From Walpurgisnacht on the Brocken to the half-timbered charms of Wernigerode and Goslar, a visit to the Harz Mountains won’t disappoint.
By Wibke Carter • Photographs courtesy Wibke Carter
For centuries, the Harz has been a mythical and much feared mountain range in central Germany. Residents in the surrounding villages and towns believed that demons and ghosts lived here on the highest mountain tops and in the deepest mines. Regional names likes Einhornhöhle (Unicorn Cave), Teufelsmauer (Devil’s Wall) and Hexentanzplatz (Witches’ Dancing Place) speak volumes of the myths and legends that are steeped in history and people’s minds.
The most famous legend is arguably the meeting of the witches on top of the Brocken Mountain, also known as Blocksberg, an event vividly described in the first part of Goethe’s Faust. Arriving on their broomsticks from all corners of the world, the witches gather annually, on April 30, on the highest peak of the Harz Mountains for a German version of a spring Halloween. Everywhere in the Harz region, the Walpurgis Night, or May Day Eve, is celebrated with fireworks and concerts staged on top of the Brocken, as it signifies the arrival of the warmer season.
But for many Germans there is an even more important annual event to make the trip up the Brocken Mountain: the anniversary of the reunification. During the Cold War, the inner German border ran right through the Harz mountain range, and from 1961 electric fences, automatic firearms and mines, guarded the Iron Curtain and separated a people for nearly 30 years. There was a joke that the Brocken was the highest mountain in the world—because no one could reach the top. The summit, located on GDR soil, was right at the war’s frontline and fortified with 3.60 meter (nearly 12 feet) high walls, it hosted some top secret spy equipment and antennae directed towards the West.
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