Christmas with a difference is being offered to visitors to the Hallein Salt Mine in the province of Salzburg.
Instead of arriving on a sleigh Santa arrives on one of the giant wooden slides that leads into the massive Salzbergwerk Dürrnberg tunnel network, part of the underground salt mine located in the Dürrnberg plateau above Hallein, Austria.
The mine has been worked for over 7,000 years since the time of the Celtic tribes and earlier. It helped ensure nearby Salzburg would become a powerful trading community. Since World War I, it has served as a mining museum, known for its long wooden slides between levels.
And it is on one of these that Santa arrives to distribute gifts to visiting kids. There is also an underground nativity crib, and this year’s special offers for people who want to enjoy a good “slide into the New Year” as Austrian tradition has it. More information can be found on www.salzwelten.at.
There are several named tunnels in the mine, including the Obersteinberg opened in 1450, the Untersteinberg, the Jackobberg, the Rupertsberg, the Wolf Deitrich tunnel and the Dr. Nusko tunnels. They descend all of the way to Hallein.
Early mining was done by hand and extracted salt rock crystals as a solid. To improve efficiency, fresh water would be pumped into a cavern. After several weeks of absorbing salt from the walls, the water was pumped out to a processing plant in Hallein.
An 1829 treaty between Austria and Bavaria was created since the mine actually crosses under the border into Bavaria. The treaty stipulates that up to ninety Bavarian farmers are allowed to work in the mine.