Vienna in 2010


Frommer’s Vienna & The Danube Valley guidebook was wrong about the tour at the Seegrotte near Hinterbrühl, they said the tour would be in German and broken English.  However, since I was the only one on the tour, my guide, Mr. Wagner, did not have to speak German, as would be usual.  He spoke in very good English, and explained things very well.  Thank you Mr. Wagner.

As the excellent official website explains, this was a gypsum mine from 1848 through part of 1912. In 1912 they expanded where they shouldn’t have and water flowed into the mine, slowly, not killing anyone, but the flooded mine became unworkable.

Then in 1932 a brilliant mind thought it could become a tourist attraction. That worked.  Now there are about 200,000 visitors every year. (And if you come on a rather cold and blustery Winter morning like I did, you may just get a private tour!)

Here is an overview of the mine:

Not shown above is the long tunnel to the left that takes you to where the above illustration starts.

, Alcoves dug from the main tunnel included the warmest room "wärmster Ture" -used as an eating place for the miners, and the "Stollen" -the stable where the horses were kept that did the hard labor of pulling things out of the mine (they lived their whole working lives below ground and most were blind).

Several upper level rooms have a very shallow veneer of water, but the real lake is in the lower level (sorry, it is hard for me to get it right in low light).

There is a small space showing mining gear from the past:

In 1862 the miners built a chapel underground to their protecting saint, Saint Barbara (my photo of that painting you can partially see in the next photo did not come out, sorry).

The St. Barbara gallery has been home to occasional concerts and masses, with participation by local notables and the Vienna Boys Choir.

St. Barbara was a rich man's daughter, a proud Roman and pagan, of the fourth century.  She was given a nice place to live by her father, but in a tower, when he realized she was being contaminated by ideas that denigrated the gods.  When she changed the artwork in her quarters from that of the gods to crucifixes, he had her taken to the local magistrate who told her to repent or be severely punished and executed.  She proclaimed her undying commitment to her new faith, Christianity.

She was tortured and half-naked dragged by her heels through the streets behind a horse to the place of execution where she was to be beheaded.  The executioner was ready, but her father in a last fit of rage against his disobedient daughter took the sword and beheaded her himself.  

They were on a hilltop during stormy weather, which shows questionable common sense, but lightning struck shortly after her head rolled, and killed her father still holding the sword. This associated her with lightning and explosions and hence she became a patron saint of soldiers and miners who used explosives.  Both current German underground nuclear waste repository exploratory mines have a Saint Barbara shrine, and there is a Saint Barbara mining company today.  This is a continuing custom.  

Near the Saint Barbara shrine is a plaque memorializing the slave laborers from the nearby Hinterbrühl prison/concentration camp who were used as the labor force in this mine during the last two years of the Second World War.

In 1944, until the war ended, the site was appropriated by the Nazis to house a facility for the Heinkel AG airplane manufacturer, and it was staffed with slave laborers from the very nearby prison camp. Fuselages were assembled here for the world’s first jet fighter, the HE 162, a Nazi ‘secret weapon.’

Bombing in 1944 did not destroy the underground plant, but the German army destroyed the works in 1945 rather than have it fall into Allied hands.

To reach the lower level, there are 80 steps:

The lower level is covered by a shallow lake kept at a constant depth through a continual but low level of pumping. The white on the walls shows where the water would be without pumping, a height that would make the tours less than comfortable and less safe, although the shallow depth did result in a tragedy when a capsized boat pinned several tourists onto the ground below it and drowned them. Safety measures have been taken to make the recurrence of such a disaster extremely unlikely.

The next photo shows the guide not starting to sail until I am properly seated:

With an extremely quiet motor the silence while sailing this underground lake is almost unreal.

I was looking for rock-bolts that keep the overhead rock overhead and was pleased to see them in many places (several are showing in the above photo. I was assured that mining safety inspections occur, and the facility always passed. Good.

I was mesmerized by the wave-patterns on the smooth as glass undisturbed lake surface (no winds!).

The larger waves were from me getting into the boat, the smaller wave pattern was from the guide stepping in after me (we could say something about our relative weights from the sizes of the two wave patterns, but we won't).

We will now just enjoy a few moments of this extremely quiet ride without further commentary:

OK, that's enough quietness, here is a place where there are drips from the ceiling, hence a "dripshield" was installed (crude, but it works just fine):

All good things must come to an end, and here we are approaching the dock from whence we started:

Walking back to the bus-stop I took a glance back to the Seegrotte building.  Light snow-flurries began to fall, driven horizontal by a brutal wind from about here until I got on the bus--something I could take personal if I gave it any thought:

On the bus back through Hinterbrühl I was again struck by the occurrence of remnants of old fortified dwellings quite close to the modern dwellings in the valleys below. I guess we do live in more secure times.  

Since I like underground exploration (see some of my pages on caves for proof), I really liked this visit to the Seegrotte near Hinterbrühl and I recommend it to anyone even remotely intrigued by this mine and its history.

Compare and contrast Vienna and Baden plague monuments

     Discuss paintings of Mary Magdalene in a grotto

Arrive in Vienna once more

Repeat your walk in the Wienerwald (Vienna Woods)

Go Back to Austria Page

Go Back to Thematic Features Page

Go Back to 2010 Yearbook Page

Go Back to ThoughtsandPlaces.Org Home Page