The town of Herringen, in central Germany, is home to a heap of sodium chloride (yes, our common table salt) so massive that it has come to be known as Monte Kali.
And It boast also the title as the world’s largest artificial salt mountain.
Its origin can be traced back to the year 1976, when potash salt started being extracted from mines around the town.
Back then, the salt was used to make goods like soap and glass, but today it is also an important ingredient in several fertilizers, synthetic rubber, and even some medicines, so extraction intensified over the last few decades.
However, the problem with potash is that mining it generates a lot of sodium chloride as a byproduct, so you need somewhere to store it.
Thus Kali und Salz (K+S), the company operating the mines, started dumping all this salt a few miles from Herringen, and over the years it created a giant salt mountain locals named Monte Kali or “Kalimanjaro”, an interesting puns for Kalisalz, the German word for potash.
Starting from 2017, Kalimanjaro stands at 530 meters (1,740 ft) above sea level and covers an area of over 100 hectares, so calling it an artificial MOUNTAIN no exaggeration at all.
You can see it from anywhere in Herringen, or even driving past it on the motorway, and it has become somewhat of a tourist attraction.
In fact, at one point, people could pay to ascend the, as part of a guided tour.
The ascent took an average person around 15 minutes, and the 23-hectare summit plateau offered views of the entire Werra Valley all the way to the Rhön and the Thuringian Forest.
Although it’s hard to estimate how much salt Monte Kali consists of, some sources put its current mass at approximately 236 million tons, and in fact it covers an area as large as 114 football fields, and is as heavy as 23,600 Eiffel Towers.
Moreover, with over 1,000 tonnes of table salt being added to it every single hour of the day (that become about 7.2 million tonnes a year) it’s only getting bigger.
In case you were wondering how K+S manages to dump over 1,000 tonnes of sodium chloride on Monte Kali every hour, it does with a 1.5 km-long conveyor belt.
As you can imagine, a salt mountain of this size in the center of Germany, close to forests and the Werra River, does raise also some environmental questions. Research has found in fact that the growing heap of salt, which also generates a lot of brine, has caused the river to become salty, as has the groundwater in the area and, of the 60 to 100 species of invertebrates that once called the area around home, only 3 remain.
Although it could be described as an environmental disaster, the potash industry is really big in the region, accounting for several thousand jobs, so closing down production isn’t really an option for authorities. K+S had its license extended until 2060, and even had its request to expand Monte Kali by 25 hectares approved in 2020.
Eother way, it is just the largest of several table salt dumps in the region which has come to be known as “Land der weißen Berge”, literally “Land of the White Mountains”!
Images from web – Google Research