The Harz Mountains
There is something familiar about these little towns tucked in deep, wooded valleys. These were the scenes of childhood stories: the home of wicked witches, dwarves digging in caverns under the earth and poor woodcutters in lonely cottages.
The Brothers Grimm collected their stories from various places, primarily the area around Kassel about 40 miles to the west, but the Harz Mountains have long been famous as an important source of German folklore. Many of these stories are well-known outside of Germany as well: Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel, Sleeping Beauty, Rumpelstiltskin, Tom Thumb, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, The Frog Prince, and The Wolf and the Seven Kids.
Go to Harz fairy tales to read some folk tales from the Harz.
The Harz region was also known for the many silver mines; many villagers made their living underground and the towns' wealth came from these mines. There are echoes of this in the story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.
The highest mountain in the Harz is the Brocken, setting for one of the most famous scenes in Goethe's Faust.
The devil takes Faust up on the Brocken on Walpurgis Night to tempt him, where he watches a wild night of revelry among the witches and other evil creatures.
According to local legend, witches gather on April 30 every year on top of the Brocken for a German version of Halloween.
In a close parallel, Disney's Fantasia, includes an eerie gathering of the forces of evil in Moussorgsky's Night on Bald Mountain; the Brocken also has a treeless summit and a long association with witchcraft and devilry.
More info on the Brocken.
I noticed traveling in this area there were virtually no English-speaking tourists. This is such a magical and charming area I hope more people will make the trip and see these half-timbered towns and beautiful forests. It is hard to beat for sheer atmosphere. There are miles of walking trails in the woods to fit any level of hiking ability.
From Thale you can take a gondola to the top of a mountain (the witches used it as a taking-off point on their way to the Brocken festivities-the mountain, not the gondola!).
More info on Thale.
From here you can take an old steam train all the way to the top of the Brocken, or take the train to Schierke and hike up.
More info on Wernigerode.
Goslar and Quedlinburg are two other delightful towns in the area thick with old, half-timbered houses.
You can put on miner's coveralls and go down into the tunnels and ride the miniature train the miners used to travel underground. (Hi Ho!)
More info on Goslar.
More info on Quedlinburg .
To read about the life of Quedlinburg's most famous poet and sample his poetry, go to Friedrich Klopstock.
Also in this area is Eisleben, where Martin Luther was born and died.
For how to get there, see Maps of the Harz and Flights to Germany.
Heinrich Heine, one of Germany's greatest poets, wrote an account of his trip through here called The Harz Journey. We get a glimpse of what it was like in the early 1800's; this was a popular destination for travelers even then.
He hiked all the way up to the top of the Brocken.
Today you don't have to walk up, though it is still a great hike. Either way, once you're up there you have a great view of the Harz.
See hike from Schierke.