OverviewThe Fichtelgebirge is a mountain range in the shape of a horse shoe located in the Northeast of Bavaria (Southeast Germany). The highest mountains are the Schneeberg (1053 m) and the Ochsenkopf (1023 m). The mountain range (1000 km²) is covered by extended areas of forest which cover 20% of the total area of the Fichtelgebirge.
The most prominent mountains of the Fichtelgebirge are:
Schneeberg (1053 m)
Ochsenkopf (1023 m)
Nußhardt (972 m)
Kösseine (939 m)
Platte im Schneebergmassiv (885 m)
Großer Waldstein (877 m)
Rudolfstein (866 m)
Hohberg (863 m, Königsheide)
Großer Kornberg (827 m)
Hohe Matze (813 m)
Epprechtstein (798 m)
Weißenstein bei Stammbach (668 m)
Kohlberg (632 m)
The name "Fichtel"gebirge probably does not link with the spruce trees (Fichte = spruce = Picea abies), which is the predominat tree species today. Rather there is a word conjunction with some kind of spirits, called "Wichtel" in German, who are supposed to live in dark woods. There are existing also other descriptions and explanations of the origin of this word.
The Fichtelgebirge is source of several rivers in South Germany: Three rivers flow to the North Sea (Saale, Eger, Main), while the fourths (Naab) flows (via Danube) to the Black Sea.
Geology, Soils and ClimateGeology
The Fichtelgebirge is part of the East Bavarian granite igneous rock formation. The rocks of the Fichtelgebirge are of paläozoic origin and they are at least 345 million years old. During formation of the mountain range in the Carbon age about 300 million years ago the rocks were melted and became metamorphic rocks. Upon contact with magma, older rocks were transformed to gneiss and schist.
The original granite bedrock, which originally used to 100 m below the ground, is today exposed at mountain ridges and peaks. Basically todays high elevations are of granite rocks which are surrounded by gneiss and phyllites. Although the Fichtelgebirge as such was formed already 300 million years ago, the subtropical climate of the Tertiary (40 million years ago) had strong impact on todays appearance of the mountains and rocks: Erosion was very intense in these times and granite blocks fell apart leading to erosion to solitary rocks called "Blockmeere". In larger rocks these typical forms of erosion was called "Wollsackverwitterung" as in succeeding cooler climate the deep erosion fissures of the subtropical climate became more apparent.
The soils in higher elevations of the Fichtelgebirge are characterized by shallow soils in and sometimes solifluctuation. In the cool and moist climate, the sandy products of erosion of granite and gneiss as well as the phyllite rich clays lead to formation of podzolic soils. This effect is especially dominant in soils of spruce forests.
In depressions there is a strong tendency for the formation of boggy soils which can reach a thickness of up to 6 m.
The Fichtelgebirge belongs to the coldest regions in Germany also with the highest precipitation. Especially the highest mountains, the Ochsenkopf and the Schneeberg are rich in rain and snow. The mountains have snow layers between 20 and 100 cm for more than 100 days a year. In the winter 2005/2006 there have been more than 150 cm snow on these mountains for several weeks.
In this cool and moist climate measurements have revealed 1350 mm annual precipitation, 25% of which falls in form of snow and fog. There are 213 days of a year with fog, and 150 days a year with snowfall. Annual mean temperatures range between 3.9°C and 5.5°C on exposed ridges, while summer mean temperatures range from 11°C to 13°C.
The vegetation period is 110 to 120 days with temperatures above 10°C.
According to reconstruction of the potential natural vegetation form pollen analyses, the vegetation of the Fichtelgebirge was dominated by beech-fir-forests in the times from 1400 BC to about 500 AD. Small amounts of spruce, maple, birch, alder and willow trees made it a heterogenous mixed forest.
Spruce forests only constituted a minor area of not more than 0.75 km² in elevations above 1000 m. Apart from that, spruce trees and rowan berry trees thrive on the granite erosion slopes.
With the times of human settlement in the region, the forest composition shifted in favour of pure spurce foests (Picea abies). Only in special habitats, such as on serpentine rocks, in bogs or on drier ridges pine (Pinus sylvestris), birch (Betula pubescens) or Pinus mugo ssp. rotundata remain dominant.
In the remaining beech-fir mixed forests the ground cover is dominated by the grass Luzula luzuloides, while Calamagrostis villosa prevers the exposed habitats on ridges in higher elevation. In todays dominating spruce forests the ground cover is characterized by the grasses Calamagrostis villosa and Deschampsia flexuosa and the blueberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) and cranberry bushes (Vaccinium vitis-idaea).
WildlifeThe Fichtelbegirge is habitat for a number of endangered animal species, such as the capercallie (Tetrao urogallus), or the lynx (Lynx lynx). Efforts are undertaken to establish stable populations in protected reserves.
The Fichtelgebirge is a popular recreation area throughout the year. There is a well-maintained network of hiking trails up to the main peaks of the range, most of which in winter are maintained as trails for cross-country skiing.
Rock climbers find challenges in some of the eroded granite walls and rocks.
However it is forbidden to rock-climb on the following mountains and rocks all year round: Nußhardt, Kleines Labyrinth (Luisenburg) and Waldstein.
Mountain biking has become a popular sport in the Fichtelgebirge, a network of suitable trails has been established.
Downhill-skiing is possible in winter on 19 slopes.