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Enigmatic Brocken: Meeting point of witches and spies

Report · Harz · November 21, 2018
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  • Passing the Brocken Railway during a hike up to the peak taking the Heinrich-Heine-Trail
    Passing the Brocken Railway during a hike up to the peak taking the Heinrich-Heine-Trail
    Photo: Nawi112, CC BY-SA, Wikimedia Commons

Northern Germany’s highest mountain and meeting place of witches during Walpurgis Night – The Brocken is a well-known site. But the Cold War left its marks on the “Mountain of the Germans”. The steaming Brocken Railway takes visitors effortlessly up to the forest-free hilltop. On clear days the view from up here is quite spectacular – unfortunately, fog-free days are pretty rare. But even on foggy days the climb up the Brocken is an unforgettable experience.



“Blocksberg” – supernatural get-togethers

It is the fog, which creeps around the Brocken almost every single day, that makes the North German peak so special. Light effects such as the Brocken specter are favored by the fog and have scared and terrified many visitors. It is thus not very surprising that the Brocken was regarded as a place where witches would gather for mysterious get-togethers. Already in poems from the year 1300 describe the mountain as a place where supernatural creatures would meet. During medieval times people began believing in witches and from 1540 the “Blocksberg” was believed to be a site of secret gatherings. Especially Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s “Faust I” enforced this believe that all German witches would meet here. To this day the mountain serves as a setting for annual festive witch meetings during Walpurgis Night. Tourists from all over the world take watch and part in the spectacle with costumes, music and performances.

Summit · Harz
Brocken
Harz

Der Brocken ist nicht nur der höchste, sondern zugleich einer der historisch bedeutendsten Berge ...

Outdooractive Editors
recommended route Difficulty moderate
Distance 19.7 km
Duration 5:00 h
Ascent 339 m
Descent 597 m

Der "Höhepunkt" der Tour: Auf dieser Etappe geht es durch den Nationalpark Harz auf den 1141 m hohen Brocken, dem höchsten Berg des Harzes und ganz ...

4
from Andreas Lehmberg,   Harz: Magische Gebirgswelt

Eavesdropping – all the way to the Dutch border

But the mountain is more than just a mythical meeting point. As if the foggy atmosphere would not be mysterious enough, a listening station was built on the hill-top during the Cold War. The listening stations of the GDR and Soviet Union operated under the code names “Jenissej” and “Urian” as an espionage center with a range to the Dutch border. Due to a military wall around the hill-top the station was only accessible for employees and soldiers. Tourists and hikers were denied access. For many years two giant espionage stations stuck out the fog – adding even more secrets and myths to the witch and spectre mountain.

Harz

from Dr. Friedhart Knolle | Nationalpark Harz,   GOSLAR marketing gmbh

After the fall of the Berlin Wall the Brocken was not immediately opened to the public. Thus, on December 3, 1989 thousands of demonstrators walked up to the hilltop to reclaim the mountain. They held up signs proclaiming “Free people, free Brocken” while ignoring warnings by the National People’s Army. After hours of waiting, the gates were finally opened on midday and the people ran up the plateau.

Ever since then, the Brocken hilltop has underwent a process of renaturation to make it more appealing for the numerous tourists. A hotel, a restaurant and the Brocken railway attract visitors. At the “Brockenhaus” people can learn more about the history of the cold war. Despite the fog, every year thousands of visitors come here to discover the mysteries of the Brocken.

Famous Brocken climbers

On your way through “Nationalpark Harz” you have to decide on a route up to the peak of northern Germany’s highest mountain. Meanwhile you walk on the footsteps of famous German writers such as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe or Heinrich Heine. While they did climbed up the mountain, they have used different routes than the mountaineers today. Nonetheless, the ascent is a remarkable experience. And with a bit of luck you might run into Benno Schmidt. Since 1989 “Brocken-Benno” has climbed up the mountain almost every single day. In 2016 he celebrated his 8000th climb. He was awarded with the badge of honor of the federal state of Saxony-Anhalt and with several honorary entries into the Guinness Book of World Records.


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Wiebke Hillen
Update: November 21, 2018


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