Friday, September 26, 2014

Goethe and the mines

Clausthal (click to enlarge)
 Goethe's "first" Harz journey began at the end of November 1777, the culmination of which was his ascent of the Brocken on December 10. While on this trip, undertaken on horseback, Goethe also visited several working mines in the region, perhaps as part of informing himself about mining matters in connection with the Ilmenau project. The Rammelsberg mine, south of Goslar, was open to visitors, and he wrote in the visitors' book on December 5: "Den ganzen Berg bis ins Tiefste befahren."

He was also writing letters to Charlotte von Stein during this journey; unfortunately he provides no details in these letters, nor mentions anything of his observations or of conversations with mining officials.

Model of a 16C mine, from G. E. von Löhneyss' Bericht vom Bergwerck, 1690
The next day he rode to Clausthal, pictured at the top of this post, site of the most productive mine in the entire Harz, producing silver, copper, tin, and "Zinkblende." He spent the night in Clausthal, and on the morning of December 8, he traveled to the nearby Dorothea, Caroline, and Benedict mines (the mines were first worked by Benedictine monks) and inscribed his name in the guest book as “Johann Wilhelm Weber aus Darmstadt.” Again he descended into the mines, apparently without any fear of the depths or the poor illumination. It was not an entirely danger-free thing, as the miner who accompanied him, walking in front of him, was injured by a large block of falling debris. According to Wolf von Engelhardt, the Clausthal mines extended to a depth of 520 meters (1,700 feet), but we don't know far into the depths Goethe descended. We know, however, that he went down by ladders, as are pictured in the above illustration from a 16th-century mine.

Picture sources: GeoMuseum Clausthal; Robert M. Vogel

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