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The history of Todtnau mining

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by Benno Dörflinger

The town of Todtnau, venue for the first Baden-Württemberg Miners' Day, is located in the upper Wiesental at the foot of the Feldberg, the highest mountain in the Black Forest at 1493 m. The population of the entire community is around 5.000 people. In addition to trade, crafts and commerce, the textile and brush industry is of great economic importance. Two machine factories deliver their products all over the world.

The Todtnauer Ferienland offers ideal conditions for tourism in both summer and winter. All facilities are available to provide guests with a relaxing holiday. As the cradle of German skiing and as the venue for German and international ski championships (Alpine World Cup), Todtnau is well known in winter sports circles.


The beginnings of mining

The Black Forest was already known as ore-rich mountains in ancient times. at Badenweiler Roman mining can already be proven. The mining of the silver ore veins in the upper Wiesentai seems to have started on a larger scale around the year 1150. Already in 1288 the now prosperous citizens of Todtnau received the right to build a parish church and a cemetery from the monastery of St. Blasien in return for payment of 100 silver marks, which is around 24 kilograms based on today's weight. The Todtnau seal, known since 1341, shows a miner with a mallet, iron and lamp and is one of the oldest German city coats of arms with a mining depiction.

At that time, mining was carried out by so-called "slaves" with their partners, comparable to today's craft business with master craftsmen, journeymen and other assistants.

Those of the sovereignty, the Counts of Freiburg, awarded mining fields were called “Froneberge. The rights and obligations of the fiefdom holder and his partners were precisely described in every award document. Construction was mandatory in the mines, meaning that if the works were idle for more than 6 weeks and 3 days, another applicant could claim them. The deadline was usually the 10th. Bucket of ore”. In return, the sovereign promised the slavers to guarantee paths, water and wood and to protect them against violence and injustice.

Between the years 1285 and 1355 the following mines were in operation in the Todtnau district:

  • ze the old fron
  • zem old Tottenstein
  • at the Schindelhalde
  • of the Schulerfron
  • Cueniginsfron
  • Rabbit front
  • Anrosfron
  • Kolersfron
  • zer brook
  • zem Gauch Rechhaberlehn
  • show the eight Claftern Rothwiese Brandbach
  • the third fron


After the Counts of Freiburg had already lost their city and the surrounding territories in 1368, they had to give up their mining rights in the Todtnau district around 1400. Her successor was the House of Habsburg.

From the prime

Next to Todtnau was also Schonau an important market place where silver, lead and smoothness were sold. This is where the mints of the Breisgau and northern Switzerland got their coin silver. Under Duke Albrecht 111, a separate mint was established in Todtnau in 1387. As part of the Rappenmünzbund, to which 74 towns and estates were affiliated, the so-called “bracteates” were minted here, which are silver pennies minted on one side. The most well-known of these coins shows the character "To" for Todtnau and the Austrian "Bundenschild" next to it. 

In 1387 Todtnau was given the right to strike its own coins. The penny pictured above, a so-called. Bracteate, shows the letters TO for Todtnau as a coin image, next to it the Austrian shield.

(Dörflinger Collection)

The most important mine of the 15th and 16th centuries in the Todtnauer Revier was the Grube zum Gauch. In addition to citizens of Todtnau, Freiburg and Basel owned the abbot of SI. Blasien and even the bishop of Brixen, in South Tyrol, shares in this mine. Emperor Maximilian I, who was a great patron of mining, issued his own regulations for this pit. In 1 the Gauch trades donated a magnificent stained glass window for the Freiburg Minster.

A remarkable technical feature of the Gauch mine was a water wheel, which was supplied with water by two long, artificially constructed canals. With the help of this wheel, the ore was extracted from the deepest shaft. Today's Todtnauberg district of Radschert still has the old word "Radschacht" in its name.

In order to be able to mine the ore at an even greater depth, a 1 km long hereditary tunnel was built below Aftersteg. Clewi Wölfle was commissioned in 6 to measure this tunnel. This is the first mention of a Markscheider in the Black Forest. Since 1464, the city of Todtnau has drawn part of its drinking water from this former silver mine. Other important mines were located in Brandenberg, on the Silberberg, in Fahl and on the Rotenbach near the Feldberg summit.

Mining crisis around 1580

With the discovery of America, which supplied cheap silver to Europe, as well as the gradual depletion of the deposits in the southern Black Forest, a severe mining crisis occurred in the years after 1580. Many miners became unemployed and moved to other areas. The Todtnau mountain judge's office, which had existed since 1300, was dissolved.

The miners who stayed behind tried to make a living with other work. They switched to the manufacture of wooden utensils such as boxes, drawers, clapboards, rakes and spoons.

Due to the devastating fires of 1553 and 1689 Todtnau lost its urban character and sank into an insignificant village.

New beginning after 1720

Renewed mining attempts for lead and silver in the years after 1720 ended with losses for those involved. Only when Caspar Berger sold his "Maus" mine, which he had opened in 1755, to the Baron von Beroldingen did mining become more regular and successful again. In order to be able to process and melt the mined ores, v. Beroldingen in the following years first a stamping and washing plant and then a smelting plant with attached forcing furnace. He delivered the silver he produced to the mint in Günzburg on the Danube, where the famous Maria Theresa thalers were also minted.

In 1776, the Iselin brothers from Basel bought the "Maus" pit with all the open-cast buildings. They ran the plant with varying degrees of success until mining in the Mauswald came to a standstill due to the Napoleonic Wars.

Near the Todtnauer Hut, below the Feldberg summit, lies the Rotenbach mine, which was already important in the Middle Ages. It was founded in 1761 with the support of the Freiburg mining judge v. Mohr was examined by some miners and soon put into operation. The mined copper and lead ores were transported to Hofsgrund, as there was no smelting plant on the Rotenbach.

In the upper part of the mine field at an altitude of over 1300m was the highest tunnel and shaft system in the Black Forest. So it becomes understandable when a report to Vienna complains: "Because of the winter, the silver and copper mines have to remain unworked for over six months."

After a brief interruption to operations, a new attempt was made after 1794 to resume mining on the Rotenbach on a larger scale. The Imperial and Royal Court approved the construction of a stamp mill with seven stamps, an ore washing plant and a spacious colliery house. When the upper Wiesental was handed over to the Duke of Modena in 1803, the facilities on the Rotenbach were entered in the log book as “fully functional”.

A trade union, which consisted mainly of Swiss citizens, built in the mining fields "St. MariaAnna" in Fahl, in the "Water Hole" and on the "Silberberg". The Freiburg mining judge H. von Carato made great contributions to the establishment of this company. He also worked out proposals for the operation of the pits. His plan was to excavate both the Maria Anna tunnel and the water hole tunnel to the south in order to reach the Silberberggang. Particularly impressive was v. Carato that with the water hole tunnel the Silberberggang could be undercut by almost 1784 m, "a truly rare Saigerhöhe", as he respectfully noted in a report. The company was not able to achieve its goal of mining silver because it had to stop operations due to the events of the war.

In the 19th century, there were mining activities in the upper Wiesental, which in the meantime had been detached from Austria and assigned to the Margraviate of Baden. So in the pit "Maus" in Todtnau, "Bernhard" in Geschwend, "Ludwig" in Aitern and "Stephanie" in Schönenberg. But in all factories work had to be stopped after a few years. Mining finally came to a standstill around 1890.

Fluorspar period 1914-1974

A new chapter in Todtnau mining history was opened in the years after 1914. However, the objects of the mining were no longer lead and silver ores, but the gangue mineral fluorspar, which the miners of the Middle Ages and the 18th century dumped as worthless. In the meantime the importance of fluorspar as a flux in the iron and steel industry had been recognized. Other areas of application were in chemistry and the glass industry. Due to the growing demand, various companies in the Todtnau / Fahl and Utzenfeld / Wieden Obtain prospecting and mining rights. For example the Badische Flußspatgesellschaft in Todtnau and the Wiesentäler Bergbau AG in Wieden.

Since 1924 the mining entrepreneur Theodor Burger from Nuremberg had been building on the southern side of the Finstergrundgang in the tunnels "Max I" and "Max 11". He founded the union in 1930 Dark ground. However, six years later he sold his plant to the Montan-Industrie company in Munich. This company was represented by Garl Wölfel, who some time later took over the majority of the Finstergrund union.

On the recommendation of Theodor Burger, Garl Fischer was hired as operations manager. Fischer was an excellent spatula specialist and in the following decades did pioneering work in the development and dismantling of the deposits in the upper meadow valley.

In 1936/37 the Finstergrund trade union took over all mining fields in Todtnau, Brandenberg and Fahl. Before and during the Second World War, however, mining only took place in Utzenfeld, Wieden and Aitern. Only in the years after 1950 did the Rotwiese plants in Brandenberg, Tiefkännel in Fahl and Baumhalde and Tholusbrunnen on the Silberberg begin operations.

The Rotwiese mine in Brandenberg achieved the greatest economic importance. After the construction of a 75 m long cross passage, the ore vein was encountered and mined to the north and south for about 300 m. It was possible to dismantle up to the 80 m level through two shafts. As reported by H. Schürenberg (1957), hammer and iron work as well as traces of fire setting from the medieval period of operation were found in some places. Today the pit is under water from the 22 m level down.

Up until 1965, the Finstergrund trade union in the RevierWieden lTodtnau had 14687 m of tunnels, 440 m of shafts and dies and 635 m of the high bridge. From 1936 to 1964, the production was 712.000 tons of raw ore with an average GaF2 content of 56%.

In 1969, Garl Wölfel sold his "proud life's work" to Bayer, Leverkusen, for reasons of age. But just a few years later the end of the mine operation was announced. Due to constantly rising costs and cheaper imports, the Bayer company was forced to stop mining spar. This brought the traditional mining in the upper Wiesental to a standstill.

In the presence of the Count of Freiburg, the Todtnau mountain judge Johannes Wirri and with the participation of the most respected miners of all the surrounding areas, the Schauinsland the Disselmuter Bergweise. This legal opinion is one of the oldest mountain regulations written in German.