Difference between revisions of "Harz"
Revision as of 22:03, 17 October 2012
The Harz  is a low mountain range in the Central Uplands of Germany, famous for its historic silver mines that brought prosperity to the region and to the Kingdom of Hanover. The Harz forms part of the federal states of Lower Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia.
It lies between the river Elbe and Weser in the states of Lower Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and, to a small extent, Thuringia. The range runs for sixty miles from northwest to southeast and is 20 miles wide. The terraced plateaus are made of limestone, sandstone and slate and have been cut by many narrow, deep valleys. The two highest peaks in the area are the legendary and mysterious Brocken (1,141 metres or 3,743 feet high) - just higher than Snowdon - and the Wurmberg (971 metres or 3,186 feet high), both of which are made of granite. The higher, northwestern area is known as the Upper Harz (Oberharz) and the lower, southeastern area is the Lower Harz (Unterharz). The highest mountains - around the Brocken - are sometimes called the High Harz (Hochharz).
The Upper Harz plateau slopes from 3,300 feet high in the west down to 1,600 feet in the centre and suffers from a cold and damp climate, even in the summer, caused by its susceptibility to westerly winds. The Brocken rises above thi plateau and is internationally famous for the stories and myths associated with it in local folklore and literature. The summit of the Brocken is bare and has an Alpine climate, but its lower slopes are forested and interspersed with moorland and river beds.
The Lower Harz has a gentler climate which has enabled it to be exploited by agriculture. The area supports grain and cattle farming, and was once abundant with game, lynx, bear and wolf. They were hunted to extinction, but there are projects to reintroduce some of these native animals again. The area is also famous for a number of rarer animal species, including the Harzer Roller canaries, bred for the mines.
Between the 10th and 16th centuries, the area became immensely important for mining and metallurgy; lead, silver, iron, zinc and copper being the main products. Easy access to water and wood helped the early settlers, however dams have been introduced to control the waters to remove the possibility of flooding or shortages in the summer. These dams now generate hydroelectric power as well as drinking water for the area. On an industrial scale quarrying (marble, granite and gypsum) as well as wood processing for paper and cardboard provides sources of income. The area is also heavily dependent on tourism with water sports and resorts being important, but it is its forest scenery in the Harz National Park which attracts the majority of the tourists.
The Harz is divided into 2 main regions:
In addition the area around the Brocken with the highest peaks in the range is also referred to as the High Harz (Hochharz).
Prior to 1990, the border between Lower Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt was also the border between East and West Germany complete with fence and fortified frontier. The Brocken was an East German and Soviet military surveillance post used to spy on military activity in Western Europe. From the East German side access to many villages was severely restricted. Roads and railway tracks were either closed or demolished, thus later facilitating the establishment of the Harz National Park. The division of the Harz by the Iron Curtain is still noticeable in the marketing of the Harz as a tourist destination with various sites on the old Inner German Border being preserved for historic and tourism reasons.
Tourism is the main source of income for the region. Unemployment is high, especially after the collapse of the industrial complexes in former East Germany. The number of tourists visiting a town is politically important. Goslar and sourounding villages compete against the cluster of Wernigerode, Quedlinburg and Blankenburg and the Southern Harz regions in attracting tourists. This competition is not always friendly!
Recommendations on where to go in the region may be coloured by a person's (East German or West German) origin. Each of the regions tries to pass itself of as the "ultimate Harz experience". Try to the forget about the East/West rivalry as reunification is more and more a thing of the past (and a long term success) in people's minds at least, and just enjoy the wild and natural beauty of the area.
The access point for the Northern part is Goslar, which can be reached from Hannover and Halle(Saale), while the southern part is reached by train from Göttingen and Erfurt.
From Berlin, BerlinLinienBus  runs daily to the Harz from Berlin ZOB.
The A 38 runs south of the Harz from Halle to Göttingen and the A 395 connects Goslar and Bad Harzburg in the northwest with Brunswick (Braunschweig). The A7 connects Göttingen in the southwest and Hanover in the North as well as Brunswick. From Hanover follow the A7 down to the "Seesen/Harz (67)" junction to follow the range from north to south , or to the junction "Rhüden Harz (66)" to follow to the north B82/B6 to Goslar, Bad Harzburg and on to Wernigerode. The B 6 is an important east-west dual carriageway along the northern edge of the Harz.
The best-known mode of transport is the historic narrow-gauge steam railway network operated by the Harz Narrow Gauge Railways (Harzer Schmalspurbahnen) or HSB. There are also other, standard gauge lines run by Deutsche Bahn, mainly around the margins of the Harz. Local buses connect towns which are not on the railway line. Having your own car is recommended if you want to travel extensively in the region. Inside the national park the only permissible ways of getting about are on the steam railway, on foot or by bike.
The Brocken  is the highest mountain in the Harz range and the highest mountain in Northern Germany.
The quickest way to get to its 1,141 metre summit is by the Harz Narrow Gauge Train. It has a long history. It was built at the end of the last century in order to connect the Harz's mineral resources, forestry and small industry to the rest of the economically rising Germany, as well as to promote the beginning of tourism. Originally there were three companies that laid the railway, opening the Harz:
• 1886 the Gernrode Harzgeroder railway AG (GHE) was formed.
• 1896 the Nordhausen-Wernigeroder-Railway (NWE) followed.
• 1897 followed the Southern-Harz Railway from Walkenried to Braunlage.
Since 1899 it has been possible for passengers to travel up to the summit. Altogether there operated a narrow guage railway net over 130 km long, The Southern-Harz Railway did not survive and the GHE and NWE were eventually taken over by the authorities of the German Democratic Republic (GDR)from 1949 to up to the fall of the Inner German Border. The main route to the Brocken starts at Wernigerode with several minor stops on the way. The two main connection stops are Drei Annen Hohne and Schierke. Be aware though, the trip up and down will take about 1¾ hours. The night train journey is most beautiful in the winter months especially when snow is on the ground.
There are several trails to the summit of the Brocken, approaching from different sides. The most common routes are:
Schierke - Brocken - Schierke, approximately 15km with a 600m height difference, the return route takes approximately 5 hours not including stopovers.
Torfhaus - Brocken - Torfhaus (Goethe Trail), approximately 17km with a 550m height difference, route takes approximately 6 hours not including stopovers.
Rübeland is part of the Upper Harz Brocken community, a village of nearly 1000 inhabitants. The village is situated near the Bode river, and in the Harz mountains is best known as being an important railway station on the Rübeland Railway, originally built from 1880-1886 and previously known as the Harz Railway. The Rübeland Railway operates special festive train services at different times of the year between Blankenburg  and Rübeland using old steam locomotives. The journeys take about 45 min each way, and there is the attraction during Advent of visiting the Christmas market in Rübeland. Amongst the other attractions nearby is the famous viewing point on the Schornsteinberg ("Chimney Hill") which is also a checkpoint on the Harzer Wandernadel hiking network.
The Oker Valley (Okertal) can be found approximately 6km southeast of Goslar. A romantic valley with magnificent rocky scenery and the Romkerhall Falls, it is considered by nature and trekking enthusiasts as the most beautiful valley in the Harz Mountains. The River Oker runs through the this stunning valley, starting in the middle of the Harz National Park, at over 900m high and runs in a general northerly direction, for 105 km until it joins with the River Aller at Müden/Örtze near Celle. Historically, the River Oker has formed an important political boundary. It flows through deep rocky ravines and over waterfalls. This is the Oker Valley at its best. Since 1956 the Oker Valley Dam (Okertalsperre) has stopped the river from overflowing. This was an issue in the late 40's when the towns of Brunswick (Braunschweig) and Wolfenbüttel were flooded. The dam stopped this happening again. However the small hamlet of Schulenburg was destined to flood, by the dams construction. So the site was evacuated in 1954 and rebuilt above the dam. The dam provides drinking water for towns as far away as Hildesheim and Hanover, as well as being a very efficient hydro-electric site, that provides over 4 megawatts of power to the surrounding area.
Selke Valley is dominated by the river Selke with its source in the Lower Harz and a tributary of the river Bode falling over an overall height of 340 metres. The river is 64 kilometres in length of which 30 km flow through the mountains of the Harz and the last 34 km through the agricultural land of the Harz approaches. The river itself was often the cause of sudden floods with water bursting its banks, and as a result a number of dams were planned along its route. The most recent project is a storm water embankment near Meisdorf planned to be 12 to 18 metres high. A local protest movement has claimed that the embankment would ruin the landscape, and futher arguments have been raised by inhabitants in villages up stream that not enough flood protection is available and so plans are in progress for dams at Straßbeg to protect the current storm water dam at Uhlenbach.
Bode Gorge is a part of the Bode Valley (Bodetal) between Tresburg and Thale. The gorge originates on the eastern side of the Brocken and runs from a depth of 280 metres at Thale up to 140 metres at Tresburg. The gorge is a nature reserve in its own right covering an area of just under 500 hectares and is only accessible by foot. Other forms of transport are banned, including rafting, and walking off route is forbidden, but an accessible path leads the entire 10 kilometres (6 miles) of its length. There are a large number of interesting places, along the route, many linked to old German myths and traditions and there are 4 stations that count towards the Harzer Wandernadel. The Bode Gorge is one of the most popular walking destinations in the Harz Mountains.
The Harz is a hiker's and walker's paradise and is criss-crossed by trails of every conceivable length and difficulty. Many of the longer trails are named: the Goethe Way (Goetheweg), the Kings and Emperors' Way, the Inner German Border Way and the Harz Witches' Path (Harzer Hexenstieg) to name a few. In order to encourage fitness and tourism, the Harzer Wandernadel was founded a few years ago. They established a network of checkpoints and a badge system based on the number of checkpoints visited. Thousands of hikers, young and old, have participated in the scheme. This is a great way to explore the Harz as the checkpoints are sited at places of interest - lofty crags, medieval castles, museums, lakes, viewing points and hilltops. The pass books (€2) and map sets (€7.50) may be purchased in most information and tourist offices in the region as well as participating restaurants and museums or online. Contact details for the Harzer Wandernadel are:
The Harz is home to Germany's first official naturist hiking trail, the Harzer Naturistenstieg. Consisting of a circuit of about 13km from the dam in Wippertal and clearly signposted as an area where public nudity may be encountered, it offers naturists a space where they can legally hike naked through the forests. 
The Harz hosts a mountain bike marathon each year which includes some particularly demanding stretches.
Common precautions apply.