he first rays of the sun are shining on the summit of the Watzmann mountain in blazingly bright light as Karl Schneider gets out of the car in Berchtesgaden, Southern Germany. The steeple clock indicates seven o’clock in the morning, it is still dark, and the shadowy alpine scenery rises behind him. He shoulders his backpack with the measurement equipment and puts on his helmet. “Things get started early in mining,” he explains. As an expert appointed under mining law, he inspects all electrical engineering in the salt mine. Then he becomes part of the mine, as the miners say, as he quickly forgets whether it is light or dark, warm or cold outside, whether the sun is shining or whether it is raining. Inside the mountain is a gigantic salt dome that has been mined for 500 years. The salt dome extends about four and a half kilometers through the mountains at a width of one and a half kilometers.
A heavy wooden door is pushed open with a creak and Schneider turns on his headlamp. He will be accompanied by Josef Helmiger, an experienced miner who will guide him through the labyrinth of tunnels and shafts. “I’m not allowed to walk around here alone. The danger of getting lost is too great,” says Schneider. The expert from TÜV SÜD Industrie Service GmbH has been responsible for the mine for 20 years. While inspecting the equipment and machines there for three days, he will cover 40 kilometers, bundled up against the cold—it will be a chilly eight degrees Celsius in the passageways. With each new section, the smell changes in the tunnel: Sometimes the air is clear and fresh, sometimes dusty, sometimes musty, and sometimes it smells like rocks. You can’t smell the salt, only see it. It pervades the rock like a wire mesh, its crystals glittering between the sedimentary layers of rock, gypsum, and clay.