No visit to the Harz Mountains in Germany should be considered complete without riding on the historic and thoroughly magical “Brockenbahn” railway. The Brocken narrow gauge Harz Mountain train is powered by steam engines and winds its way to the peak of the Brocken, the highest point in the Harz.
The train, in former East Germany, traces its history to the late 1800s as well as through two world wars and Soviet repression during the decades Germany was divided by the Berlin Wall. Somehow, it managed to survive. In 1992, with fully restored carriages and steam engines under the now privatized Harz Mountain Railway (www.hsb-wr.de/en) banner, it re-established a route to the Brocken summit, home of a Soviet listening post during the war. The train carries tourists throughout the day on a ride that takes a little over an hour and a half, puffing steam and smoke from Wernigerode up past Steinerne Renne, through a 70-meter (230-foot) tunnel, to Drei Annen Hohne, and then up and up, steeply grunting through Schierke and finally winding its way around the Brocken to arrive at the barren summit. The Brocken, at 1,142 meters (3,747 feet), is also the highest point in northern Germany.
Your ride on the Brockenbahn railway will begin at the main Wernigerode train station, though you can also jump on the train at the Westerntor station just a kilometer distant. While you can take the train round-trip, we’d recommend just riding up and enjoying a marvelous walk down after spending an hour or so visiting at the summit. One way tickets are 23 euro for adults and 11.50 euro for children ages 6 to 11.
This classic ride begins at the main Wernigerode train station although you can also jump on the train at three other stations in Wernigerode. While you can take the train round-trip, we’d recommend just riding up and enjoying a marvelous walk down after spending an hour or so visiting the summit. One-way tickets are EUR 23 for adults and EUR 11.50 for children 6-11.
We can assure everyone that train buff or not, anyone who enjoys history and a bit of adventure will fully enjoy the picturesque scenery of the Harz as forests and meadows give way to an open, wind-swept plateau with stunning views in all directions near the Brocken summit. (Be sure to watch a our brief video about the train ride at the end of this story).
On the hike down on one of many superbly well-marked paths, you can head to many destinations, including Drei Anne Hohne where you can easily catch a bus back to Wernigerode,. You can also, as we did, hike all the way to Wernigerode itself. You’ll need to be in good physical shape, pack food and snacks and plenty of water, as well as appropriate clothing for weather changes, with good walking shoes a must.
Along the way, you’ll find it’s not difficult to imagine the Brocken being a meeting place for witches. Dense forests and whispering winds conjure up images of Hansel and Gretel. Goethe was so impressed with the Brocken legend that he set a scene from Faust there. And don’t forget to head into the tourist information office during your stay for your sticker depicting a witch – free with a tourist pass that comes with a hotel stay.
There is also a two-map set of the Harz in 1:50,000 scale – not quite as good for hiking. Karte 1 (Map 1) includes the Brocken line and shows paved roads, footpaths, and topographic contours along with GPS coordinates. It is available online through Amazon for $10 plus shipping or you can find the map in Germany at many larger bookstores for EUR 10.
Map of Germany
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