HIGHEST CLIMB IN THE HARZ: MOUNT BROCKEN
You can’t leave Germany’s Harz Mountains without a trip to Mount Brocken. Not only is it the highest peak in northern Germany, but it also aims to bring swathes of nature back to their correct shape…thus promoting sustainability in a big way!
The Harz Mountains are one of my favorite places to visit in Germany as it is a terminus that has all the ingredients for a wonderful vacation – breathtaking panorama, picturesque and fascinating towns, ethnicity and antiquity. The icing on the cake for me is the sociability offered by the HSB and the remarkable rail network and their annual fall and winter steam galas are a perfect reason to return again and again.
THE HARZ STEAM RAILWAY TRIP
The best way to get to Brocken would be on the Harz Narrow Gauge Railways (HSB) from the quaint town of Wernigerode, which we also use. The reason I also recommend it is that the main line takes you straight into the mountains, without changing lines. These railways are a real attraction for visitors and surprisingly operate all year round. Having boarded such a large train, I am impressed as it features carriages that glide over the tracks seamlessly, providing a scenic rail route through the foothills to the highest peak in the Harz; well accompanied by the amazing noise of the locomotive and covered with the familiar smell of the steam engine. These trains simply run on coal and water. Interestingly, not all trains that run on the HSB run on steam, only this particular rail network (brockenbahn) to Brocken does, making it an exclusive experience.
Brocken is one of the windiest places in Germany, once a Soviet spy site, it is characterized by the Harz National Park and the Brockhaus Museum. Interestingly, the park spans two federal states, making it historically the first national park to do so. The eastern part covering Saxony – Anhalt and the western part covering Lower Saxony. The park is home to diverse flora and fauna and has been preserved in its original state. In the past, the area surrounding the park was used to mine silver. Currently it is practically unoccupied, but has a few settlements. The main message of the park is to conserve the ecosystem around and to educate visitors.
DID YOU KNOW?
The Green Belt has seduced cyclists and especially hikers. One of the best segments of Germany’s green belt is known as the Harz Border Trail. This 97 km route separates the Harz Mountains, a forested region including the summit of Brocken, one of the most popular mountains in northern Germany. The area is popular with hikers, with a system of simple wooden shelters and plenty of villages to relax and refuel. Thanks to the moderately easy terrain, this is a suitable long-distance straightforward walk for skilled beginners. The Harz Mountains also have a method of hiking rewards known as the Harzer Wandernadel. At 20 checkpoints, you can treasure stamps for your booklet; Collect them all and you can claim a Harz Border Trail pin.
The museum provides insight into the underground world of Mount Brocken. Just like me, anyone would be marred by the glimpse of the past; this modern exhibition presents reconnaissance parades and parts of the transmission and listening schemes of the former German Democratic Republic as well as the history of German radio and television. The new museum exhibition is also dedicated to climate change in the Harz, here one can find out what climate change really means for the forests of the Harz and discover its trajectory over the years. Moreover, the forests of the Harz have not always been so accessible to ordinary mortals, they were once feared, because of the countless fables of witches, demons and mountain spirits associated with them. A famous example being the Devil’s Pulpit and the Witches’ Altar. Johann Wolfgang Goethe, enthusiastic about his first ascent to the Brocken (1977), scripted the act of Walpurgis for Faust. It is believed that on Walpurgis Night (April 30) every year the witches gather around the Brocken, near the pulpit and altar, where they, using their brooms, madly sweep away the last snow. An interesting fact about the Brockenbahn is also that it is positioned around the old border that divided East and West Germany. In 1961, all passenger rail assistance was discontinued and finally reinstated in 1991, giving millions of visitors access to this historic peak. The main objective of this area is to protect and preserve its natural habitats by leaving them intact. Lichens cover most of the rocks here, a well-restored community of algae and fungi kept well away from humans. The Brockenbahn carries out all sorts of restoration projects that aim to return segments of nature to their correct form, which have been previously mismanaged and exploited by people in the past. Natural dynamics are of utmost importance.
Akanksha Dean is a freelance chef and food and travel writer, content creator and events specialist, is the first Indian to be trained at Osteria Francescana, Modena, Italy, rated the best restaurant in the world in the 50 best restaurants in the world world, in 2016 and 2018 and currently in the Best of The Best category.