The site

Niederzwönitz, believed to have been established around 1200, makes its first historical appearance in 1460 in the Terminierbuch of the Zwickau Franciscans under the name Dorffczwenicz. The designation "Niederzwönitz" likely arose to distinguish it from its neighbour, Zwönitz, meaning Lower Zwönitz.

The von Schönberg family acquired ownership of the Niederzwönitz estate in 1473. By the end of the 16th century, this estate, now upgraded to a manor, assumed authority over the village. Despite suffering destruction during the Thirty Years' War, the manor was reconstructed, as documented in an inheritance book from 1693 outlining the obligations of its subjects. The manorial jurisdiction exempted it from restrictions on artisan settlement, fostering the growth of various crafts, including carpentry and weaving, with five master carpenters and twenty-six master weavers counted by 1803. A devastating fire on December 18th, 1881, razed the manor and seven of its eleven outbuildings, though it was promptly reconstructed the following year. The manor's extensive holdings encompassed roughly 592 hectares of agricultural land, 495 hectares of forest, and additional properties including Bergmeistergut, Hansgünthergut, Bochmannsches Gut, and a hunting lodge with a sawmill.

On April 1st, 1934, Niederzwönitz was administratively merged with Zwönitz. Following Second World War, during the Soviet occupation period, the von Schönberg family, prominent landowners and an important dynasty that historically had administered the mining industry in the region, faced expropriation under land reform in 1945. The farm buildings were divided among four new farmers and the manor building was demolished in 1947. The Bergmeistergut, initially a summer residence from 1838 and later a permanent residence, served as a children's recreation centre and youth sanatorium after the family's expulsion. In 1992, Benedikta von Schönberg-Paulig, daughter of the last owner, repurchased the Bergmeistergut and its surrounding park from the district, subsequently renovating and modernising the property, which now offers holiday rentals.

Niederzwönitz has been home to a paper mill since the 16th century. Since 2019, the paper mill has also been listed as an associated component to the UNESCO World Heritage Site Erzgebirge/Krušnohoří (Ore Mountains). This UNESCO World Heritage site spans a region in south-eastern Germany (Saxony) and north-western Czechia, which contains a wealth of several metals exploited through mining from the Middle Ages onwards. The cultural landscape of the Ore Mountains has been deeply shaped by 800 years of almost continuous mining, from the 12th to the 20th century.

The water system management technologies that emerged in the Ore Mountains represented a significant advancement in harnessing natural resources for industrial purposes, particularly in production and mining activities. These technologies capitalised on the abundant water sources in the region to generate power, which was then utilised to drive various production processes and mining operations. One of the key innovations was the development of water wheels and water mills, which were strategically placed along rivers and streams to capture the kinetic energy of flowing water. These water wheels were connected to machinery and equipment used in mining and production, such as stamp mills for ore crushing, bellows for ventilation in mines, and pumps for drainage. Furthermore, the construction of intricate water management systems, including reservoirs, aqueducts, and canals, allowed for the controlled distribution and redirection of water to different industrial sites as needed.

The innovative water management systems implemented in the Ore Mountains enabled the paper mill in Niederzwönitz to efficiently distribute and utilise water resources, contributing to increased productivity and the establishment of a thriving industrial centre. As a result, the paper mill in Niederzwönitz stands as a testament to the successful integration of water system technologies into industrial operations, reflecting the region's rich legacy of technological innovation and industrial development.

The paper mill in Niederzwönitz is Germany's oldest operational paper mill, and it is intrinsically linked to the UNESCO World Heritage mining region. In its workshop, visitors can grasp the origins of paper production, with handmade paper and watermarks revealing ties to mining, which necessitated extensive paper documentation. Until the mid-19th century, rags and scraps were transformed into handmade paper. Industrialisation brought a shift to cardboard production, primarily for use in footwear, furniture, and packaging. After its closure in 1973, the mill underwent extensive restoration, opening its historic facilities to the public as museum in 1984. Its uninterrupted use since 1568, most recently as a cardboard factory, underscores its authenticity. The complete machinery of the cardboard factory, including ball boilers, grinding mills, beaters, and wet presses, powered by water and motors, resides within the impressive half-timbered building. Following a recent redesign of the permanent exhibition and its reopening in 2020, visitors can explore not only the original production areas but also the living quarters of the paper millers, offering insights into their intertwined lives and work.


The project

The European Heritage Volunteers Project will aim to explore heritage conservation approaches addressing challenges posed by the coexistence of historical building structures and hydrotechnical installations, notably in watermill preservation. The project involves a diverse range of activities:

One of the tasks will be the careful cleaning and comprehensive documentation of the mill canal, the water canal that runs from the weir to the mill. This multifaceted endeavour includes the removal of accumulated mud, exposing the original bed of gravel or rubble, and recording elevations using a tachymeter. Moreover, the participants will be actively involved in reinforcing the ditch bottom and implementing improvements to the bank area, integrating wooden structures strategically placed to enhance both functionality and aesthetics.

Another hands-on activity will entail the rehabilitation of the embankment along the mill canal, particularly in front of the water wheel. Here, the existing embankment, constructed from rubble stones, requires renovation due to erosion and structural instability. To address this, participants will engage in the construction of a new dry-stone wall, employing traditional techniques and materials to ensure durability and authenticity.

Furthermore, the participants will also be involved in the cleaning, photogrammetric documentation, and tachymetric surveying of the mill canal’s section between the wheel chamber and the end of the above-ground course. This segment, located immediately behind the water wheel, holds significant historical importance, with insights into the mill's construction history and structural evolution.

In addition to the aforementioned tasks, the participants will also focus on the renewal of a wooden bridge spanning the mill canal, facilitating accessibility to the water wheel and outdoor exhibits. This wooden structure, constructed with careful attention to detail and historical accuracy, not only serves functional purposes but also contributes to the overall ambiance and historical authenticity of the site.

As another work for the project, the participants will also be supporting the renewal of wooden components comprising the weir system, including the lock mechanism, to ensure efficient water flow and structural integrity. They will participate in the dismantling of existing structures and the fitting and installation of new wood, typically oak, adhering to historical specifications and conservation principles.

Additionally, the participants will have the unique opportunity to observe and assist specialised craftsmen from a mill construction and restoration company, which has its scheduled annual maintenance work on the historic wheel coincide with the project. This company is renowned for their expertise in repairing old water wheels and historic water technology systems, and it is one of the last ones that carry out these works in Saxony. The involvement will offer the participants with hands-on learning experiences in traditional craftsmanship.

Finally, the participants will be supporting maintenance and conservation measures related to the indoor mill technology. This includes regular maintenance of fully operational technical systems dating from the 19th to the early 20th century. Led by a specialist in 19th and 20th-century mechanisms, these activities will offer the participants valuable insights into historical conservation techniques and mechanical engineering practices.

Collaboration with the Smart City initiative adds a modern dimension to the project, integrating cutting-edge technology to enhance visitor experience and accessibility. Using a 360-degree camera for guided documentation and virtual tours, the project aims to bring the rich history and cultural significance of the paper mill to life in new and innovative ways. Furthermore, the project's integration with the Smart City initiative opens exciting opportunities for public engagement and education, facilitating a deeper understanding and appreciation of the region's industrial heritage.

The project will be guided by experts affiliated with the museum, including a specialist archaeologist engineer, a specialist in geodesy, and a museologist with specialisation in heritage conservation. All conservation efforts prioritise authenticity and sustainability which are part of the museum’s ethos, with a focus on the reuse of existing materials wherever feasible.

The project's educational program offers the participants immersive guided tours and excursions to other sites in the region utilising similar water systems, providing invaluable insights into the UNESCO world heritage mining landscape and fostering a deeper connection to the region's cultural heritage.


The project will take place from August 18th to August 31st, 2024, and is organised by European Heritage Volunteers in cooperation with the Technical Museum Paper Mill and the World Heritage Association for the Ore Mountain Mining Region.

European Heritage Volunteers