Written by Ankit Mukherjee.
I’ve never been much of a morning person, but I do appreciate the beauty with which nature presents itself at the brink of dawn. The promise of a journey through the beautiful valleys of the Harz mountains was enough to get me out of bed! Before the sun itself embraced us with its warmth, I found myself walking with my group of familiar faces towards the Central Railway station of Magdeburg to begin our journey.
As the sky started to slowly light up, our train set off on its course. I sipped on my morning dose of caffeine and looked outside to appreciate the beauty. And beauty it was indeed! Across the horizon, I could see a bright orange halo light up everything that my eyes could see, almost like someone had painted the world with a dazzling coat of scarlet. We got down at Halberstadt, the capital of Harz district to switch trains to Wernigerode. The cold morning breeze against my face begged me to light up a cigarette and stare aimlessly at what seemed like a town sculpted by an artist deeply in love. With your eyes closed, you could hear the birds welcoming you with their sweet melody resonating around the empty streets of this beautiful town. Sadly, our schedule did not allow us to spend a lot of time here, and with a heavy heart, we left Halberstadt in its state of shallow slumber and continued our journey.
Before long, our ‘Regional Express’ took us to Wernigerode, another step closer to our destination. The moment I stepped off the train, I couldn’t help but notice the striking resemblance with the hilly district of Darjeeling, a place very close to my heart and my hometown. Wernigerode is famous for being the starting point of the Harz narrow-gauge Steam Trains connecting to the peak of Harz (Brocken), much like the Steam trains of Darjeeling Himalayan Railways connecting New Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling. We took a bus from Wernigerode to Schierke to start our journey through the Harz National Park. As soon as the bus ventured beyond the half-timbered houses of Wernigerode, one could breathe in the wilderness … nature in its true form, ignorant and unruffled by the grand enterprises of modern times. The shadows of the magnificent Beeches embraced us like a serene self-composed entity, yearning to be discovered and to be loved. We took a small break to fill our hungry stomachs and prepared for the highlight of our trip – hiking up to Brocken, the highest point in Northern Germany.
It was around 8 in the morning, when we began our hike along the famous ‘Fairy-tale path of The White Deer (link)’, away from all the chaos of society we had long left behind. The idea of the ‘Fairy-tale’ trail is substantiated with the story of a young boy named Albert and his resolve to save his father with the help of a white deer. The story rests in parts on 6 checkpoints along the road, with the conclusion of the story waiting at the top of the mountain as a reward to those who have successfully traversed through the demanding and endearing path.
“Beauty is transformed over time, and not without destruction”Terry Tempest Williams.
The beauty of destruction could not be better elucidated than the grey silhouettes of dead spruce trees piercing through the clear blue sky as we ventured into the forest. We walked uphill through the dying trees, manoeuvering our steps on rocks and slopes. As we crossed the third checkpoint, the scenery gradually began to change. Soon, we were surrounded by lush greenery and narrow streams flowing briskly along the crevices. The death and decay were replaced with liveliness and vitality. Perhaps the forest had seeped some of the energy from our veins, as we found ourselves struggling with our climb which was getting more strenuous at every bend. By the time we reached the fourth checkpoint, we were already out of the water and our lungs had started their retaliation. The climb to the fifth checkpoint was probably the hardest. We talked as little as we could, and took short breaks to ease our racing hearts. We would have reached our breaking point before making it to the top if not for the moment of blissful delight we felt when we finally made it to the fifth checkpoint. Sitting down on the rocks, thirsty and tired, we looked up and saw the top of the Brocken Observatory and an old TV tower splitting the clouds apart. For me, this was motivation enough to jump back on my feet as I felt the adrenaline rushing through my veins! The hardest part of the journey was behind us, and the last kilometre of uphill battle was the only thing standing between us and our goal.
From here on, all the tracks to the peak merged into one and we wound up walking together with many other travellers like ourselves, burning their last breath to make it to the top. The misty clouds hanging around us created a charming aura….. like being inside an ancient fantasy novel! This was probably the reason for all those lovely fables that once originated from here.
As we edged towards the final moments of our hike, I looked up to see a dense white smoke and the familiar sound of the Steam engine pulling up to the buffer stop of Brocken Railway station. We had finally made it! It is extremely hard to put into words the way I felt at that moment….. Oh, what a moment! It was a mix of joy, fatigue and excitement with a hint of sorrow, as the fairy-tale adventure had come to an end. The height of the Mountain was embedded on a big rock, right at the centre of the peak. The view was extraordinary! We could see miles of green fields with towns scattered across them and dense forests with rivers piercing through them. I closed my eyes and allowed nature to replenish me with its serenity…. We may have only climbed to the top of Northern Germany, but at that moment, I was on top of the World!