Fairy tales, spying, espionage, and witches. These are just some of the stories that surround the mystery of the Brocken, the highest peak in the Harz Mountains. I spontaneously booked a train ticket last Tuesday and got to take in this gorgeous view this past weekend! After staying in the quaint city of Goslar, I woke up early Saturday morning to catch the Brockenbahn (Brocken Railway). The snow, the scenery, the sunshine! This train ride did not disappoint.
I knew absolutely nothing about the Harz mountains and region before heading down to Goslar. The Harz Mountains are located in central Germany about an hour south of Hannover (so 2-2.5 hours away from Hamburg). To be honest, when I mentioned going here to some of my German friends, they had no idea what I was talking about or where the mountains were located!
The Brockenbahn initially opened in 1898 although it only included a small portion of what is now known as the Brockenbahn. After getting destroyed during WWII, the railway reopened in 1949. The mountain, zoned into East Germany after WWII, was actually the border between East Germany and West Germany.
Until the building of the Berlin Wall in August 1961, the mountain could still be accessed (and railway used) by the West Germans if they obtained a pass (which were easily obtained). After the building of the Berlin Wall, the entire mountain was off-limits to the public and the train ceased to run up the Brocken. From 1961 until Germany’s reunification, the mountain was occupied by East German and Soviet troops. Due to the height and location of the Brocken, it served as both a surveillance and listening outpost. The amount of spying that must have occurred in this location!
The photos above are from the top of the mountain (so much snow!). As I mentioned at the beginning, the Brocken has always been surrounded by a bit of mystery and eeriness. Heinrich Heine found inspiration during his travels to the Harz Mountains. Hans Christian Andersen wrote about all the romantic villages in the region. Goethe’s book “Faust” partially takes place at the summit of the Brocken. And the Brothers Grimm fairy tales are mostly set in and around the Harz Mountains. Legend states that witches used to meet at the summit of the Brocken and still do to this day. There is definitely a sense of magic in the entire region.
If you plan on going to the top of the Brocken, the easiest (and coolest) way is with the Brockenbahn. This railway runs 6-12 steam engine trains daily, depending on the time of year. If possible, grab a place at the back of a carriage outside. There is standing only room and I managed to capture most of my photos from this location (it was freezing whipping up the mountain for almost 2 hours in freezing temperatures…but guys, look at these train pictures. So worth it!). The top of Brocken has a few cafes but there isn’t a ton to do besides hiking or sledding. I was blessed with an incredibly SUNNY day and savored the gorgeous weather!
+ The train only runs a few times a day in winter…make sure you plan accordingly! I was staying in Goslar (I didn’t have a car) which meant I first had to take the regional train from Goslar to Wernigerobe and then catch the Brockenbahn from Wernigerobe to Brocken. Because the regional train is only every hour, I really had to plan!
+ Here is the Brockenbahn’s schedule for the winter (until April 28th): http://www.hsb-wr.de/fileadmin/user_upload/images/Mehr_erfahren/Fahrplaene/325_03.12.2016-28.04.2017.pdf. Please note that a lot of the trains don’t start and/or end at the same location so make sure you get the correct one at the correct time!
+ Here’s a map for the entire train region: http://www.hsb-wr.de/en/mehr-erfahren/network/interaktives-streckennetz. While I took the train to the Brocken, there are actually 2 other steam engine train routes!
+ Get on the train at the earliest possible stop…the train fills up super quickly, especially on the weekends!
+Before leaving to get on the train, check this link: http://www.hsb-wr.de/en/mehr-erfahren/fahrplaene/aktuelle-fahrplanaenderungen. The train schedules are constantly changing so make sure your train is still going!