The History of the Caving Club
In the last centuries, the „Sontheimer Erdloch“ – as the cave was called at that time – was looked after by tenants and was by far not as well developed and secured as it is today.
Located in the middle of the forest and without an access road, there was a former forest workers‘ shelter in front of the entrance. At that time, the tenants started their guided tours from this open hut – still with stall lanterns and carbide lamps.
Fig. 36: First shelter
After the Second World War, Georg Klingler, Hermann Flügler and Hans Mack looked after the cave. Hermann Flügler tried to whitewash the sooty spots on the stalactites with slaked lime, but he did not quite succeed, as can still be seen today. He also dreamed at that time – as we still do today – of an underground connection to the Blautopf. As the bad times of the post-war years drew to a close and the opportunities for earning money improved again, hardly anyone was interested in the cave business, which was not very profitable.
In February, Helmut Frank gives a slide show on the Slovenian Karst in the Sontheim schoolhouse. After his lecture, the well-known cave expert retains a few of the young audience members with the words: „And you Buaba dahinta, bleibat au no a bissele do“. He convinces the young people of the necessity of cave protection and offers them 34,- DM – his fee for this evening – if they would found an association for the preservation of the „Sontheimer Erdloch“. These „Buaba“ then meet in loose comradeship at the Sontheim cave and do work together there, such as renovating damaged stairs and railings and removing rubbish in front of the cave.
On 16 March, the founding meeting of the Sontheim Cave Association takes place in the „Lamm“ inn. Here the last tenant of the cave, Hans Mack, is appointed 1st chairman of the association. Other founding members are: Werner and Hermann Zeifang, Hermann Schiele, Helmut Frank and the „Buaba“ Albert Baumann, Georg Bayer, Erich Erb and Rolf Griesinger. The loan applied for the previous year is now approved and the expansion of the cave is started. Soon the decision is made to no longer light the cave with carbide lamps, but to use electricity for the first time: A second-hand electricity generator is purchased and installed in a bunker dug into the slope. Field telephone cables organised by the French occupiers and old car headlights serve as power lines. There is great joy and pride when the lamps shine for the first time and can be demonstrated to the citizens of Sontheim and visitors from the surrounding area.
The 200-year-old custom of celebrating a cave festival is revived.
In order to learn about the experiences and merits of other caving groups, the association joins the Verband Deutscher Höhlen und Karstforscher e.V. on 3 January. The power generator fails and can be replaced by a new one thanks to the income from the cave festivals. In addition, a bat gate – Helmut Frank’s own design – is installed for the first time to keep uninvited visitors away from the bats‘ roosts during the winter months.
The association is granted permission to operate. Therefore, not only sanitary facilities are built, but also a machine shed for the power generator in autumn.
As a result of the ever-growing number of visitors, the bold plan to build a restaurant with 100 seats at the cave comes into being – this plan is approved at the end of the year. Because there is practically no building site available, the slope is first cleared away and a retaining wall is concreted. This building project swallows up the entire savings of the association. However, with the help of a brewery loan and countless unpaid volunteer hours, the project can be pursued.
The association is entered in the register of associations with the official name: „Höhlenverein Sontheim e.V.“.
Just in time for the cave festival, the restaurant of the Sontheim Caving Association is completed and inaugurated. This highlight in the now fifteen-year history of the association is duly celebrated with a three-day festival.
Fig. 37: Second, enlarged shelter
Fig. 38: Big cave festival on the occasion of the 25th anniversary in 1981
Already in the early 70s, the association was engaged in the search for a dry access to the Blauhöhlen system. Old descriptions mention a shaft in the Schulacker. This was reopened in 1975 as part of the land consolidation. 180 tractor trailers full of overburden are brought up from this shaft and the depth is driven from 20 m to 42 m. In the process, a side wall is found. In the process, a side passage with a chimney leading upwards for more than 20 m is encountered. Despite years of effort, no breakthrough into the blue cave system can be achieved, so the „Sontheimer Schacht“ project falls into a slumber from 1997 onwards.
In May, human teeth, human bones, coloured glass beads, pieces of coral and bronze wire are found about 125 m from the cave entrance. The Sontheim Cave Association reports this find to the State Monuments Office.
In March of that year, the first archaeological excavations take place. At the end of November, another excavation is carried out: In the cave there is an early Halemannic burial site (see from page16).
A continuation of the Sontheim Cave is searched for in the lintel of the entrance hall. Since 1981, about 3,200 large buckets of overburden have been transported up to the cave. Overnight, a large boulder falls down and destroys this work.
On 11 April, the decision is made to open a crevice behind the machine shed. The amazement is great: here is an approx. 16 x 16 m room with beautiful stalactites, the Hintere Kohlhaldehöhle. This gem will – as unanimously decided – be closed immediately and only opened to the public once a year for the cave festival on Whit Sunday. This measure is necessary to preserve the natural beauty of the space near the surface.
Helmut Frank, who had been strongly committed to Sontheim Cave and the association from the beginning, passes away.
The Sontheim Caving Association organises the Southwest German Speleological Conference „Speläo Südwest“, which is held every two years by a different association. In addition to numerous lectures on Sontheim Cave and other karst objects in the region, speleologists from near and far have the opportunity to get to know caves in and around Heroldstatt during excursions.
to 2006: Renovation of the cave restaurant: the guest room is completely redesigned and the toilet facilities are brought up to the state of the art.
A long-awaited dream comes true: the cave is now connected to the public electricity grid. On this occasion, pipes for water, sewage and a telephone line are also laid. The total costs for this amount to about € 250,000 and are largely covered by the state of Baden-Württemberg and the municipality of Heroldstatt.
The association celebrates its 50th anniversary. In these 50 years of the association’s history, not only has the Sontheim Cave become a respected show cave and well-known bat cave through intensive association work, but also the comradeship within and outside the association has been actively cultivated.
Since the beginning of the year, the Sontheim Cave has been the first show cave in the Swabian Alb to shine „in the new light“ of innovative LED lighting. In over 600 hours of voluntary work, a new railing and LED lighting were installed.
Fig. 39: Work on the connection to the public supply in 2006
Fig. 40: Installation of LED lighting 2010
From the very beginning and still today, the Sontheim Caving Association has put a lot of energy into the development of the cave and into cave research. However, we are not only interested in the caves in the surrounding area. Caves in Austria, Switzerland, France, Hungary, the Moravian and Slovenian Karst have also been visited on excursions or by the research department.
Today, the Sontheim Caving Association can look back on a diverse and varied history. We are curious to see how the association will develop and look forward to young people who want to shape the future around and in Sontheim Cave with us.
Fig. 41: Postcard of Sontheim 1926
Barbara Kreuzer (abridged)
Further information in the brochure on Sontheim Cave, available at the cave ticket office.