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The Rammelsberg Mining Museum

When the Rammelsberg ore mine in Goslar closed in 1988, it had been in operation for around 1,000 years. Some 27 million tons of non-ferrous metal ore, containing zinc, lead, copper, silver & gold, had been excavated by that time, leaving the mine exhausted. Today, the Rammelsberg is a mining museum, and I dare say it is one of the coolest places in the Harz to visit. If it’s your first visit to a mine, be sure to join the mine train tour to get a hint of what mining was like in the mid-20th century. But if you have seen one mine, you’ve seen them all, and in that case the Röder gallery tour will be of greater interest, showing the ingenious hydropower system that enabled the draining of the pit & the hoisting of ore with waterwheels throughout the 19th century.

The mine train at the Rammelsberg mining museum
The mine train at the Rammelsberg

As interesting as the underground tours is the one through the ore-dressing plant, built on the mountainside in the 1930s, which shows the step-by-step process of pulverizing & concentrating the ores. Tours in German take place multiple times a day and do not require prior registration; tours in English are offered less often, and advance booking is recommended. Children under 4 cannot participate in underground tours. Apart from the guided tours the exhibition at the warehouse will appeal to anyone interested in the social, economic & technical history of the Rammelsberg and the lives of the miners who worked there, and techies will like all the technical equipment, turbines & electrical installations at the power station, and the inclined lift next door.

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It has often been suggested that mining the Rammelsberg started in 968, which is based on a remark by Widukind of Corvey in his three-volume chronicle Res gestae Saxonicae, in the chapter about how Emperor Otto the Great defeated the King of the Lombards, the Romans, the Princes of Benevento, and the Greeks in Calabria & Apulia, opened silver veins in Saxony (‘in terra Saxonia uenas argenti aperuerit’), and, along with his son, grandly expanded his empire. We cannot know if Widukind meant the Rammelsberg here; however, we may assume that it was around the year 1000 that the Goslar miners went underground for the first time.


In his book Vom Rammelsbergk und desselbigen Berckwergks ein kurtzer bericht (1565), Lazarus Ercker tells the story of how the horse of one Mr Ramm, a gentleman in the service of Emperor Otto I, accidentally first uncovered the iron ore on the mountain, and how the Emperor, despite the ore being low in silver & lead, ‘for the love of mining’ had his miners attack the Rammelsberg with great force. Research from the 1980s shows that 3rd-to-7th-century ores & cinders found at a dig in Düna, some 30 km south of Goslar, consist mainly of Rammelsberg ore, so we have reason to believe that there were others ahead of Otto’s miners.


Rammelsberg ore is rich in metal, but finely intergrown, and therefore difficult to process. To make this easier, and to support their war effort, the Nazis heavily subsidized the establishment of a new flotation-based ore-dressing plant, which was built in 1936 & 1937 to a design by Fritz Schupp & Martin Kremmer, architects of the Zollverein colliery in Essen. Carved into the mountainside, the ore-dressing plant forms the heart of the Rammelsberg’s surface installations, not only from a technical but also from an architectural point of view, as the orientation & design of all the other buildings are subordinate to the monumental plant, which unites modern, regional & Nazi architectural features.


Owing to the commodity boom in response to the Korean War, prices for lead & zinc went up in the 1950s, and in ’53 the mining company Preußag opened an ore-dressing plant for low-grade banded ore on the Bollrich, halfway between Goslar & Oker, on the other side of the Rammelsberg mountain, close to what is today a glider airfield. Its architect was Fritz Schupp, who, together with Martin Kremmer (d. 1945), also designed the mine plant in Goslar in the 1930s. A narrow-gauge mine train through the Gelenbeeker gallery connected the mine to the Bollrich plant, and from there a standard-gauge railway was used to transport the dressed ore to the lead & zinc works in Oker & Harlingerode.


There are multiple mine carts that are claimed to be the last one to have left the mine on the day of its final closure, on 30 June 1988. Two are on display at the Rammelsberg power station; another one is located at the Mönchehaus, Goslar’s modern art museum, where it survives as an artwork entitled Package on a Hunt, wrapped in cloth by the noted Pont Neuf, Reichstag & Arc de Triomphe wrappers Christo & Jeanne-Claude.

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