Harzfelt

Trip Start Dec 16, 2007
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Trip End Feb 24, 2008


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Friday, January 4, 2008

Today we did what we came to Wernigerode for, today we rode the Harzer Schmalspurbahnen's (Harz [Region] Narrow Gauge Railway) Brockenbahn.

Before the excitement of another steam train adventure we did have a rather limited, very German breakfast at the hotel and then check out the main sites of Wernigerode: the Marktplatz, Rathaus and various pedestrian streets. It has been a very cold day in town, with a light but chilling breeze ensuring that we pop into the odd shop to keep from losing all our body heat, despite wearing several layers and a jacket each!

Our departure from Wernigerode Hbf was at 10:25am, behind a roughly 50 year old steam tank engine. We arrived at the station and managed to find some seats on the 8 car train some 15 minutes prior to departure. The interim time was spent on the viewing deck that has been constructed between the platforms and the shed at Wernigerode, offering an elevated view of our loco preparing to reverse onto our train and also of the last steam loco of the day being oiled and prepared for the following train. 2 similar tank engines were stored for the winter in the yard, partially covered with snow.

The first stop for our train was in Wernigerode Westentor (West Wernigerode) and it became apparent that seats on the train were going to be a luxury item. There were several other little stops in the area near Wernigerode and by the time we had started our first stretch of proper running people were standing in the aisles. At the first major stop, Drei Annen Hohnen (where the Brocken line splits from the main), the platform was full of people. So full in fact that some had to be left behind! Our train ended up departing late due to the huge crowd, with people standing in the aisles and also outside on the carriage platform ends. We were glad that we got on at the start at Wernigerode although the earlier train at 9:10am would've been nicer without having to deal with the crowds.

Despite the throng of people the scenery out of our window was stunning, the ever increasing amounts of snow an indication of our increasing altitude during the roughly 1 hour run up to the summit of the Brocken. It was unbelievable how many people were coming off our little train when we reached the terminus, with thousands of people exploding out onto the little platform.

At the summit is the old Soviet lookout and listening post, which has been converted into a hotel and restaurant. We took time out for lunch in the large tray-service caffeteria before walking around the snowy summit to enjoy the views of the surrounding Harz National Park from the highest peak in northern Germany (1141m). As the trains return as soon as they arrive we had to take the following train back down, leaving 1 and a half hours after our arrival, at 1:33pm. This timing worked well with our activities at the peak although in the warmer months or it would be nice to enjoy the numerous walks throughout the Harz National Park and spend much more time around the railway.

The train made a spectacular arrival at the summit before we rushed to get on and get seats, fearing the kind of overcrowding that we had to endure for the outward journey. By fluke we managed to get seats together and thankfully the train was not as full, with nobody standing in our carriage. This lighter loading allowed Dad and I to go out to the carriage platform end for some filming and photography during the descent on this fun metre-gauge system. We crossed other steam services to the Brocken and other regional destinations on the way back to Wernigerode, making for some fun filming and great footage.

The trains trundle along at a leisurely 30km/h, around sharp bends through forests through valleys, making comparisons with Melbourne's Puffing Billy unavoidable. However this system is actually a fully operating, private railway company, as part of a 140km long metre-gauge network. The network has not been closed or modernised in any great way due to the neglect of East Germany before the Germany reunification in 1993, at which time the current private company was formed. People commute and freight travels on this network that links several major towns in the region. Imagine commuting regularly on a steam-hauled train in this day and age, or on the alternative; a funky little diesel triebwagen that I'm sure would offer a fun and bumpy ride as well.

Once back in town I couldn't resist a visit to the railway's shop, where I ended up purchasing a bi-lingual book about the railway, it's history, current operations and rollingstock. We then walked directly back to the hotel so that we could gauge the walkability of this route for our return to Dresden tomorrow.

After the Brockenbahn the plan had been to take the Wernigerode Bimmelbahn (one of those passenger tractor trains that's meant to look like a train) up to Schloos Wernigerode (Wernigerode Castle) and so we set out to the Bimmelbahn stop. On arrival at the stop we discovered that we had just missed the last departure of the day at 4pm! An assessment of the situation showed that in the fading light it would be too dark to see anything by the time we walked up so we resigned ourselves to some arvo tea at a cafe on the town square.

By the time we got out it was almost dark and the parents decided that they wanted to explore some more of the centre of the town that we hadn't seen this morning. While they continued in the cold on foot I returned to the hotel to write this entry. They returned a short while ago and we had dinner once again in the hotel's restaurant downstairs. I'm now finishing the last parts of this entry still very satisfied by my pizza dinner.

Tomorrow morning we set off back to Dresden where I will stay with the parents for only 1 night before I take the CityNightLine sleeper train to meet Belinda in Frankfurt. This move comes with sadness because there is a lot that could be done as a tourist in the town and region. Unfortunately the area is marketed mainly for domestic tourists and indeed we are the non-German speakers we have noticed around. Now that we are here we can see there are lot of things to do that we did not find about in advance; the brewery (tours), castle, 2 nearby seilbahns and associated attractions etc. I will have to return in the future.
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