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!
Sometimes there’s more to a city that what you see above ground. Several cities around the world sit above underground labyrinths just waiting to be explored. Budget Travel has put together a list of some of the best underground tours around the world.
In Paris, you can tour the sewer system, in Berlin, check out a hidden world of bunkers and tunnels used during World War II and the Cold War, and see the remains of the older city (which the new city was built upon) in Seattle. Other cities with tours that take you underground include Vienna, Rome, Seoul, Portland, Naples, New York, Jerusalem, Edinburgh, and Istanbul.
And to Budget Travel’s list of spots with unique attractions below ground, I’ll add two of my own. Most visitors to Chicago don’t realize that the city has it’s own network of underground tunnels, called the Pedway, that connect many of the city’s government buildings and allow people to travel between them without suffering in the bitter winter cold. And in Logrono, in Spain’s Rioja region, the area underneath the town is actually larger in area than that above, thanks to an extensive network of tunnels that were once used for defense and are now used as wine cellars.
When we visit a new city we generally spend a lot of our time looking up, gawking at the tall buildings. But, it seems, maybe should pay a little more attention to the wonders just underneath our feet.