The Harz is a low mountain range in the Northern 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 region of Lower Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt. It sits in a northwest to southeast positon and is 20 miles in breadth. The sixty miles of terraced plateaus are made from limestone, sandstone and slate and form many narrow deep valleys. The two highest peaks in the area are Brocken (3,747 feet) and Viktorshohe (1909 feet) both of which are granite based. The Northwestern area is known as the Oberharz and the Southeastern extensive area is known as the Unterharz.
The Oberharz plateau at 3300 feet in the west and 1600 feet in the centre suffers from a cold and damp climate even in the summer caused by its susceptibility to northerly winds. The Brocken towers over this area however it is more famous for its inclusion in local folklore and literature. These peaks tend to be bare however the lower slopes are forested and interspersed with moorland and river beds.
The Unterharz has a less harsh climate which is exploited in the agricultural areas. The area supports grain and cattle farming. The area was once abundant with wild game, lynx, bear and wolf, however they have been hunted into extinction. The area is also famous for its animal breeding, especially canaries and deer.
Between the 10th-16th century the area was developed as an area synonymous with mining and metallurgy (lead, silver, iron, zinc and copper). The 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 create hydroelectric power as wel 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. However the area is also dependant on tourism with water sports and spas being important however it is its forest scenery in the Harz National Park which attracts the majority of the tourists.
The Harz is generally divided into 2 main regions:
The Brocken is the highest mountain in the Harz range and the higest mountain in Northern Germany. The fastest way to get to its 1,141 metre summit is by Harz narrow guage train. The Harzer Narrow-Gauge Railway has a long history: Built at end of the last century, this was done in order to connect the Harzs’ 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.
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.
There are several trecking routes to the summit of the Brocken, from different sides. The most common routes are:
Schierke - Brocken, approximately 14km with a 700m height diference, route takes approximately 4 hours.
Torfhause - Brocken, approximately 20km with a 550m height diference, route takes approximately 6 hours.
Once on the summit, visit the observation deck of the old TV Tower, which is one of the oldest in the world and the Brocken Museum. There is a restaurant on the summit as well a a small hotel. There are also several small kiosks and cafes to serve all tastes from a quick snack to a full meal. Thew views from the summit are breathtaking and with the correct equipment and right weather conditions, some towns and refernce points can be seen up to 80km away.
The Oker Valley is considered by Nature and trecking enthusiasts as the most beautiful valley in the Harz Mountains. Starting in the middle of the Harz national Park, at over 900m, It's source starts the river Oker and carries it down over 105 killometers to it's joining with the river Aller at Muden Ortze near Celle. From it’s source the Oker winds through the Upper Harz and the northern Harz. 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 Wulfenbüttel were flooded. The damm stopped this happening again. There was one small hamlet destined to flooded by the dams construction. The hamlet of Schulenburg was evacuated in 1954 and rebuilt above the present day dam. The Dam provides drinking water for towns as far away as Hildesheim and Hannover, as well as being a very efficient Hydro Electic dam that provides over 4 Megawatt of power to the surrounding area.
The valley branches out and accumulates altogether up to 47 million cubic meter water in the Oker Lake (Okerterrasse). After the river leaves at the Okerterrasse artificial lake, it flows leisurely to the Raven Cliffs (Rabenklippen). A visit here to the Luchsgehegen (Lynx re-intergration project) should be obligatory. The Raven Cliffs received its names from an old legend: A pious man was ordered By the holy Bonifatius to return the north Harz to Christianity. But he was ridiculed and retreated into the Harz, where he got lost. At the site of today's Raven Cliffs he was nearly dead from hunger until however of a Flock of Ravens saved him. They supposedly dropped a dead pigeon close to him on which he fed thus saving his life. Since then this rock formation is called „ Raven Cliffs (Rabenklippen) “. A part of this outcrop has been made accessible by stairs and railings. From there one has a wonderful view of the Harz. The Oker Valley continues to follow to Romkerhall, the smallest kingdom of the world ever proclaimed. This settlement consists of only few houses and the hotel „Kingdom of Romkerhall “, which resembles a fairy tale castle. The area was in the second half of the 19th Century the hunting grounds of king George V. of Hannover.
Prior to 1990, the border between Lower Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt used to be 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 any 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!
It is important to note that recommendations on where to go in the region are 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 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 Braunschweig. The A7 connects Göttingen in the southwest and Hannover in the North as well as Brauschweig. From Hannover one can follow the A7 down to the junction "Seesen/Harz (67)" to follow the range from north to south , or to the junction "Rhüden Harz (66)" to follow to the north B82/B6 to Gosler, Bad harzburg and on to Wernigerode. The B 6 is an important connection along the northern range.
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.
Common precautions apply.