The Brocken, or Blocksberg, is located in the German state of Sachsen-Anhalt in the Harz National Park. The mountain is located in the Harz Mountains and is the highest mountain in Northern Germany. Although its altitude is below alpine dimensions, its microclimate resembles that of mountains of 2000m altitude. The peak tends to have a snow cover from September to May, and mists and fogs shroud it up to 300 days of the year. The mean annual temperature is only 2.9°C.
The Brocken is well known because of many legends and myths that surround it. Goethe took up the legends in his Faust, in which he also referred to the mountain. Furthermore, its geographical location (in former East Germany close to the West German border) made it the ideal point for East Germany and Russia to install extensive surveillance and spy technology during the cold war. From 1961 to the early 1990s the Brocken was not accessible for the general population and the last Russian soldier left the mountain only in 1994. Today, most of the mountain is protected area and sees many visitors. On the summit one can find restaurants and souvenir shops as well as the Brockenmuseum and a botanical garden.
The town Schierke lies at the base of the mountain and can easily be reached on foot from there.
A small train also runs from the bigger city of Wernigerode all the way to the summit. This is in interesting experience because the train is generally pulled by a steam locomotive. The train stops in Schierke and the true hiker should descend there in order to hike to the summit.
Wernigerode can easily be reached by train from Hannover. For an approach via car use Map24.de
to map out your approach whereever you are coming from.
On the website of the Harzer Schmalspurbahnen (HSB)
, which is the company that operate the steam trains to the Brocken, and elsewhere in the Harz, you find information on schedules and ticketing. A ticket to Brocken is 16 Euros single and 24 Euros return. If you plan to use the HSB trains throughout the Harz, including a few trips to/from the Brocken to fit in with trying out different hiking routes, the multi days tickets are better value. 40 Euros for three days and 45 Euros for 5. Unlimited travel, including to/from the Brocken. (Thanks to Bryan Brenn
for this information)
Due to its snow cover in the winter, the hike is a more strenous than in the summer and snow shoes might be required.
The mountain is also often covered by clouds.
For information on the weather in Wernigerode follow this link
The mountain also has its own weather station
The Mountain in the 20th Century
On this mountain the world's first television tower was built in 1935; it began by broadcasting the "Deutsche Reichspost". It carried the first television broadcast of the Olympics -- from the 1936 Summer Games in Berlin. The tower continued functioning until September, 1939, when the authorities suspended broadcasting on the outbreak of World War II.
Allied forces bombed the Brocken on April 17, 1945, destroying the Brocken Hotel and the weather station, but not the television tower. American forces used the installation from 1945 to 1947. Before the Americans left the Brocken in 1947, they disabled the rebuilt weather station and the television tower.
Between 1973 to 1976 a new modern television tower was built for the second GDR-TV. Today the second German TV station (Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen or ZDF) uses this tower.
From 1957 the Brocken constituted a security zone, and after construction of the Berlin Wall began on August 13, 1961, East German authorities designated it as a military high-grade security zone and turned it into a fortress. Due to its high altitude the station also served to spy on communication signals from the surrounding area. Border troops took up quarters at the Brocken railway station, and the Soviet Red Army used a large portion of territory. The Stasi (East German secret police) used the television tower until 1985, when they moved to a new building -- now a museum. To seal the area, the entire Brocken plateau was then surrounded by a concrete wall, built from 2,318 sections, each one 2.4 tons in weight and 3.60 meters high. The wall has since been dismantled, as have the Russian barracks and the domes of their listening posts.
Walpurgisnacht on the Blocksberg
In Germany, Walpurgisnacht, the night from April 30 to May 1, is the night when allegedly the witches hold a large celebration on the Blocksberg and await the arrival of Spring.
Historically the Walpurgisnacht is derived from Pagan spring customs, where the arrival of spring was celebrated with bonfires at night.
Goethe and the Brocken
Goethe described the Brocken in his Faust (written in 1808) as the center of revelry for witches on Walpurgis Night (April 30; the eve of St Walpurga's Day on May 1).
Now to the Brocken the witches ride;
The stubble is gold and the corn is green;
There is the carnival crew to be seen,
And Squire Urianus will come to preside.
So over the valleys our company floats,
With witches a-farting on stinking old goats.
Goethe may have gained inspiration from two rock formations on the mountain's summit, the Teufelskanzel (Devil's Pulpit) and the Hexenaltar (Witches' Altar).
Another famous visitor on the Brocken, author Heinrich Heine, wrote the book Harzreise ("A Harz Journey" -- published in 1826). He says: "The mountain somehow appears so Germanically stoical, so understanding, so tolerant, just because it affords a view so high and wide and clear. And should such mountain open its giant eyes, it may well see more than we, who like dwarfs just trample on it, staring from stupid eyes."
Slothrop and Geli Tripping experience the famous Brocken Spectre in Thomas Pynchon's novel Gravity's Rainbow.