The town of Altenberg is part of the Erzgebirge (the ore mountains) region of Saxony and is situated just north of the border with the Czech Republic, 32 km due south of Dresden. Tin was mined in the area from the mid-fourteenth century until extraction finally ceased in 1991. The dominant feature of the landscape is the Grosse Pinge, a huge crater caused by the collapse of mine workings, about 12 ha. in area, 450 m. in diameter, and 150 m. deep.
The museum is located in a large Pochwäsche building, used for crushing, washing and concentrating tin ore, which is first mentioned in documents in 1577, and remained in use until 1952. It was then preserved in order to retain a water-powered Pochwerk, or stamping mill, of the kind depicted in Georgius Agricola’s De re metallica. The building was opened as a museum in 1957, alongside a small show tunnel in a former mine gallery. The whole complex was closed in 1983 because it was being damaged by pressure of visitors, but was re-opened after extensive restoration in 1994. A new reception building was completed in 1999. Visitors are able to see the restored stamping mill and associated ore dressing plant, and to go more than 200 m. into the enlarged show tunnel, which is set in the Neubeschert Luck Stoller gallery, worked between 1802 and 1849. From time to time there are demonstrations of fire-setting, and hand tools and other equipment are on permanent display. An open air display established in 1993-94 includes vehicles from underground railways, drilling rigs, flotation trays, ball mills and other heavy equipment used at the mine and the dressing plant. The museum is the starting point for trails exploring the Grosse Pinge, which take in a powder house, headstocks and other evidence of Altenberg’s mining heritage.