82 nights : 3,335 miles travelled : Countries visited: 5
“Tonight the mountain’s mad with magic” – Faust, Goethe
The Harz mountains rise unimpressively out of a long stretch of plains. As you approach the region it is hard to believe that it boasts the tallest mountain in Northern Germany, or that it harbours the witches and goblins that are celebrated throughout the area. The Brocken is the setting for the scene in Goethe’s Faust when the Devil tempts Faust on a night of revelry with witches and other mythical creatures on the mountain.
Right on the edge of the region lies Quedlinburg. Depending on which you read, the guide books tell you that this little town has between 1400 and 2000 half timbered houses. But that doesn’t prepare you for the pleasure of walking through streets that look like a film set. There was a “wow” as we turned every corner.
It was a lovely afternoon and we found the shade of some parasols and ordered a couple of beers. As we sat reflecting on the sights, we noticed that everyone else was eating large slabs of cheesecake. We had found Quedlinburg’s speciality kase-kuchen shop serving 145 varieties… and we were drinking beer! Luckily they did a take-away service.
Quedlinburg is on one of the largest networks of narrow gauge railways in the world, the Harzer Schmalspur Bahnen, but we moved on to Wernigerode, on the same network, to enjoy the journey up to the summit of the Brocken on a steam train. When we enquired at tourist information about taking a dog on the train we were informed that those over 20cms would have to wear a muzzle. Now even if Kipper had been the Jack Russell he was supposed to be he would be taller than that! After half a day of disbelief and disappointment, we decided to turn up at the station and see what would happen. We ensured that the assistant saw our 60cm mutt and she happily sold us a ticket for him at 18 euros, 50% of the cost of an adult! However this did mean we didn’t have to resort to our cunning plan of lying Kips on his side to be measured.(He’s only 18cm tall that way!) The lovely ticket inspectors on the train were very welcoming to him and he enjoyed most of the journey watching the forest go by through the window.
Up close to the dark density of the trees, you could see how the Harz inspired many German fairy tales. Thousands of acres of inaccessible forestation leaves much to the imagination.
There is something about steam trains that brings a boyish smile to most men’s faces but I have to admit after an hour and a half of climbing higher and higher, with the engine appearing ahead on the many bends, leaving a sulphuric whiff with the whistle, even I was enjoying myself.
The expansive views from the summit were also worthwhile and deserved a celebratory beer and bratwurst….yes yes we are cutting down soon!
Wernigerode is a wonderful town with many wide open half timbered streets, an impressive castle looming over the town and the cutest Rathaus in the ancient market place.
However we had been a bit spoiled by Quedlinburg and we were soon ready to move on.
The primary reason we visited the Harz region was to catch The Norfolk Youth Orchestra performing in the area and to meet up with our lovely friend Jessica. We did this in Bad Lauterberg where Graham and Kipper enjoyed the afternoon rehearsal and I was lucky enough to attend a brilliant concert including a virtuoso performance of Elgar’s cello concerto by a 19 year old from Slovenia. I had Leonard Bernstein’s Candide buzzing in my head for days. The age range of musicians is 12 to 21 and rehearsals are in the young people’s free time, led by some committed coaches and leaders. The quality of performance was outstanding and very much appreciated by the German audience.
We camped a couple of kilometres from Bad Lauterberg to make use of the most expensive WIFI and washing machines to date. However the setting almost made up for it and on a hike from our pitch we saw a sweeter side of the Harz Mountains with wildflower clearings graced with clouds of butterflies and wild strawberries and raspberries in abundance.
A nicer walk than Hansel and Gretel or Little Red Riding Hood had!
Treat of the week: Graham is mostly happy to go with the flow (the secret of this happy marriage!). However he was very downbeat at the thought of not riding up a mountain on a steam train but he didn’t see much fun in going alone. His reaction at getting a seat and Kipper being allowed one too will always be one of my highlights.