Underground Beer Vaults of Zeitz in Saxony
Visitors to Zeitz in Saxony-Anhalt can explore a unique “Underworld” made up of numerous underground vaults and corridors. The people of Zeitz built the underground system during the 14th 15th and 16th centuries to store food supplies, and in particular a ‘staple’ of the day – beer. Today beer is considered to be substance for enjoyment
At this time one of Germanys current staple foods was not known: the potato. The Spanish introduced the potato into Europe from South America in the middle of the 16th century but some time passed before it arrived in the Zeitz area. In 1717 he potato was introduced into Saxony for cultivation (to which Zeitz belonged until 1815) and in 1738 into Prussia. Unlike nowadays, beer in the Middle Ages had an irreplaceable function. It was used as a basis for soups and was a part of all everyone`s diets. One of the many reasons for this was ‘health’. The water supplies of the time could be impure in a lot of towns, but beer was ‘safe’. Therefore it was used in a lot of cooking. Children would consume ‘beer soups’ for ‘breakfast’ before wandering off to school, or the fields!
The brewing of the beer was conducted initially between the first of October and the middle of April. Special breweries were used to make the young beer which was then transported to certain homes that had attained permission to brew beer. The beer was stored in the vaults where it was safe from surface climatic conditions.
The council would only allow the citizens to brew beer when the taxes indicated on the "Brauzettel" had been payed in full. As there was so much money coming in from this tax it formed the basis for the council treasury. In the 15th and 16th centuries brewing was particularly common. For example, in 1558 a total of 330 different beers were produced but the exact quantity is not known. If we look at the beer produced in Gera in 1558, we could extrapolate a figure for Zeitz of 1292280 litres. With an estimated population of 1800 people there would have been 718 litres of beer to be consumed by each individual. This phenomenal figure is explained by the fact that people from the villages had to buy their beer in Zeitz. Between the 17th an 18th centuries the production of beer decreased because beer was purchased from other towns. In 1885 the brewery ‘Oettler’ was founded and with this modern methods of brewing began. Most of the walls and hallways of the Underground System were built in the 15th and 16th centuries. In other towns in East Thuringia, and West Saxony there are cellars deep under the earth which are comparable in age, construction and purpose with our town. However, this underground system is unique because of the size and the fact that there has been some restoration work.
The vaults, made with local natural stone, are up to 3.5 metres in width and hight and range between 4 to 32 metres in length. They are connected by aisles hewn into the coloured sandstone and lie up to 12 metres below street level. On tours, visitors can see about a tenth of the 8.5Km long underground system and learn much about its history.