22 Avenue Joseph-Else, 68310 Wittelsheim.
All year Tue, Thu-Sat 14-17:30, Wed 9-12, 14-17:30.
Adults EUR 6, Children (4-17) EUR 4, Children (0-3) free, Students (-26) EUR 4, Unemployed EUR 4, Disabled EUR 4, Family (2+2) EUR 15.
Groups (15+): Adults EUR 5, Children (4-17) EUR 3.
Guided Tour: Adults EUR 12, Children (4-17) EUR 6.
|Light:||Incandescent Electric Light System|
|Guided tours:||self guided, D=90 min.|
Musée de la Mine et de la Potasse, 22 Avenue Joseph-Else, 68310 Wittelsheim, Tel: +33-784-57-51-76.
Kalivie, Tel: +33-389-551327, Cell: +33-669-52-51-43. E-mail:
|As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.
|1904||potash deposit discovered by Joseph Vogt, industrialist, Amélie and Albert Zürcher, landowners and Jean-Baptiste Grisez, brewer and dowser.|
|13-JUN-1906||mining company Gewerkschaft Amélie was created.|
|FEB-1910||begin of mining operations.|
|1912||first potash produced.|
|1917||mining company renamed Mine de potasse d’Alsace (MDPA).|
|24-MAY-1924||MDPA bought by the French State for 208 million francs, mine expanded and modernized.|
|1926||the MDPA set up a private geological service whose mission was to improve knowledge of the Alsatian potash deposit.|
|1928||several buildings erected with red bricks.|
|23-JAN-1937||nationalization by law.|
|1966||mining operations at Joseph-Else shaft ended.|
|1998||Kalivie association founded.|
|10-SEP-2002||end of potassium mining with the closure of Amélie shaft following the StocaMine fire.|
The basin at the southern end of the Alsace contains the biggest deposit of potash in France. Potash is a salt, potassium carbonate, which is mined since antiquity and needed for the manufacture of glass, soap, and fertilizer. Very important is it for agriculture because it improves water retention, yield, nutrient value, taste, colour, texture and disease resistance of food crops. The mine contained a combination of sodium chloride (salt) and potassium chloride (potash) which is called sylvinite. Between 1910 and 2002 the mines of the potassium basin produced 567 million tons of raw salt or approximately 140 million tons of potassium chloride.
The Musée de la Mine à Joseph-Else (Mining Museum at the Joseph-Else Mine) was created and operated by the non-profit organization Kalivies. The long name Association de Sauvegarde et de Valorisation du Patrimoine du Bassin des Mines de Potasse d'Alsace (Association for the Safeguarding and Development of the Heritage of the Potash Mine Basin of Alsace) is actually the full description of their activities. The small non-profit organisation was founded by interested locals, many of them former miners, in 1998. The premises of the abandoned mine were preserved and renovated by Kalives and then presented to the public. Visits were possible only after appointment, the given address was the home of the president. But fortunately the town Mulhouse added the museum to their own list of museums. So it is now renamed Musée de la Mine et de la Potasse (Mining and Potash Museum), but still operated by the members of Kalivies.
Le Vestiaire (cloakroom) is also called salle des pendus (hanging room) because the miners were hanging their clothes on long chains and pulled them up to the ceiling of the high chamber. The building is one of the buildings erected with red bricks in 1928 and is listed as a Historic Monument. The main exhibition of the museum is located in the historic cloakroom. This permanent exhibition presents a collection of objects, models, machines and furniture from the various mining sites in the potassium basin. A collection of miners' lamps from the 19th century to the present retraces the evolution of this essential tool.
Other rooms in this building are used for the mineral exhibition of the museum, more than 5000 mineral samples from around the world. This collection is the result of the work of geological service of the mine. In 1926 the MDPA set up a private geological service whose mission was to improve knowledge of the Alsatian potash deposit. Another goal was to search for and discover new potash deposits worldwide. This was actually the first time that a mining company created such a research organisation in France. It was planned and directed by the geologist Vinceslas Maikovsky. As a result of his hard work the museum houses one of the richest and most important mineralogical collections specializing in rock salt and potash.
The geological exhibition of the museum explains the origin of those minerals, the general geology of evaporitic basins and the formation of potash. It also explains the geology of Alsace and the tectonics of the Alsatian potassic basin. Numerous cores from boreholes all over the area are on display, which give an insight into the underground structures. From the alluvial deposits of the Quaternary and the first terrains of the Tertiary to the sedimentary rocks of the last 50 Million years. Many contain impressive fossils, like fish and even plants.
A highlight of the visit is obviously the headframe of the Joseph shaft. If you happen to be there when the museum is closed, the headframe is still worth a look. You can also visit the jardin géologique (geological garden) which is an open air collection of boulders. A trail in the shape of an ammonite runs through a series of samples on the regional geological history. The first part shows the oldest rocks from Precambrian times, shortly after the birth of Earth to the explosion of life. The scale is enormous, each centimeter corresponds to 1 million years. A second trail, from 600 million years to today, covers the development of life. It has a different scale, each centimeter corresponds to 300,000 years.
The potash deposit was discovered by Joseph Vogt, industrialist, Amélie and Albert Zürcher, landowners and Jean-Baptiste Grisez, brewer and dowser. On the initiative of Amélie Zürcher, who was convinced the life of the people could be increased by offering mining jobs, they financed exploration drilling in the area. While they were actually looking for oil, they began to mine the potash with a company named Gewerkschaft Amélie, because the funding was from German companies. In 1917, at the end of World War I, the mine company was renamed Mine de potasse d’Alsace (MDPA). Obviously it was not good to have a German name when Germany just lost the war. There were numerous shafts, sometomes 13, sometimes up to 20, but the Joseph-Else shaft was closed in 1966. Mining went on for decades, most productive after World War II, in the after-war boom, but finally the Canadian competitors became too cheap. The price on the world marked plus transport was cheaper than the domestic production. As a result the mine finally closed in 2002.
The abandoned mine was operated for years by Stocamine, which was later renamed MDPA. The company used the mined chambers to store hazardous waste. In 2002 the temporary storage on the surface caught fire, which resulted in a devastating fire. The number of hazardous substances in the smoke shocked the locals and they started to oppose the the waste deposit. The waste officially includes arsenic, chromium, cyanide, mercury, and asbestos. But it seems the operator also stored waste for which he had no approval, for example polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). And one of the problems was the storage of the asbestos, which was brought to the mines in airtight containers. Opening them and checking the content would have required special suits, so they just stored the containers unchecked. Alsace Nature and other organisations guess that the containers contained not allowed hazardous substances which were illegal. The companies knew that those containers would never be checked, so they put hazardous stuff inside, which would have been quite expensive if deposited correctly. A large scale scam resulting in many tons of hazardous waste. As a result criminal investigations are underway, and sealing the mine was stopped by the French Court of Appeal. Numerous organisations, including the German Federal Environmental Agency, are calling for the toxic waste to be salvaged because they fear, it threatens to poison Europe's largest groundwater reservoir between the Black Forest and the Vosges. Unfortunately the company has finally received the permission to seal the mine in 2022.