The town of Fischbach is only about 9 kilometres from Idar-Oberstein. Here in the southern Hunsrück is the historic Fischbach copper mine, which can be visited all year round.
In EdelSteinLand there are not only precious stones, but also copper deposits. This was mined for many years in Fischbach in a mine in the Hosenbach valley.
A look back
There is a document (1461) which states that copper had been mined in the Hosenbach valley since 1400. At that time, there was a territorial border that ran directly over the Hosenberg. Parts of the area and thus also the mineral resources belonged to the Count of Sponheim and the Wild and Rhine Counts of Kyrburg near Kirn. In 1473 they agreed to divide the revenues from mining equally and also to jointly send workers to the mine. Both owners appointed a joint mining administrator who was responsible for supervising the operation.
In the 16th century, about 200-300 miners are said to have worked in the mine. Many of them were immigrants from other mining areas, for example from Saxony or Alsace.
At the beginning of mining in the region, the sovereigns were still responsible for the operation of the mine. From 1461 onwards, they handed the task over to private hands. In this way, they hoped to improve investments in the operation and the associated increase in yield. Johann von Rendsdorf and Hermann Smelt, two experts, took over the mines in the Hosenbach valley and the smelters in Allenbach and Fischbach. The copper ore they mined was further processed in Belgium, for example.
In 1572, the ownership of the Fischbach mines changed. Although the operators were well versed in mining and copper smelting, the slow decline of European mining also hit Fischbach. This was a bitter blow for the region, as about 2,500-3,000 people lived directly or indirectly from mining. Copper mining was one of the biggest economic factors in the region.
In 1624, the operators of the mine decided to cease operations. Only after the Thirty Years’ War, in 1697, did they resume operations in part of the mines.
From 1730, mining in Fischbach experienced an upswing for a few years. This was probably also due to the blasting technology that was now used, which made faster ore mining possible. Unfortunately, the boom did not last very long. As early as 1765, the profits began to dwindle. Although the mine produced a good 130 quintals of copper a year, the operators decided to close it down in 1792.
Welcome to the visitor mine
In 1975, the former mine in the Hosenbach Valley was reopened as a visitor mine. About 11 years later, the reconstructed copper smelter could be shown to visitors.
Today, regular guided tours are offered throughout the year, highlighting the history of the mine, working methods and mining traditions, providing an insight into medieval mining.
The visitor entrance to the mine is above the information centre. It can be reached on foot in 5-10 minutes. As we followed the uphill path, I noticed the markings on the ground. The mining logo sprayed on the road showed us the way to the entrance to the mine.
Before we were allowed to enter the passage into the mountain, we had to put on a helmet. Some of the passages are a little lower and the head is protected that way. If you enter the Historic Copper Mine Fischbach in summer, you should also take a jacket. It is quite cool inside all year round.
Visit to the Historic Copper Mine Fischbach
The door to the mine opened and we reached the inside of the mountain via a slightly sloping path. Saint Barbara, the patron saint of miners, watched over our entry into the mine.
It was dim, only a little light illuminated the narrow passage. The surprise was all the greater when we reached a large widening in the mountain. A large artificially created space 135 metres long, 30 metres wide and an astonishing 35 metres high opened up before us. What a space, hardly imaginable that this had been created by the miners.
The Weitung is the ideal place to learn more about mining in the Fischbach mine. Here, for example, you can see the different mining processes in the rock. In the beginning, the miners used hammers and irons to drive the mine. This was a laborious process in which the iron was driven into the rock piece by piece by hammer blows until it finally spalled off. The miners did not make much progress this way. With medium-strength rock, a worker managed about 5-10 centimetres of advance per 12-hour shift.
In Fischbach, as can be proved by traces in the rock, the miners also used wedge hews. The wedge hoe was used to make a vertical slit in the rock or ore. The workers always made several slits at even intervals, which weakened the rock. By skilful use of levers, they could eventually loosen larger areas.
In another area of the huge cave, there are traces in the rock that clearly indicate that blasting was used here. It is known from documents that ore was mined in this mine using this method from 1750 onwards. The blaster filled the black powder into boreholes that had been hewn into the rock by hand over several hours. With the help of this method, the advance in the mine naturally progressed much faster.
While I learn about the mining methods, I am amazed at what has been created here over time. The extension has different floors, which can be reached via stairs during the guided tour. Every now and then, a stone pillar stands in the cave and gives the whole thing some stability. Other passages lead to areas that are not open to the public. You can take a look into one of these areas. Large wheels of cheese are stored here. The humidity and the very even temperature allow for a good ripening process. You can buy the cheese in the shop of the Historic Copper Mine Fischbach.
During the tour, I keep looking at the rock and wondering how the miners found the copper here. Back then the light was even dimmer than today. Now you can occasionally see discolourations in the rock that could indicate a metal inclusion. That was certainly not the case back then.
The waterfall in the middle of the widening is something special. If you visit the Historic Fischbach Mine in the hot, dry summer, you might be unlucky, because the waterfall dries up then. During the rainy season and when the snow melts, the water rushes all the more powerfully into the depths. Sometimes it is even said to get so loud that you can’t understand your own words.
Reconstructed copper smelter
I was particularly excited about the area in the Historic Copper Mine Fischbach, where we were to get an insight into the smelting of copper ore. The entrance to this is right next to the information centre of the visitor mine.
When the large wooden gate opened, we were able to enter a small courtyard where the various processing stations were set up. With the help of these machines, the work process was now explained to us.
The ore-bearing rock reached the ore smelter through a tunnel in the mountain. In the first step, the workers began to process the ore. To do this, the ore was taken to the stamping mill. An impressive machine that was operated with the help of a large water wheel. Large heavy punches raised and lowered. With a loud bang they land on the rock and smash it. Although we only saw one stamp mill in action, I was very impressed. Not only the noise, but also the vibrations were clearly felt. What must it have felt like when several of these machines were working at the same time.
In the next step, the heavier ore is separated from the lighter rock. To do this, the crushed mass was allowed to flow through a washing line with lots of water. In the process, the light rock is washed away and a copper-bearing silt remains. This is dried and then taken to the smelter.
The copper ore from the mine in Fischbach is very sulphurous. The workers heated it in roasting furnaces in a wood fire. Huge bellows, which were also kept running with the help of the water wheel, kept the fire going. This allowed the sulphur to escape as sulphur dioxide. Now the ore was prepared for the next processing steps.
An impressive process that was explained and presented to us in great detail. We really enjoyed the visit to the Historic Copper Mine Fischbach and I learned a lot about medieval mining.
Hike on the “Fischbacher Kupferspuren” dream trail
At the end of our visit to the historic copper mine in Fischbach, we went on a short hike that also deals with the topic of copper mining. The “Fischbacher Kupferspuren” dream loop starts directly at the visitors’ car park, a circular trail about 4.0 kilometres long.
The hiking trail runs along natural paths and can be easily mastered in about 2 hours. There are 12 information boards along the way that inform the reader about copper mining in the region. The bat “Kupfi-Maus” and the ghost “Geisti” accompany the trail and explain the topic in a child-friendly way.
I found it very exciting at some stations to discover the places described a little off the beaten track. For example, we followed a trail that led us uphill to an old tunnel entrance. This is of course closed for safety reasons, but you can still look into the passage. It’s amazing how narrow some of the passages were that the miners used to get to their work.
At another point on the hiking route, we discovered boards that told us about the vegetation of the area. I always find it great when we also learn something about the region on hiking routes.
The hike is well signposted and we liked it very much. Especially in winter, when we were in EdelSteinLand in January, we were all alone on the Traumschleifchen. It was quiet, relaxing and the information boards enabled us to read up on what we had just heard in the mine.
A beer to finish!
Zurück an unserem Ausgangspunkt konnten wir mit einem Bier aus der Region auf den tollen Tag anstoßen.
01.03. – 31.10.
daily: 10 – ca. 17:00 h
daily: 10 – ca. 14:30 h
closed: 24.12. and 25.12.
Historic copper mine Fischbach – Guided tours:
The tour lasts about 60 minutes. Please book an appointment in advance. The exact times can be found on the website of the visitor mine.
Please arrive at the visitor mine ticket office 20 minutes before the tour. From there it takes about 5-10 minutes to walk uphill to the entrance of the mine.
The barrier-free Erbstollen is only open in the summer months. In winter, bats live there. Guided tours are offered here on request, but they do not lead into the main gallery.
The visit to the Historic Copper Mine Fischbach was one item on the agenda of a research trip to EdelSteinLand.