Karl May Höhle

Useful Information

Location: 3 km north of Hohenstein-Ernstthal in the Oberwald.
(50.825610, 12.687127)
Open: No restrictions.
Fee: free.
Classification: MineIron Mine
Light: bring torch
Guided tours: self guided
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: no
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.


1620 mine tunnel started.
1869 used by Karl May as hideout.
1936 tunnel developed as tourist attraction and renamed Karl-May-Höhle.
1939 closed because of World War II.
199? cleaned and reopened by the Karl-May-Freunde from Hohenstein-Ernstthal.



The Karl-May-Höhle (Karl May Cave) is named after the famous German author Karl May. He became famous with his adventure stories about cowboys and red indians and other adventurers all over the world. His most famous books tell the story of the red indian Winnetou and his friend the cowboy Old Shatterhand.

Before that, however, he was rather unsuccessful and was imprisoned several times. He was released from prison on 2 November 1868, but was then penniless and without work. He appeared as a false forger and stole a horse in Bräunsdorf near Hohenstein. In order to escape the Hohenstein police and their civilian helpers, he hid in a tunnel in the Oberwald forest north of Hohenstein-Ernstthal. However, after further offences such as the theft of billiard balls and an attempt to defraud master baker Wappler in Mülsen Sankt Jacob near Zwickau, he was arrested again in Niederalgersdorf in northern Bohemia. On 13 April 1870, he was again sentenced to prison by the Mittweida District Court.

The Karl May Cave is actually a mining tunnel that was built around 1620. It was probably a prospecting gallery, also yielded small amounts of iron ore, but was never productive and was therefore soon abandoned. Because of the iron ore, the gallery was called Eisenhöhle (Iron Cave), a misleading name as it is not a cave. It was also called Räuberhöhle (Robbers Cave) because it was used by gangs of robbers in the 18th century as a hiding place for loot. It is located at the confluence of the Pechgraben and Schindelgraben, at the entrance to a disused serpentinite quarry.

Karl May described the tunnel in 1874 in his story Die Rose von Ernstthal. Thus, the place had entered literature. We assume that this literary fame was the reason for the later expansion, not its use as a hiding place from the police.

The gallery was probably developed as a tourist attraction after Karl May's success as an author and renamed the Karl May Cave. The entrance was completely uncovered and the almost man-high mouth hole was accessible through a hollow way. The entrance gallery, main gallery and the two side galleries had been cleared of all debris. The floor of the entire gallery was covered with sturdy slatted grates. A natural stone slab with the inscription "K.-MAY cave" was placed above the entrance. The well-known postcards, which were probably sold in large numbers and are still available from postcard dealers today, date from this time.

However, the Second World War brought an end to the use of the mine as a "show cave". After the war, either no one was interested or the gallery had already deteriorated too much. Mining tunnels are always prone to collapse, and so in just a few years debris collected at the bottom. Especially in the entrance area, this decay is very high due to frost weathering in winter. Soon, the tunnel was partially collapsed and the groundwater could no longer flow out of the tunnel and accumulated inside. The laths rotted in the standing groundwater.

It was not until after the end of the Cold War that the gallery was cleared out again by the Karl-May-Freunde (Friends of Karl May) from Hohenstein-Ernstthal. Today it is back in almost the same condition as it was in 1936, and can be freely visited on hikes in Karl May