We associate living in a cave with, well, cavemen from many thousands of years ago. We also know of modern cave dwellers who built homes in existing caves here and there as projects that spanned many years. But the village of Langenstein, near Germany's Harz Mountains, is a completely different story. There, in 1855, ten caves were completely carved out from solid sandstone to make living spaces! Wealthy landowner August Wilhelm Rimpau hired workers who traveled there with their families, but had no place to house them.
“That’s when the local council came across the soft sandstone ridge formation on the outskirts of town. Because they knew about the earlier cave dwellings, the idea emerged of letting the workers reside in caves,” says Scholle. Soon after, the rocks were numbered—one to 10—with chalk, and a lottery was held to determine which families would get a spot. “And then each family got started with carving a home out of solid rock,” he says.
The migrant workers arrived in Langenstein from near and far, says Scholle. In exchange for a little over a month’s salary, they were granted the right to reside in the homes they built for as long as they lived.
“The workers spent all day on the fields, and in the evening they worked on their homes,” he says. On average, each family took a year and a half to complete their dwellings. In the early stages, they slept under makeshift roofs at the entrance. “The sooner you constructed your house, the sooner you were out of the cold.”
Five of the ten cave homes still exist, and are protected as historic sites in Langenstein. See more of them at Atlas Obscura.