The Harz Mountains are in the heart of Germany, spanning three of the country’s states (or Bundesländer in German); Lower Saxony, Sachsen-Anhalt and Thüringen. The Harz National Park is easily reached by train from major cities such as Berlin and Hannover thanks to Germany’s exceptional rail service. Despite the ease of access, it is a region often overlooked by English speaking visitors, a real shame given both its natural and manmade highlights, as well as its interesting history and folklore roots.
The Harz Mountains are relatively small being 110km in length and 35km wide. Divided into the Upper Harz in the North West, with heights of around 800m (except for the Brocken mountain at 1,141m) and the Lower Harz in the East with heights of around 400m; which allows for arable farming. The area has long been used for water management thanks to its relatively high level of rainfall. There is a total of 17 dams in the Harz, some of them the oldest operating dams in Germany. The water management system and former mining industry resulted in small settlements cropping up, complete with cobbled streets and traditional half-timbered houses. Many of these villages and towns have stayed true to their traditions and are as picturesque as they were 100 years ago.
The region was divided by the ‘Inner German Border’ for 4 decades from 1949-1990. A product of the paranoia and oppression of the Cold-War era, this iron curtain ran for 1,393km from the Baltic Sea to the modern-day Czech Republic and separated former East and West Germany. The fortified and heavily patrolled border split the Harz Mountains with the range’s most beloved and highest peak, the Brocken, falling into the East’s territory. Standing at 1,141m, it is Northern Germany’s highest peak and a popular objective among visitors and locals alike. It has long been connected to fairy tales and myths about witches and the devil. This reputation could be a result of Goethe’s famous tragic play Faust, in which he mentions the Brocken being the centre of revelry for witches. Other factors contributing to the extensive folklore surrounding the mountain could be the unusual rock formations around the Brocken, the fact that its microclimate results in frequent mists and fog and the common occurrence of the optical illusion known as the Brocken Spectre.
Aside from the ubiquitous half-timbered houses, fairy-tales and atmospheric forests, the Harz Mountains are also known for fantastic hiking trails, more so to Germans than the international traveller who may miss out on the chance to get close to this varied and interesting part of Germany.
Our Harz Witches Trail trip covers the ‘Harzer-Hexen-Stieg’, a long-distance walking trail nominated as one of ‘Germany’s Top Trails’, it’s a fantastic way to experience the Harz Mountains as you’ll be following well-maintained and signposted paths while taking in all the highlights including the Brocken, the Brockenbahn steam engine, and the beautiful half-timbered towns of Osterode and Quedlinburg.
If you need any more information or any help for planning your Harz Witches Trail adventure, do not hesitate to get in touch with us.