English

  • Henrik Haupt

Giant abandoned bucket wheel excavator

Updated: Jun 3

(The photos below were taken with an older camera and mobile phone)

Abandoned bucket wheel excavator

Somewhere in Germany in the former GDR, on a large field, stands this giant bucket wheel lignite excavator, which I have found to be extremely fascinating to visit. I have a hard time describing its size in words, but it fascinated me so much the first time I saw it that I have been past it a few times since.

Abandoned giant bucket wheel excavator
Front of bucket wheel excavator
Steering house in abandoned bucket wheel excavator

The excavator has been in use in one of the many open lignite mines around the German countryside. It is a massive industry in Germany, and when the mines move, whole cities are moved, and the machines make their entry and eat the landscape after the lignite.


The bucket wheel excavator was built in the mid-1960s, and with its ten shovels, it was able to move much soil and coal. The excavator could dig 15 meters into the ground and 35 meters up, and the whole machine moves as soil and coal are removed.

Crane on abandoned bucket wheel excavator

The size of the excavator is, as I said, pretty difficult to explain.

It is over 170 meters long, over 50 meters high, and weighs around 4000 tons. The only thing that might be described as small on this machine is the speed it can move.

It runs 6 meters per minute, so it will not be a speed record it has to beat.

They may have wished it could run a little faster, as, in the early 00s, it had no more lignite to dig and had to be moved to this field. It was a task that took over 14 days to move it the approximately 8 km.

View from crane at abandoned bucket wheel excavator
Rust and dirt on abandoned bucket wheel excavator

The future of the excavator is a bit uncertain because there is both a desire for preservation and a desire to have it scrapped. The main arguments where either one or the other is that it has sufficient historical value that it can not be scrapped, and on the other hand, it is today in a rather sad state and can be dangerous to climb if you do not know what you are doing. Last but certainly not least, no one has yet chosen to bear the cost of securing this giant in the future.

Abandoned bucket wheel excavator
Abandoned bucket wheel excavator
Electrical house at abandoned bucket wheel excavator

My visits

As written earlier, I have been past it a few times now, and I am sure it will not be the last time. On my first visit, I climbed up at the end where the counterweight is. It will help if you aren't afraid of heights when you do the climb up. On the way up, you have to pass parts that are missing the floors, so you will have a clear view of the ground below. In addition, the first time, unfortunately, it started to rain a lot, so I decided not to climb up the middle tower. So it was only on the second trip that I got to climb up to the top. And it's probably a bit silly, but there's something cool about standing up there and having "defeated" it.

Selfie at abandoned bucket wheel excavator