Diving into the flooded tunnels of Schieferbergwerk Nuttlar in Sauerland is not for the faint-hearted. After crossing the yellow container (which represents the entrance), it gets quite dark. Very dark, in fact. Thirty metres away, the tunnel leads downwards, where an underground lake marks the entrance to the realm of darkness.
It is cold here – a good seven degrees Celsius – and this is true for both the air and water here.
This lake can be dived by sport divers. However, it is a “dive by feeling”. The passage to the lake, swimming past the rugged slate walls, is in complete darkness. “I would almost call it ‘sniffing’ for cave divers,” said Matthias Richter, the owner of dive school Tauchschule Sorpesee, in German.
“In the complete darkness, the feeling is unique, and you immediately know if this is the type of experience for you,” he added.
Hovering over the railway tracks, surrounded by slate rock with its indentations, edges and overhangs, it is as if you are on the film set of Middle-earth – or more precisely, the dark land of Mordor.
At some point, you arrive at the area reserved for cave divers with the appropriate equipment. A double tank, three lamps, dry suit, two separate breathing systems are the minimum prerequisites to be able to proceed – not forgetting the necessary qualifications, of course. Then, you continue with your dive – though it is so much more than just another cave dive.
Steadily, the passage goes through narrow passages and galleries through which fitted just a wagon in the past. Then, you reach the large caverns, some up to 15 metres high. “There are always places where you can emerge, but you have to know where they are,” said Richter. In these wide open areas, you can admire the magnificent views, which can be twenty, perhaps thirty metres high. A careless fin movement, though, can cause this scene to be spoilt by very fine sediment from broken slate.
During the winter months between December and March, when bats use the area as their winter quarters, diving is not allowed. This is the “rule” set by Rainer Mengelers, who owns the usage rights of the cave.
There is no life in this underwater world; what is left is only a glimpse into the life that the miners had led. Diving into this time capsule, which measures a maximum of 32 metres depth, is only possible for experienced cave divers from March to December upon special request.
Video from dive