Grube St. Josef mine
Passing by the transformer building of the former concrete factory, we soon see the carefully driven Grube St. Josef mine. Just a few metres in, it contained a fine layer of slate, which was immediately mined through the two large frontal chambers (around 42 sq m and 85 sq m). At the same time, excavations were also performed in a semicircle around the deposit so as to follow it deeper and keep mining. The slate quality was disproportionately better in the rear section, and, after a few years, was only mined in the two rear chambers, which were gradually extended to 150 sq m and 115 sq m. As the chambers grew higher, two chutes were created, and these have largely been preserved.On the opposite side of the valley is the mighty waste heap of the former Kesselstatt mine complex, with the Arthur, Friedrich, Margareta and Neuer Stollen mines. A mineshaft, the Gabrieleschacht, started being constructed on the waste heap in 1934. This shaft was driven to a depth of 80 metres, resulting in underground mining beneath the Nosserbach. It was primarily used to transport material and slate; the miners themselves continued to access the mine via the pits.
Grube Kobenbach mine and the Mattesstollen tunnel
Further up the valley, we pass by the base of the Vogelsberg waste heap before arriving at the Grube Kobenbach mine.Although the main tunnel, which deviates right approx. 40 m after the opening, ran through a tiny slate deposit at the bend, the rest of it is only dead rock.
Its first operators then enlarged the small chamber around the bend, and immediately found an extensive, minable deposit, which gave rise to the first mining chamber. Other chambers of significant size were created during subsequent phases of operation. The last survey of the mine in 1989 detected a 5th chamber further to the left, which enabled a full circuit from the 3rd and 4th chambers back to the 2nd. Another chute and access shaft not shown on the mine map was discovered in 1990, and displays a further tunnel running to the right from the base. The mine does not have any water inlet, and is completely dry.Under the Grube Kobenbach mine is the now buried Mattes-Stollen tunnel, which was once planned to be connected to Kobenbach by a ventilation shaft, although this did not eventuate. The shaft was designed to provide better aeration in the Grube Kobenbach mine. The Mattes-Halde waste heap fully covers the valley floor, with the Nossernbach running straight through, leaving behind sandy, clayey sediment. The waste heaps at the Mattesstollen and Kobenbach mine sit on top of one another, forming an interesting landscape.
After a moderate climb, we arrive at an open plateau – the Hofgrube, situated 80 m above the valley floor.It is the newest of all the slate mines in the Nossertal Valley, and was created with great mining expertise. The dry masonry in the underground mine building is in flawless condition, as is the chute. This mine also allows a full circuit of the last four chambers. The often very high overhand stoping is accessed via very cleanly formed slate steps. In front of the mine, to the left, you can see the remains for the former splitting shed, where the mined slate blocks were further processed. The mine is situated 350 m above sea level, and the waste heap (Prasshalde) provides extensive views over the forested Nossertal Valley and the former mining town of Thomm on the opposite side.
After heading a few metres downhill through beech and oak forests, we reach the imposing Vogelsberg slate quarry.
Unlike the Fell slate mines, it was used as an opencast pit, where masonry material was mined. The volumes extracted from the some 60-m-high, 100-m-deep, terraced quarry would have been enough to erect a 200-km-long vineyard wall!
While high-quality roof slate has to be split and processed while still moist from the earth after being mined underground, rough stone fragments for use as masonry material can be excavated in opencast mining without any further work required, as it does not need to be split into thin sheets. The mining method is also quite different to that applied underground. In mines, loose gunpowder is normally used to detach the slate from its bedrock. With an average denotation speed of just 300 m/sec, the powder has more of a graduated effect, protecting the stone. In opencast quarries, on the other hand, powerful explosives with denotation speeds of 2000 m/sec and more are used to extract (shoot out) the rougher stone material. Most local opencast pits use donarite or ammon gelignite.
To the left of the quarry is the preserved “slide”, which was used to load the quarried stones onto trucks. This involved using a lift truck to tip them out onto the chute, so they could then slide down to the cargo area of the truck waiting below. On the valley side is the giant waste heap of unused material, which extends almost as far as the valley floor.
Numerous houses and particularly vineyard walls in the distant surrounds were built using stones from this quarry. Together with Thommerberg, Vogelsberg is one of the largest quarries in the region. Clear folds can be seen in the slate at the openings (especially the left section). The waste heap provides a great view of the Thommerberg on the other side.
Grube Vogelsberg II
We follow a rocky, steep path down to the next tunnel opening, the Grube Vogelsberg 2. This pit is newer of the two slate mines at the Vogelsberg concession, but its history prior to 1955 will never be known, since the archives have been lost. Contrary to the official map, the mine had a total of three chambers.Due to their small sizes, it can be assumed that no good-quality slate could be found there, meaning the entire mine operation could hardly have been profitable. The two chambers built later on are also small. Another indication that mining here was futile is the lack of distinct waste heap. The mine has a very nice tunnel opening!
Grube Vogelsberg I
Just next-door is the second mine in the concession, the Grube Vogelsberg 1.
Archives no longer contain any documents about this mine, which is most likely one of the oldest in the Nossertal Valley. The Koblenz Mining Office had no map either, prompting the Forschungsgesellschaft Bergbau- und Bergwissenschaften Trier research company to join forces with experts from Saarbergwerke AG Saarbrücken to survey the complex in 1992.
It is highly probable that the operators were only able to glean slim pickings from the mine, which is characterised by extremely low tunnel sections. This indicates that the mine is very old, as tunnels were previously kept as low and narrow as possible to minimise tunnel driving work. As the super heavy slate stones were transported out of the mine on the stooped backs of miners, it was not necessary for the tunnels to be higher or wider. This “hunchbacking” practice was legally banned in the late 19th century.
THE DISPLAY MINE
Grube Barbara mine: The exit of the display mine.
The main tunnel of this mine, named after the patron saint for miners, runs underneath the beds of slate rock in the Grube Hoffnung mine above it. It was thus systematically built on the same rock, maintaining the vertical safety clearance. The main chamber was driven 4.5 m steeply upwards into the Grube Hoffnung mine, and the elevated mining areas could only be accessed by slate staircases. The excavated slate was dumped onto the floor through a double chute, and then loaded onto the transport vehicles. The higher the mines went, the more weather problems started to arise, and the operator repeatedly asked for a ventilation shaft to be created into the (already abandoned) Grube Hoffnung mine in order to have fresh air circulation. But this ventilation shaft never eventuated. The Barbara mine is home to what is likely to be the highest mining chamber in the Nossertal Valley, the 30-m-high “Dom”.
The “soup carrier” path (Suppenträgerpfad).
To the left of the mine, a steep path leads us up to the entrance of the display mine. It was a path previously taken by the miners’ children, who would bring their fathers lunch in so-called “Henkelmännchen” cups. In the early days, they were allowed to finish school earlier to do this, but this practice was later prohibited.
Grube Hoffnung mine: The entrance to the display mine.
The history of the Grube Hoffnung mine can be traced back to the turn of the century. It was in operation until the late 1970s. A total of four natural beds of rock were explored in the mine. The second and third beds proved to be particularly rich, and were mined very professionally using several chutes. The rail network in the “Hoffnung” mine is still largely intact. One line (English tracks, 600 mm wide) runs out of the tunnel opening, over the waste heap and as far as the tip. The waste heap actually still has an original rotating tipping truck. The mine’s water is drained (collected and discharged) through a water gate (trench at the base of the tunnel), and is used to supply the info centre, as well as the two wells in front of the mine.Hoffnung was the last mine to be shut down in Fell. The final operator, Nikolaus Becker from Fell (known as “Opa Bumm” due to his former work as a blaster), still managed to extract high-quality slate sheets and bricks through his family business during the mine’s closing stages.
After a brief descent past the entrance to the display mine, a short detour (follow the signs!) to the right, along the top of a waste heap, will take us to the Walli tunnel.
Situated around 70 m from the Grube Barbara mine and at the same level, it is somewhat isolated, and is considered one of the finest tunnels in the Nossertal Valley. It is only approx. 8 m deep, and was then abandoned for unknown reasons. The tunnel appears to be relatively new, and did not get beyond the status of an exploratory tunnel. It first appears in documentation during the 1930s, in a “Grubenbild” (map) of the Grube Hoffnung mine, where the tunnel opening was marked “Walli”. The origins of the name “Walli” are also unclear (Valentin?, Walter?).
You can play mine explorer yourself here, and torches come in handy. If you’re very lucky, you may even see some sleeping bats, but please do not touch them or shine lights on them!
Grube Eichbaum II mine
Passing by the base of a large waste heap, we arrive at the most important concession on the Fell side of the Nossertal Valley.
Just a few metres in front of the Grube Eichbaum I mine is the tunnel opening of the Grube Eichbaum II mine. The Eichbaum II tunnel was for years buried under the rubble of the waste heaps above it, and was only excavated in the summer of 1999. Following some ground work by the municipality of Fell, a dredger from the Saarland-based Dr. Arnold Schäfer Group helped uncover the tunnel opening in summer 1999.
Grube Eichbaum I mine
With a total length of 600 m and 16 mine chambers, the Eichbaum I was well and truly the largest mine in Fell. An initial mention of it in old documents dates back to 1850, although the early operators can no longer be identified, and even the mine’s history can only be traced back to around 1920.
The mine was built on the town’s most abundant deposit, and a total of 7 drift pits gradually emerged on this concession, one of which, the Gessinger Stollen, was situated beneath Eichbaum, and the others (Jakobsgrube, Alte and Neue Konzergrube, Marnach and one other tunnel) above. During the 1950s, the operator, Count Kesselstatt, even constructed a mine shaft in front of the new opening of the Grube Eichbaum mine. This was the Count Franz memorial shaft, which was to drain the valley floor to a depth of 60 m, and join up with the large Kesselstattschen Schiefergruben in Thomm
However, this mine’s vast cavity meant lots of water seeped into Eichbaum, causing even the deep tunnel system, connected to the Nosserbach, to flood. Even today, water from all the higher mines leaks into the Grube Eichbaum mine, in addition to the water from the Grube Schürzig mine. This water is completely absorbed by the approx. 25-m-deep inner shaft between Eichbaum and the Gessinger-Stollen. The rearmost part of the latter can therefore only be accessed by boat. The insufficient clearance distance between the individual pits has resulted in serious fault lines in the mine. The Eichbaum’s condition can thus no longer be assessed over the entire length, as many of the gym-sized chambers have completely collapsed.
Grube Schürzig mine
A little way out of the valley, past the largest waste heap in the Fell district, is the Grube Schürzig mine.
Slate mining in this concession can be traced back to around 1808, as evidenced by the “barn” above it. But the Schürzig mine was systematically driven to access the deposits of the neighbouring Eichbaum mine, situated deeper to the right, as the latter’s operator as only allowed to mine up to a certain point due to boundary limits.
In order to reach this deposit – one of the most abundant in the Nossertal Valley -, the relatively long main tunnel was quickly created, and the mine was able to provide high-quality roof slate from around 1915 onwards. During its heyday until the early 1950s, up to 40 miners were employed here. The second phase of operation saw the Prümm-Sebastiani-Müller work group build a mine base accessed via a sloping tunnel. After the Eichbaum mine was shut down, one of the base’s two mining chambers was cut through to absorb the incoming water. The mine has an inner shaft leading to the mine immediately above it.
It still collects a lot of water, and, together with the Grube Eichbaum mine, was originally planned as a display mine, but proved to be too unsafe after thorough assessment. The project in these mines was therefore abandoned. The mine’s waste heap features some lorries from the Thuringian mining industry, with railways, platforms, air pipes (to artificially ventilate mines through air blasting), plus an alpine hut since 2012, which was designed based on the former splitting shed.
Just after the Grube Schürzig mine, we reach the Margarethenwäldchen woodland, where the Margarethenbrunnen well is supplied with water from a small brook.
Constructed from shale, the well’s rear wall is made from a blast-mined slate block. The blast hole with concentric crater is very clearly visible on the upper left side. The “gentle” explosion using gunpowder purely seeks to loosen the slate from the rock (“pushing” effect), not break it up. However, the slate right near the centre of the explosion is shattered, with the outline often revealing the characteristic crater and the “drill pipe”. The former sedimentary layering (pale lines in the stone) in the shale is very noticeable, running almost perpendicular to the cleavage.
For the 5-km loop, we now descend into the valley and down to the next mine, while the 7.5-km tour continues straight ahead through the vineyards and on to infopoints 1-6.
Lower Grube Schürzig mine
From the Margarethenbrunnen well, we follow the road down into the valley, before making a sharp left back to the forest. We stay in the floodplain, and finally reach the lower Schürzig mine beneath the Schürzighalde waste heap.
Hardly anything is known about the 40-m-long mine, though it is unlikely any notable mining took place here (hardly any waste dump material). The tunnel may have been driven as an “absorption tunnel”, i.e. its main purpose was not mining, but rather to drain the pits above in the Schürzig mining claim.
Count Kesselstatt concrete factory
Continuing straight ahead, we once again find ourselves on the familiar track beneath the waste heaps, which takes us back to our starting point, and the last chapter of Fell’s mining history.
This unique, terraced waste heap landscape was formed by excavations from tunnel driving, and particularly the processing waste from several superposed mines. Higher heaps sit atop lower heaps, sometimes endangering the tunnel openings below. Roof-slate waste heaps provide the perfect habitat for heat-loving (protected!) lizards, who have therefore now colonised most of them in the Nossertal Valley. On sunny days, they can be observed in large numbers, rustling and jumping over the heaps. For this reason, we advise you to keep off the waste heaps!
On the valley floor, you will see the site of the former Count Kesselstatt concrete factory. The image on the right shows the Kesselstatt “concrete factory” during the 1950s (circa 1955), with the waste heaps we have just walked through in the background.
The so-called “concrete factory” was where the waste heap material was milled into slate chippings in an impact mill, mixed with cement, and processed into bricks. As the oil released from the slate during milling created natural “waterproofing” for the stone, these stones were predominantly used to build cellars, and were hence also known as cellar stones. Once the waste heaps had been removed, slate had to be cut at the Thommerberg quarry in order to supply the concrete factory. The slate was transported from Thommerberg to the factory via an inclined roadway.
During the last few years of cellar stone production, artificial expanded clay, a lightweight, porous clay granulate, was used instead of slate.
Erected in the early 1950s, the stone factory was finally shut down in the summer of 1999.
1. “Mine trail” car park
Bachstrasse with information board (full map of the mine trail).
2. “Fell fort”
Perched on a rocky outcrop, “Fell fort” is a former Maximin defence fortress, a “large complex protected by a wall, escarpment, the Nossererbach (..) and Fellerbach (..), in the shape of a castle estate.” Around 150 m of the protective and enclosing walls have been preserved, as has the fortress gate (southern gate; accessed via Burgstrasse) made from red sandstone in classic, late-18th-century pilaster style, and an imposing 12-m-high wine cellar (privately owned).
3. Die Bergmannstrasse
This was the road taken by the Fell “Leyenbrecher” to their mines in the Nossertal Valley until the 1960s. The diverse uses of shale for building houses and walls can also be seen here.
4. Left row of houses at the city limit
Beyond this row of houses are the first mines along the mine trail, although they cannot be seen from the road.
5. Slate block with engraved mine rail
The block is shaped like a giant slate slab (“left plaque”) for old German covers. Sedimentation layers and cleavage layers (cleavage planes) are incidentally not related at all, as they were formed during different geological eras, as is clear from the “grain line” in this slab.
6. Barbara Grotto
St Barbara (feast day: 4 Dec.) is the patron saint for miners, quarriers, fire-fighters and architects. She is usually depicted by symbols of the Bible (consistency in faith), a tower with three windows (Trinity), a palm frond (a sign of victory over evil) and a chalice (martyrdom), and has been worshipped by Fell’s miners since time immemorial. Before entering the tunnels, the miners prayed to St Barbara and asked her to protect them during their hard, dangerous work. The Barbara Grotto hewn into the rock represents a stylised mine with a tunnel opening constructed from shale.