T.His year marks the 125th anniversary of the opening of the railway to Brocken, the highest peak in Germany’s Harz Mountains at 1,142 meters. The Brocken Line is part of an extensive network of narrow-gauge railways, hauled mainly by steam locomotives, and lies in the eastern half of the Harz region, which is perfect for exploring by rail.
Direct steam trains run from Wernigerode to Brocken several times a day, taking about 1 hour and 40 minutes. But there is another way. A regular daily flight leaves Nordhausen in the morning and takes just over three hours to reach the summit. The northern route from Wernigerode and the route from Nordhausen are farther south and meet at the Drei Annen Hohne, a railway junction high in the Ziller Valley on the eastern flank of the Brocken.
Apart from the allure of longer journeys for the same price, there are good reasons to prefer the Nordhausen option. This includes a gorgeous 90-minute stretch from Ilfeld through the best views of the Harz Mountains to Dreiannenhis Höhne. In my opinion, this section of the route following the Harzquerbahn (Trans-Harz Railway) is even better than the final steep climb to the top of the Brocken.
Few people leave Nordhausen at 10:33 am on a bleak day in the off-season. As the departure time draws near, there is an unsettling moment when several engineers gather around the steam engine. Do you have any problems? After many claps of oil-soaked spanners, the train leaves Nordhausen and climbs towards the forested hills. Beyond Ilfeld, the hillside slopes sharper and steeper, and in the still air, steam trickles down over claret and cream-coloured carriages.
A cheerful ticket clerk asks if you need something strong for your trip. This is the infamous schnapps, the mainstay of trains to Brocken. We declined the offer, but the crew reassured us that we would come back later if we changed our minds.
Although it is blessed with empty trains, the ride to Brocken is very popular on spring and summer days. When the first train reached the summit in 1898, German intellectuals had mixed feelings. The literary world despises the arrival of Hoipoloy in one of his most sacred places, reflecting John Ruskin’s objection to the encroachment of railways into some of Britain’s most revered landscapes. doing.For German literati, Brocken is just Any A mountain, but the very summit immortalized by Goethe in Faust.
However, the Harz Club, a voluntary organization founded in 1886 to facilitate public access to the hill, welcomed the influx of visitors. When the first flood of tourists spread across the top of the Brocken, a club spokesman suggested there was still plenty of room for those wishing to experience the tranquility of the Harz.
Route for tourists and locals
Die Harzreise, written in 1825 by the poet and essayist Heinrich Heine.) Reality may not have been so rosy, as village names like Sorge (Sorrow) and Elend (Misery) suggest, but it painted a picture of the idyllic life of woodsmen and peasants. . Our train stops at both. The latter has a small museum on a railway platform that documents aspects of everyday life in the area prior to German reunification in 1990. At one point the railroad passed within 700 meters of him on the fortified frontier. So, for 30 years from 1961, when the East German authorities strengthened the Berlin Wall and the border with Germany, no passenger trains climbed to the top of the Brocken.
Speed is not the name of the game. Our train zips through the woods at 20 mph and stopping at the station is a leisurely affair. Chance to chat on the platform, smoke, and take photos of old trains and perfectly preserved steam engines.
During a long stop at Drei Annen Hohne, the train crew tells us how the Harz railway network survived as a historical oddity in the hard-to-visit part of East Germany. “Back then, there were all sorts of restrictions on who could come here,” says the train driver.
This narrow-gauge network is now rated as a Premier League tourist attraction, and there is talk of extending the network west beyond the old internal borders. “It’s not just for travelers,” adds the driver. “With 24/7 service, we are the lifeblood of remote communities in the hills.”
From Drei Annen Hohne our train makes a tough climb to the top of the Brocken. The train climbs steeper and steeper, gradually circling the summit, and in good weather you can admire the collection of bizarre buildings and antennas that adorn the summit from all angles. Not so for us. Everything is shrouded in fog. Two foxes are scavenging the trash bins on the summit station platform. The unique smell of fried food wafts from the cafe next door. A poster has been put up saying that from the end of this summer a rock opera called Faust will be performed on the mountaintop. In this case, I think the enjoyment of his 10.33 trip from Nordhausen actually outweighs the merits of the destination.
A round trip from any station on the Harz narrow gauge network to the top of the Brocken costs €51. Three days is enough to explore the entire network. There is a convenient his 3 day pass for €99. These premium fares apply to itineraries that include rail to the summit. Other fares are very cheap. All trains are second class only. Eurail Passes are not accepted. All trains to and from the Brocken summit are operated by steam locomotives, but services on other routes may be operated by diesel trains. For timetables and other information, visit the Harz narrow gauge network website.
Nicky Gardner lives in Berlin and is co-editor of Hidden Europe magazine. She is the co-author of Europe by Rail: The Definitive Guide. The 17th edition of this book will be published in her 2022. Available from the Guardian Bookshop.