Almost right in the exact center of Germany sits the town of Heringen in Hersfeld-Rotenburg district in eastern Hesse, near the border with Thuringia.
And, at the very center of Heringen, visually if not exactly geographically, is an enormous white mountain made of table salt.
Heringen and the surrounding land have welcomed the mining of potash for over a century, and continues to do so still. Back in the day, potash was used to make soaps, glass, and other products; these days, potash is used in everything from fertilizers to synthetic rubber production to even some medicines.
As the miners of potash in Heringen do what they do, they also get waste material as a byproduct. After a while of growing in size, it becomes a large pile known as a spoil tip. Monte Kali is just that—a spoil tip of sodium chloride, which is common table salt, the byproduct of potash mining.
Calling it a mountain is no exaggeration, either. It currently towers over the land around it with a height of 820 ft (250 m), growing larger every day since it started back in 1976. As of 2017, Monte Kali covered 245 acres (99 hectares) and consisted of over 209 million tons of salt. 900 tons of salt are added each hour, and 7.2 million tons each year.
The heap rises over 250 metres (820 ft) above the surrounding land, its summit reaching 530 metres (1,740 ft) above sea level. According to the Werra Potash Mining Museum in Heringen, Monte Kali has been in operation since 1976; as of August 2016, it covered 98 hectares (240 acres) and contained approximately 201 million tonnes of salt, with another 900 tonnes being added every hour and 7.2 million tonnes a year. To transfer new salt from the ground to the mountain, a 1.5 km-long (0.93 miles) conveyor belt is used.
Fun Fact: The Kali in Monte Kali comes from the German word Kalisalz, meaning “potash.” Monte Kali is a colloquial name inspired by Monte Cristo. Locals also have another favorite name for Monte Kali, which is Kalimanjaro (Kalimandscharo), a central-German tribute to the dormant volcano in Tanzania.
The Environmental Damage
Unfortunately, while Monte Kali seems to be an unmoving part of the landscape, it’s actively destroying much of the environment around it. As the table salt mountain continues to grow, so does the ecological damage.
A lot of this salt ends up in the rivers and land around, devastating to the environment. The Werra River, which flows nearby, has become saltier than even the Baltic Sea as a result of the potash mining. What plants and animals might have once thrived calling the Werra River home are all but vanquished, being replaced by creatures which can survive in that saline environment.
K+S AG is a major German multinational chemical company, the largest salt producer in the world, and behind Monte Kali and other local salt mountains, allowing the region to earn its nickname as “Land der weißen Berge” (“Land of the White Mountains”). If you think you haven’t heard of K+S, originally known as Kali und Salz, think again; they own the US brand Morton Salt, which you may know from its iconic logo of the girl in the yellow dress holding an umbrella.
Sadly, K+S has a license to operate their mine and keep adding to the Monte Kali salt mound until at least 2030. If you visit the area, check out the Werra-Kalibergbau-Museum on Dickesstraße 1.
Fun Fact: The first United States patent ever issued was for an improvement “in the making of Pot ash and Pearl ash by a new Apparatus and Process.” This patent was issued in 1790 to Samuel Hopkins and signed by none other than President George Washington himself!
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