Bergwerk Werra


Useful Information

Location: Wanderparkplatz Lederer.
1,3 km/30 minutes walk to the mine towards Rudolfstein.
(50.089459, 11.883730)
Open: MAI to SEP Sat 10.
Only after appointment.
[2023]
Fee: Adults EUR 12, Children (6-17) EUR 9.
[2023]
Classification: MineUranium Mine MineTin Mine
Light: helmets with headlamp provided
Dimension:
Guided tours: D=3 h, Max=10, MinAge=6.
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: no
Bibliography: Dietmar Herrmann (2017): Das Zinn- und Uranbergwerk am Rudolfstein, Siebenstern, Vereinszeitschrift des Fichtelgebirgsvereins, Heft 2, 2017, S. 5. Deutsch - German
Stefan Meier, Bernhard Dünkel (2010): Das Zinn- und Uranbergwerk am Rudolfstein bei Weißenstadt, Fichtelgebirge Lapis, Heft 2/2010, S. 29–37. Deutsch - German
(1956): Flicks Versuchsschacht, DER SPIEGEL 34/1956. online Deutsch - German
Address: Kur- & Tourist Information Weißenstadt, Wunsiedler Straße 4, 95163 Weißenstadt, Tel: +49-9253-95030. E-mail:
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.

History

18th century mining of tinstone.
1929 mining of tin and tungsten.
1945 mine closed at the end of the Second World War.
1949 Mining engineer Dr Albert Kummer promotes the mining of uranium ore.
1950 uranium mined under the cover name "Zinnerz-Untersuchungsbetrieb" (Tin Ore Exploration Mine).
1955 Bundesminister für Atomfragen (Atomic Minister) Franz Josef Strauß visits Weißenstadt.
1956 uranium mining becomes public.
1957 mining ceased due to lack of profitability.
06-JUL-2016 show mine opened to the public.

Geology


Description

The Bergwerk Werra (Werra mine) is a very young show mine and can only be visited by appointment. In the Middle Ages, Weißenstadt was the centre of an area rich in mineral resources. There were considerable tin deposits and corresponding mines in Weißenstadt itself. Until now, none of them has been open to the public. The mine was probably founded in the 18th century for the extraction of tinstone, but only one adit was built. It was put into operation again in 1929, again for tin mining, but also for tungsten. Both metals were considered important for the war effort. Like many other mines, it was closed at the end of the Second World War.

Things got interesting in 1950, at the beginning of the Cold War, when it was reopened under the cover name "Zinnerz-Untersuchungsbetrieb" (Tin Ore Exploration). This time the target was uranium, which also occurred. After all, 4 km of tunnels were built, down to a depth of 280 m. The uranium mining can be traced back to the initiative of mining engineer Dr. Albert Kummer. During the Second World War, he managed the mine and discovered the uranium ore torbernite. After the war, from 1949, he promoted its mining.

The new owner, Eisenwerk Gesellschaft Sulzbach-Rosenberg (Maxhütte), was the operator. When mining began in 1950, uranium mining was actually banned by the Allies, hence the code name. In addition, larger quantities of tin ore were mined for camouflage. The U.S.A. also supplied little uranium to Germany because they were uncomfortable with a German nuclear industry. Franz Josef Strauß, on the other hand, was a supporter of nuclear armament for the Bundeswehr. Maxhütte was a subsidiary of the Flick group, the processing was done by the Degussa company, and the high German politicians were probably in on it. However, SDAG WISMUT in the GDR did not care about the ban either. The Federal Minister for Atomic Affairs Franz Josef Strauß visited Weißenstadt in 1955 when it was still secret. In 1956, the newsreel Welt im Bild reported on it publicly for the first time. Original comment: "For one month, the first and only German uranium mine has been working in Weißenstadt in the Fichtel Mountains". An article in the renowned and independent German magazine "Der Spiegel" of 21-AUG-1956 gives the legend credibility. Apparently, the journalists did not notice any inconsistency in the fact that in five years, 4 km of tunnel were dug, and all the uranium was in the last few metres, and then five kilos of uranium were extracted at lightning speed on previously non-existent, because illegal, processing facilities. The legend is (perhaps unwittingly) maintained to this day. The official page of the Tourist Information Weißenstadt skirts around the issue and the Geopark flyer speaks of "exploration" lasting until 1956.

The uranium mined in Weißenstadt was destined, among other things, for the Forschungsreaktor München (Munich research reactor) in Garching. Slices were cut from a fuel rod for nuclear reactors and used as blanks for coins, so medals were minted from Weissenstadt uranium. The medals weighed 55 grams and had a diameter of 40 mm. Uranium was particularly hard, so it was difficult to mint, requiring the highest pressures. Unfortunately, uranium oxidises easily, so that the coins today already have considerable damage. If you want to see one, there is one on display in the German Mining Museum (DBM) in Bochum. It also shows a certain naivety that the enriched and radioactive material from fuel rods was used for this instead of the depleted waste product. The same naivety prevailed in the safety precautions in the mine, even the miners did not know that radioactivity was harmful.

After uranium mining was made public in 1956, there was speculation about an Atomstadt Weißenstadt (Nuclear City Weißenstadt). This would have meant jobs and infrastructure in the structurally weak region. However, mining was stopped as early as 1957, uranium was no longer profitable due to falling world market prices. Today Weißenstadt can be glad that they don't have any radioactive tailings to clean up, back then people were not so happy with the development.

The area is part of the Bavaria-Bohemia Geopark, and the mine is therefore not only a listed monument but also a geotope. In addition, the mouth hole is a stop on the GEO-Erlebnisweg Weißenstadt, a geological trail, and a display board at the tunnel entrance explains the history of the mine. A plaque on the memorial stone below the show mine was dedicated to the memory of Dr. Albert Kummer, the first uranium prospector in the Fichtelgebirge.

The Besucherbergwerk Werra (Werra visitor mine) was opened to groups of visitors on 06-JUL-2016 after extensive renovation and preparation work. It shows 300 m of tunnels from the time of uranium mining. As it serves as hibernation quarters for several native bat species, it is closed from October to April. It can only be visited by small groups, the maximum number of participants is 10. It is possible to make an appointment, but there seem to be fixed dates which are announced in spring. Usually these are on Saturdays at 10 am. Quite funny: the operator is the municipality, so you have to wire transfer the money to their account beforehand. Pretty 20th century, considering that the show mine has only existed for five years. And obviously quite impractical for international visitors.

With a walk to the mine of about 1.3 km and a total duration of three hours, the visit requires a certain level of fitness. There is also no electric light. We recommend waterproof trekking shoes or rubber boots, as there is water on the ground in some places. Of course, suitable clothing and a warm fleece are also advised. Protective helmets with headlamps and waterproof jackets are provided. The meeting point is the Lederer hikers' car park, behind the YMCA home in the south of the town. The mine is in the direction of Rudolfstein, a granite rock formation with the typical spheroidal weathering, which is also worth a visit. If you are still fit after the mine tour, you can add the small diversion.

We only recently heard about this mine for the first time and were overwhelmed. The uranium era of SAG WISMUT has been massively exploited since the 1990s and there are many museums and mines. However, this is the only place where the West German history of the nuclear industry at the beginning of the Cold War is highlighted that we know of. And the amazing thing is that despite massive investments, the municipality refrains from advertising the essential historical aspects. We have not yet visited the mine, so we hope that at least the guided tour will be informative. But we have to say one thing clearly: this is currently probably the most interesting show mine in the Federal Republic as far as uranium mining is concerned!