Explore secret underground tunnels beneath Germany and Austria

A vast network of caves, tunnels, and chambers lie beneath the surface in parts of southern Germany and northern Austria, but not even archeologists know why they exist. Called “erdstalls” or, more colorfully, “goblin holes” (Schrazellöcher), these mysterious labyrinths, estimated to be about 1,000 years old, connect churches, castles, cemeteries, and other landmarks of the Central European landscape. Were they medieval escape routes from castles? Wine cellars? Elfin hollows? Theories on the erdstalls’ utility range from the practical to the fantastical.

Not surprisingly, the entry points to many of these tunnels can also be accessed from the basements of old farmhouses and inns. One such inn is the Gasthöf Wösner in Münzkirchen, Austria, where innkeeper Vinzenz Wösner offers “guided crawls” of the tunnel network below his property. Wösner’s erdstall, which extends for about 25 meters (82 feet) and ranges in height from 3 meters to just 0.7 meters (9 feet to just over 2 feet), is one of approximately 500 erdstalls that have been found in Austria. The German state of Bavaria, which has around 700 erdstalls, “is literally perforated with these underground mazes.”

Have you ever had the chance to crawl through an erdstall? Do you know of any inns, churches, or other sites that allow you to access these odd underground networks? Let us know!