Harz

The Christmas market in Goslar

The Harz is a low mountain range in the Central Uplands of Germany, famous for its historic silver mines that brought prosperity to the region and to the Kingdom of Hanover. It lies between the river Elbe and Weser in the states of Lower Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and, to a small extent, Thuringia. The range runs for 100km from northwest to southeast and is 30km wide. The terraced plateaus are made of limestone, sandstone, and slate and have been cut by many narrow, deep valleys. The two highest peaks in the area are the legendary and mysterious Brocken (1,141m or 3,743 feet high), just higher than Snowdon , and the Wurmberg (971m or 3,186 feet high), both of which are made of granite. The higher, northwestern area is known as the Upper Harz (Oberharz) and the lower, southeastern area is the Lower Harz (Unterharz). The highest mountains - around the Brocken are sometimes called the High Harz (Hochharz).

The Upper Harz plateau slopes from 1,000m elevation in the west down to 485m in the centre and suffers from a cold and damp climate, even in the summer, caused by its susceptibility to westerly winds. The Brocken rises above the plateau and is internationally famous for the stories and myths associated with it in local folklore and literature. The summit of the Brocken is bare and has an Alpine climate, but its lower slopes are forested and interspersed with moorlands and river beds.

The Lower Harz has a gentler climate which has enabled it to be exploited by agriculture. The area supports grain and cattle farming, and was once abundant with game, lynx, bear, and wolf. They were hunted to extinction, but there are projects to reintroduce some of these native animals again. The area is also famous for a number of rarer animal species, including the Harzer Roller canaries, bred for the mines.

Between the 10th-16th centuries, the area became immensely important for mining and metallurgy, lead, silver, iron, zinc, and copper being the main products. Easy access to water and wood helped the early settlers. Dams, however, have now been introduced to control the waters to remove the possibility of flooding or shortages in the summer. These dams generate hydroelectric power as well as drinking water for the area.

Industries such as quarrying (marble, granite, and gypsum) as well as wood processing for paper and cardboard provide sources of income. The area is also heavily dependent on tourism with water sports and resorts being important, but it is its forest scenery in the Harz National Park which attracts the majority of the tourists.

Cities

Lower Saxony

Saxony-Anhalt

Understand

Harz Mountains: view at Bodetal of Hexentanzplaz

Prior to 1990, the border between Lower Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt was also the border between East and West Germany, complete with fence and fortified frontier. The Brocken was an East German and Soviet military surveillance post used to spy on military activity in Western Europe. From the East German side access to many villages was severely restricted. Roads and railway tracks were either closed or demolished, thus later facilitating the establishment of the Harz National Park. The division of the Harz by the Iron Curtain is still noticeable in the marketing of the Harz as a tourist destination with various sites on the old Inner German Border being preserved for historic and tourism reasons.

Tourism is the main source of income for the region. Unemployment is high, especially after the collapse of the industrial complexes in former East Germany. The number of tourists visiting a town is politically important. Goslar and surrounding villages compete against the cluster of Wernigerode, Quedlinburg, and Blankenburg and the Southern Harz regions in attracting tourists. This competition is not always friendly!

Recommendations on where to go in the region may be coloured by a person's (East German or West German) origin. Each of the regions tries to pass itself of as the "ultimate Harz experience". Try to the forget about the East/West rivalry as reunification is more and more a thing of the past (and a long term success) in people's minds at least, and just enjoy the wild and natural beauty of the area.

Orientation

The Harz is divided into 2 main regions:

In addition, the area around the Brocken with the highest peaks (1,141 m) in the range is also referred to as the High Harz (Hochharz).

Get in

By train

The access point for the northern part is Goslar, which can be reached from Hannover and Halle (Saale), while the southern part is reached by train from Göttingen and Erfurt. The lines have suffered from neglect due to lying "in the middle of nowhere" during the forty years of German partition, but since than several investments have restored the lines to a workable state.

By bus

See also: intercity buses in Germany

From Berlin, BerlinLinienBus runs daily to the Harz from Berlin ZOB.

By car

The A38 runs south of the Harz from Halle to Göttingen and the A395 connects Goslar and Bad Harzburg in the northwest with Brunswick (Braunschweig). The A7 connects Göttingen in the southwest and Hanover in the north as well as Brunswick. From Hanover follow the A7 down to the "Seesen/Harz (67)" junction to follow the range from north to south , or to the junction "Rhüden Harz (66)" to follow to the north B82/B6 to Goslar, Bad Harzburg and on to Wernigerode. The B6 is an important east-west dual carriageway along the northern edge of the Harz.

Get around

See also: heritage railways

The best-known mode of transport is the historic narrow-gauge steam railway network operated by the Harz Narrow Gauge Railways (Harzer Schmalspurbahnen) or HSB. Today the HSB is the longest steam operated railway in Europe and while it also offers picturesque views and a sense of travel "as in the old times" its value for transportation should not be discounted. There are also other, standard gauge lines run by Deutsche Bahn, mainly around the margins of the Harz. Local buses connect towns which are not on the railway line. Having your own car is recommended if you want to travel extensively in the region. Inside the national park the only permissible ways of getting about are on the steam railway, on foot, or by bike.

See

Aerial photograph of the Brocken summit
Brockenbahn
The main route to the Brocken starts at Wernigerode with several minor stops on the way. The two main connection stops are Drei Annen Hohne and Schierke. The trip up and down will take about 1¾ hours. The night train journey is most beautiful in the winter months especially when snow is on the ground.
There are several trails to the summit of the Brocken, approaching from different sides. The most common routes are:
Schierke - Brocken - Schierke, approximately 15km with a 600m height difference, the return route takes approximately 5 hours not including stopovers.
Torfhaus - Brocken - Torfhaus (Goethe Trail), approximately 17km with a 550m height difference, route takes approximately 6 hours not including stopovers.
  • The TV Tower. The tradition of radio and TV engineering on the Brocken dates back to the beginning of TV broadcast. It was determined in 1929 during the first wireless television broadcasting, that the short wave used was not suitable for television. Also, very high locations were required for its transmitters to transmit the very high frequencies required for TV to succeed. In 1934, the post office was given responsibility for building a mobile transmitter. 1935 saw the first public picture transmission. 1936 saw live transmissions of the Olympic games in Berlin. From 1936 to 1937 a 52m high television station and hotel with 16 floors was built. With the installation of the antenna system in 1938 the television station became operational. With the beginning of WWII, television transmissions stopped. Radio broadcasts on up to 40 transmitters carried on. In April 1945 an air raid by the Americans destroyed the hotel. The transmitter however was spared, to be used by the occupying forces. In 1947 allied troops pulled out toward the west. To justify the Americans having their part of Berlin, Saxony-Anhalt was handed to the Soviets. The Americans left in a state of chaos and the station was a gutted ruin. In 1948 the TV tower was shortened by around seven floors and a flat roof was added. 1973 to 1976 saw the new landmark 152m high metal end transmitter masts built to enable the transmission of the East German TV channel "DDR 2". Now there is a museum and restaurant, a more modern hotel, and various cafes. Thew views from the summit are breathtaking and with the correct equipment and right weather conditions, some towns and reference points can be seen up to 80km away.
Betrothal Island in the Oker Valley
The Oker Valley branches out and can accumulate up to 47 million cubic metres of water in Oker Lake (Okerterrasse). Below the dam, the river flows leisurely to the Raven Crags (Rabenklippen), so-called from an old legend: a pious man was ordered by St Boniface to return the Northern Harz to Christianity. But he was ridiculed and retreated into the Harz, where he got lost. At the site of today's Raven Crags he nearly died from hunger until a flock of ravens saved him. They supposedly dropped a dead pigeon close to him, which he ate, thus saving his life. A visit here to the lynx enclosure (Luchsgehegen), part of the lynx re-integration project, is a must. This area has been made accessible to the public with steps and railings. From here, one has a wonderful view of the Harz. The River Oker and Valley continues towards Goslar, coming next to Römkerhall, the smallest kingdom of the world ever proclaimed. This settlement consists of only a few houses and the hotel "Kingdom of Romkerhall", which resembles a fairy tale castle. The area was, in the second half of the 19th century, the hunting grounds of King George V of Hanover. Also here, is the Romkerhall Waterfall, approximately 64m in height. Upstream from the waterfall the River Oker is used occasionally by canoers. Downstream where the water flows faster, the crags left and right of the Oker are popular with climbers. Also downstream of the waterfall is "Betrothal Island" (Verlobungsinsel), accessible via a small bridge. The River Oker finally arrives in the village of Oker on the outskirts of Goslar, leaving behind the beauty of the deep ravines and rocky outcrops. Instead you will find that the river has been seriously polluted from many years of metal smelting in the area.
  • Falkenstein Castle (Selke Valley). A striking medieval castle, high on a ridge above the Selke Valley, was built between 1120 and 1180 and since then has been used in a number of different ways. Because of its position it was never successfully captured. Today the castle is a museum and one of the most popular places to visit in the Harz Mountains. The museum is on the so called "Romantic Road" and contains amongst other things a falconry, and a restaurant that offers a special 'Knights' Menu'. Since 2006 a European-wide singing competition has been held in the castle known as the 'Minneturnier', which refers to a singing contest in the Middle Ages, and today famous singers from Austria, Italy, France, Switzerland and Germany take part. The castle is number 200 on the Harzer Wandernadel hiking network.
  • Selke Valley Railway (Selke Valley). Among the attractions of the Selke Valley is the Selke Valley Railway or Selketalbahn. This is a metre gauge railway that passes through Quedlinburg, Gernrode, Alexisbad and Harzgerode, with branch lines from Alexisbad to Stiege to Hasselfelde, and from Stiege to the Eisfelde Talmühle, much of this track being relaid in 2006 to link to the Harz Narrow Gauge Railway. The railway itself has become a delicatessen for railway aficionados as it travels through the most dramatic parts of the central Harz using small steam engines of which only 17 were built, and the route traverses the steepest grade in the Harz railway system of 4%. At Stieg station there is a unique terminal loop known as a balloon loop which allows heavier trains destined for Silberhütte to turn without reversing.
Falkenstein Castle

Do

  • Nude Hiking. The Harz is home to Germany's first official naturist hiking trail, the Harzer Naturistenstieg. Consisting of a circuit of about 13km from the dam in Wippertal and clearly signposted as an area where public nudity may be encountered, it offers naturists a space where they can legally hike naked through the forests.

Eat

Harzer

Harzer cheese contains only about one percent fat. It is made from low-fat curd cheese. It is known for its distinct strong taste.

Drink

Nordhausen is famous for its Doppelkorn , that is a distilled spirit made from various grains, usually rye. It is somewhat similar to Vodka, though distilled to less alcohol content (Doppelkorn being the higher alcohol variant of normal Korn) and not filtered as much, leaving it with more of a taste to its own. Korn (and not beer) is the alcoholic drink of choice in most of Northern and parts of Central Germany and is usually drunk neat. The Korn tradition of Nordhausen goes back at least five hundred years, as a tax on locally produced liquor is first mentioned in a text from 1507, thus indicating some production already prior to this point in time.

Go next

Bad Gandersheim: The Market Place
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