Posted by: tabliope | May 26, 2009

A walk on the other side

Now to the Brocken the witches hie,

The stubble is yellow, the corn is green;

Thither the gathering legions fly,

And sitting aloft is Sir Urian seen:

In January 2001 a local guy who was a keen hiker, Nicolai Fleischer, and his friend decided to walk from Göttingen to the Brocken Mountain in the Harz; a distance of 87 kilometers which they decided to do over two days with an overnight stop in Bad Lauterberg.  Bad Lauterberg is known as the Gateway to the Harz which means it's a dump with nothing to recommend it in its own right.  Believe me, I know about Gateways having lived in one in England for long enough.  (If I ever hear anyone refer to themselves as coming from North County then I know immediately which town they're referring to because no one ever knows where the town is, but I digress).  Eight years later and this is now a major event with 400 people doing it on the 6th/7th June and Johnny and I are part of that 400.

Until 20 years ago Germany was a divided country and the Harz Mountains were divided between Sachsen Anhalt in the east and Niedersachsen in the west; the Brocken lay in the east and was inaccessible to anyone other than Joe Stalin's henchmen, military bods and anyone unfortunate enough to be invited up there.   Much has been written about the Brocken and probably most famous is Goethe's Faust with the witches gathering on the Brocken.  For some reason the Brocken and the wider area has always had a reputation for witchcraft and sorcery and perhaps that's isolated mountain communities for you, I don't know.  Before the fall of the wall the Brocken didn't appear on any maps in the DDR and because it was in the Grenzegebiet, the border zone, not many people got close to it.  There was always a fascination with the Brocken and the Harz generally
and partly this is because we're surrounded by the flatlands of
Niedersachsen here, but given that for so many years it was a forbidden
place there's an element of going there quite
simply because one can.


Being honest, the best thing about the Brocken is being on the top – it's a miserable view of the mountain itself because it's scattered with various towers and satellites and part of the walk is along the old tank tracks.  However, it's the highest mountain in the area and we're walking to it.  Because we can. (Yes, we can)

Interestingly, to me at any rate, last week I had another little taste of being a completely different generation and being seen as being a bit old.  One of Johnny's team is doing the walk with us and he's been joining us for training walks and I was chattering on about the days before the wall came down and how this year marked 20 years and wasn't it interesting and cold war this and cold war that and a bit more blah and then I realised that I'd lost my audience.  Admittedly, I'd strayed into talking about Solzhenitsyn at this stage which sort of serves me right but I realised that the things that I was talking about, events and circumstances which informed my childhood, teens and early adulthood were seen in the same way that I saw the second world war.  He told me he'd really had no idea that people couldn't travel freely across Germany, across much of Europe and that he'd had a vague idea about the wall but it just didn't feature in his mind at all.  I suppose it compares with my memory of Churchill dying and how that affected me.  (The BBC cancelled the lousy ten minutes of cartoons that they saw fit to give us just so that they could screen his funeral.)



  1. The walk sounds well worth doing.
    As for the feeling a bit old, I gave my lovely colleague a black leather handbag when I was having a clear out – and realised that the bloody thing is 4 years older than her ….. (still in good nick, but y’know).

  2. I am genuinely shocked that someone – particularly, as I assume, a German someone – ‘didn’t know’ that it’s been less than twenty years since reunification. Dear me, what do they teach them in these modern schools?

  3. He’s British – I think he knew about reunification but just hadn’t realised that it had been ‘such a big deal’.  

  4. Ah, he’s British. I go from shocked to unsurprised.

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