The Schneeberg Miners
The miner in simple black clothes,
goes through life without much notice,
deep down in the coal mine, he fights with necessity,
and hardly earns his daily bread.
But he looks up with contentment to the heavens
and calls out from the mine a joyful “good luck!”
Translation of verse 1 of the Schneeberg Coal Miners Song
Some 20 km south of the Timmelsjoch, a mountain crest divides the Ridnaun Valley from the Passeier Valley. Since the 13th century, the Schneeberg (“Snow Mountain”) has had a unique history, most of which still remains, literally, in the dark today. For the Schneeberg is Europe’s highest mine (2,000–2,500 meters above sea level). During its prime around the year 1500, up to 1,000 miners worked here, and, due to its location, it was appropriately termed a mountain mine.
With unimaginably strenuous efforts, the miners worked to dig a tunnel. But due to the hardness of the rock formations and a degree of 170 x 45 cm, the miners could only dig through about a half of a centimeter per day. The Carl Tunnel was created in the 17th century and the miners needed a total of 90 years to complete it.
The center of the Schneeberg mine is situated at 2,354 meters above sea level. The mining settlement St. Martin is, today, part of the Schneeberg Museum. But in earlier times, for almost 500 years, it was home to the miners who worked there yearlong under extreme weather conditions, sometimes at temperatures as low as -30°C, mining lead, silver and sphalerite. On the morning of 16 June 1967, the upper miners’ house in St. Martin, including the main kitchen, the dining hall and the compressor room, burned down to its stone walls. The exact circumstances of the fire could never be explained. In 1985, Europe’s highest mountain mine was closed down. But its story lives on.