Schelter found in Erpel mine tunnel
Newspaper "Unkeler Reporter" (former "Unkeler Zeitung") Nr. 10 from 7. March 2002

Matthias Ott remembers the bombing raids during WW II

Matthias (aka 'This', pronounced 'tiss') Ott was honored with the homeland order award this year for his accomplishments during his voluntary work for the Erpel community. Since many years he takes it upon himself to maintain the memorial, decorate it with flowers, and to keep it clean. The grotto of St. Mary with its statue of Mary is at the entrance of a former mine tunnel behind the very same railroad that went across the Luddendorf bridge (made famous in movie history with "The bridge of Remagen"). Today the memorial with its statue of Mary is a place of rest, reflection, and prayer.

The mine tunnel of St. Mary's grotto, still being referred to as "Dwarf's Hole", is of historical significance for Erpel's citizens. During the allied bombing raids on the Ludendorff bridge and Erpel as early as December 1944 and then more heavily in March 1945, many Erpel citizens, like the families Löhr, Fuchs and Siebertz, whose village Erpel was destroyed more than half way during WW II, sought shelter in this mine tunnel and in 1945 also in the railroad tunnel.

Shelter in the "Dwarf's Hole"

Within the "Dwarf's Hole": 'This' Ott (l.) and Heiner Schlüter

The "Dwarf's Hole" provided shelter for up to 40 people, remembers 'This' Ott, back then 15 years old. His family also went to the hole for shelter. Nobody was thinking about going into the railroad tunnel back in October 1944. Especially since there were trains passing all the time, bringing supplies to the west front for the "final victory". But not only the Ott family with the parents Franz and Anna, and the 'This' siblings Steffi and Fritz used the tunnel for shelter. Also Maria (now 98 years old) and Gertrud Hamacher, who as well as Niko Czeslik (then 9 years old) tried to be safe from the bombs in the tunnel. They felt safe in the tunnel, which these days is right underneath the streets "Winzerstraße" and "Im milden Grund". Many of the people who went into the tunnel for safety are no longer alive. But the children and teenagers from back then still remember the days with all the bombs. As 'This' remembers, his father Franz, who was a very practical man and hated the war deeply, had started in the Fall of 1944 to prepare the tunnel for all possibilities with the help of his family.

Back then nobody applied for any permits from the village offices, 'This' Ott remembers. Many of the practical preparations include a drainage for all the water in the tunnel. When the sirens started to howl in Erpel and the first bombs hit the village people came with blankets, food, and chairs. The Ott family had their own little separate corner in a side tunnel of the hole. Since the oxygen ran out fairly quickly – candles would go out all the time – the people secretly "organized" to get oxygen bottles from the close by railroad construction site and let more oxygen directly into the tunnel, says 'This' Ott.

The old mine tunnel

There is no public access to the tunnel. And whoever goes though the extensive security measures to go into the tunnel with 'This' Ott and sees all the little "icicles" hanging from the ceiling probably thinks that they are in a small stalactite cave. But it is indeed an old mine tunnel with a length of 130.80 meters, knows home land researcher Willi Christmann († 2004). Many years ago he and several other Erpel citizens measured out the grotto. The question is what role this tunnel played during Erpel's history. It is still uncertain if copper ore was mined here, says Willi Christmann, who conducted extensive research about this. He also contacted the office for mining in Koblenz, but couldn't get a complete and satisfactory answer. He says, that most like no copper ore was mined here, but that the tunnel is part of a probing tunnel to find some. This theory is backed up by the existence of other similar mine tunnels towards the Erpeler Ley, states Willi Christmann.

A statue of St. Mary out of gratitude

Certain is only this: the "Dwarf's Hole" saved the lives of many citizens of Erpel. That's why a promise of these citizens was put into action in 1960: A statue of St. Mary was erected out of gratitude for providing shelter during the bombings of WW II. Among the many volunteers in 1960 was Peter Brandenburg. He helped place a Lourdes-Madonna at the entrance of the grotto. Since then the name stuck: St. Mary's grotto. Why many still refer to it as "Dwarf's Hole" can only be explained historically. Maybe it's also due to the fascination with old tales and mysteries. It is not proven that the name came from children working in the mine.

Every May there is a mass at the grotto out of gratitude for the security St. Mary provided for the citizens of Erpel with this tunnel as a shelter.

Text and photo: Röder