Steep stairs lead down into the depths.

Wooden planks cover the muddy earth, it gets dark, cool, damp and in some corridors quite low.

Then the orange-colored protective helmet scrapes the rocky ceiling.

At least now you know why you are wearing it.

So you stay dry and your head is safe when you descend into the earth.

A queasy feeling arises, but then a niche expands in the hard rock, and a cautious shine can be seen that fits into the season.

There it is already, unexpectedly and at first glance a little out of place: a small Christmas tree, deep in the hollowed stone and so fresh, as if it had just been cut.

But appearances are deceptive, the tree has been standing here in the mine of Falun, in the Swedish province of Dalarnas Län, for a long time.

The region is known for the small wooden horses that are part of the standard Swedish Christmas decorations.

Mostly painted red, but they are also typical of the pit, from which the typical Swedish color, Falun red, owes its name.

Falun's fingerprint

Falun Red is made from the overburden of the mine, and although there has been no mining since 1992, the color will remain forever. Because the overburden from which it is extracted piles up around the pit and lasts for at least a hundred years. And the waste that arises from paint production can be used again after twenty years. A map shows when which stone mound can be used again. Twenty-one different minerals make the color so unique, it is Falun's fingerprint.

The fir tree underground, however, is not red. It doesn't need that either, it shines even without tree decorations, but with its old freshness.

Iron vitriol keeps him alive.

After 365 days there is a shift change for him, then he is picked up, which is not good for him, however.

He's starting to age.

But it is tradition to replace it every year.

Then the next tree is allowed to go down into the mine and reminds of old times in the narrow shaft.

At the end of the nineteenth century, a particularly rich ore vein was found there at Christmas; it was called the “Christmas present”.

Every underground mine, every tunnel has a name.

“Christmas present” fit and still fits today.

And wherever Christmas presents are lying and the rock face sparkles, there should be a tree.

Sweden's first tourist

The Swedish King Gustav II Adolf already appreciated the Falun mine at the beginning of the seventeenth century. “No king has a palace like me,” he praised the pit with its glittering stone and signed the guest book. This, too, is of course a very special one and is still used today: the most important guests sign on the rock face next to the “Christmas present”. "The mines of Falun", which not only fired ETA Hoffmann's imagination, still attract crowned heads for the usual photo and for a signature on stony rock, which later, to match the sparkling rock, is set in gold and shines for Christmas.

The mine was once the largest copper mine in the world, with a market share of two thirds of European production. Even the roof of Versailles was made of Falun copper. People were and are proud of the mining history here, and rightly so. After all, Sweden owes its first emergency hospital to the mine; it was founded in 1695 and is probably the first in Europe. The world's first share was also issued in Falun - Bishop Petrus Eloffson bought the share in 1288. And Swedish tourism also began here. In 1824, the word "tourist" appeared in Falun in Sweden for the first time. A drawing serves as proof, showing a well-dressed gentleman who, equipped with a helmet and a cape, goes into the pit.

Perhaps he was drawn not only to the riches of the mine, but also to its history and stories. Because Falun stands for more than just the mining of copper, ores, silver and gold, more than wealth and high engineering, more than early international cooperation and care. It is also an almost mystical place that apparently not only the spirit of the mountain woman was watching. In 1687 there was a major collapse. The only remaining rock wall between the large excavation pits collapsed. At that time, a thousand people worked in the Falun mine - and not a single one was killed in this great calamity. The collapse happened on midsummer, one of the three days when the miners were off and there was no work in the pit. That was when the Great Pinge came into being, the huge pitwhich still sinks into the depths with a mineral shine.

The miner Mats wasn't so lucky ten years ago. It was buried in 1677, at a time when it shouldn't even be in the mountain. There was no explanation as to why he had let himself in. So his bride Margareta remained in the dark for a long time about what had happened to her fiancé. The years passed, no trace of Mats. But forty-two years later, in 1719, the body of a young man was discovered in the mountain. Nobody knew him, nobody knew about him - until an old woman recognized the dead woman and immediately knew that it could only be her mats. She was the only contemporary witness to know the date of his disappearance. The fact that he was so young and fresh was also due to the iron vitriol.

He has been buried in the local cemetery since 1930.

At Christmas, a Christmas tree will go into the shaft again, and it will also stand there in full splendor for a year.

And thus also reminds of the young Mats, who lost his life in the mountain, but not his youth.