pit in Imsbach, located about 30 minutes northeast of Landstuhl, offered tours in English on a recent Sunday afternoon.
Before heading up to the mine, we stopped at The Historic Museum of Mining in the Palatinate in the heart of Imsbach. There were rows and rows of minerals, metals, and gems mined from the area and across the world. Maps behind the displays explained where each sample originated, and my kids enjoyed picking out which stones they would like to discover deep in a mine. At the White Mine, though, they are most likely going to find examples of rocks tinted green from copper. We left the museum and followed the Weiβe Grube signs through town and up towards the trail that takes you to the mine’s entrance.
At the mine, we were greeted by the guide who helped fit us each with safety helmets that provided protection from head bumps and scrapes in the low and narrow tunnels throughout the mine. He wished us luck before entering the mine as is the tradition with miners who need luck to find the goods they are mining for and luck to avoid injury. While we weren’t searching for ore that day, we were looking for a good time, which the tour provided.
The guide led an excellent tour full of information that would have been impossible for me to understand in German. He explained that Donnersberg, the mountain that houses the mine, took about 2,000 years to form over 285 million years ago. It was formed by a volcano that never erupted. Miners in the Middle Ages realized that the mountain held rich copper deposits, and they began to mine the mountain steadily from the 14th century to about 1550 when the 30 Years War interrupted their efforts. The guide allowed my kids to try out the style of chisels typically used by miners during the Middle Ages to carve into the mountain. The typical miner wore out 25 to 30 chisels in a twelve hour shift and only managed to make a two inch dent in the mine wall. The highest quality ore was depleted during that heavy mining period, but improved technology made it possible for two more peak mining eras to take place from the early 1700s to 1787 and from the end of the 1800s to 1921.
Now, visitors can tour the mine and see tunnels formed during the Middle Ages and widened during later periods to accommodate larger miners. The tour also passes through the “Soldiers’ Cavern” where German soldiers camped out during the end of World War II once they realized that the war’s end was in sight. Local villagers brought them supplies and food. At the end of the tour, you emerge from the mine to find machinery set up to illustrate how the miners’ wives and daughters worked used water mills to break down the rocks and separate the ore. Sons worked within the mines moving carts filled with products of their fathers’ labor. Working in the mine was a family affair, just as our visit to the White Mine was.
If you are like me and need to take advantage of English-language activities, you can check www.bew-imsbach.de for future tour dates. Special seasonal events are offered such as a guided tour by candlelight towards the end of October before bats settle into the tunnels for winter. Tickets to tour the White Mine cost 4 Euros for adults and 2 Euros for children and can be purchased at the mine’s entrance or at the mining museum in Imsbach. Tour tickets include admission to The Historic Museum of Mining in the Palatinate located at Ortsstrasse 2 / Langental, 67817 Imsbach. Tours typically take place on Saturdays and Sundays between 11:00-5:00, but it is best to call the museum office to confirm the schedule. Large groups can call to schedule weekday tours when a guide is available. For more information, you may contact the local tourism office at 06302-602-61 or email@example.com.