During the summer 2015 season there will be 11 scheduled trains each day to the top of Germany's Brocken mountain - all of them steam-hauled (photo © hidden europe).
Summer timetables come into effect this weekend on the narrow-gauge railways of the Harz Mountains in northern Germany. This is one of Europe’s most appealing narrow-gauge networks, and the regular use of stream traction is a big pull for rail enthusiasts.
Spring comes late to the Harz Mountains, but good weather over the last week or two has nudged away the last of winter — at least at lower levels. The most celebrated of the Harz region rail routes climbs to the summit of the Brocken where winter still lingers. At the start of this month, there were still 1.5 metres of snow on the top of the Brocken but it has been melting fast. Today, there are just 40 centimetres.
The summer schedules include many more trains up the Brockenbahn to the summit station at 1125 metres. This week there have been just six a day. With the summer timetables, that increases from Saturday to eleven trains a day.
The Harz summer schedules also see more use of steam trains (as opposed to diesel railcars) on the Selketal Railway, most notably on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
The new schedules will remain in force until Sunday 1 November. But it’s worth bearing in mind that, particularly at the start and end of the season, journeys to the summit of the Brocken can be affected by adverse weather conditions. Timetables for the Harz narrow-gauge network are available online.
The journey to the top of the Brocken is something of a German ritual. This is a mountain that is inscribed on the cultural imagination and a spring trip up the Brocken is a popular outing — though it’s not compulsory to sell one’s soul at the top of the Brocken as Faust did in Goethe’s tragedy. Faust made his pact with the devil on Walpurgis Night (30 April), so a late April trip up the Brocken nicely strikes a cultural chord.
The season gets off to a start on Saturday 25 April with a special diesel train to the top of the Brocken. The regular schedules don’t allow for diesel haulage on the Brockenbahn so this is an unusual diesel foray along a part of the Harz network which is normally exclusively the preserve of steam. Saturday’s run by the Friends of the Selke Valley Railway involves a round trip of more than 12 hours from Gernrode to the Brocken summit and back. For truly hardy souls, there is the option of sitting in open-top carriages on this trip. Evidently all places have been sold. Warm clothing and a bottle of schnapps might not go amiss.
Next Thursday is Walpurgis Night and there will be the traditional late evening performance of Faust on the summit of the Brocken. Special steam trains will run up the mountain from Wernigerode. We understand that places are still available.
Read more about exploring the narrow-gauge network of Germany’s Harz region in hidden europe 35.
About The Authors
Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries
Nicky and Susanne manage hidden europe, a Berlin-based editorial bureau that supplies text and images to media across Europe. Together they edit hidden europe magazine. Nicky and Susanne are dedicated slow travellers and the authors of the book Europe by Rail: The Definitive Guide. The 17th edition of that book will be published in mid-April 2022. You'll find a list of outlets that sell the book on this website.