The Harz in Winter

6-15 December 2010

This blog documents my solo winter trip to Wernigerode and the Harz Mountain Railway.

I produced a DVD of this trip called 'The Brockenbahn in Winter'. It's available for £15 + postage, click here to send me an email order enquiry.

The Blog is now Complete. Details of the RTC trip added to 7 December information. (18 December)
(only corrections and clarifications will be added post trip)

NEW View from the Top of the Brocken!

Tuesday 7 December - limited visibility
Wednesday 8 December - snow with limited visibility
Thursday 9 December - strong wind with snow showers - very limited visibility
Friday 10 December - clear at first but then in the clouds. See below - the first train just missed the sun
Saturday 11 December - first train up Brocken cancelled due to snow falling off trees - not sure if later trains made it.
Sunday 12 December - my 5-day HSB card has run out and I'm limited to Schierke on my new 3-day Harz Tour Card - but I'm fairly sure that the top was in cloud all day

Drei Annen Hohne on my second day with snow falling and a mallet arriving. This sums up why I came.

Monday 6 December 2010
The trip to Wernigerode was smooth enough despite wintry conditions in the UK and Germany. If appears that Germany has had more snow but the temperatures are lower in the UK.
Ryanair got me to Berlin which is what they generally do without, as usual, winning any prizes for customer service. The German railways got me from Berlin Schoenfeld airport via Berlin Ostbahnhof (change), Magdeburg (change) and Halberstadt (change) to Wernigerode. Trains to Magdeburg were electric loco push-pull trains with double-decker stock. Beyond Magdeburg it was DMUs.

Tuesday 7 December 2010
The hotel ‘Hotel zur Post’ is in the centre of town close to the Town Hall and opposite the Kartoffel (Potato) Restaurant if you know that. It was owned by the same family for many years and was returned to them after unification after a period as a Russian officers’ hostel just after WW2 and communist collective ownership after that. It’s been restored as both a restaurant and a 3 star hotel but offers some inexpensive rooms with a shared toilet and shower which is what I have. Wi-fi - known as W-LAN in Germany - (once restarted sometime today) is now working but doesn’t extend as far as my room. As a result, any uploading and emailing has to be done in the corridor nearer the front of the hotel. There are a few chairs and even an electric socket but you do feel a bit suspect sitting outside someone else’s room using your computer!
Breakfast is from 7 on weekdays and from 8 at the weekends which in the winter is early enough to not make you want to skip it and get out early. You can photograph from roughly 8 am until 4 pm but by 4:30 pm today the autofocus on my video had given up.

Hotel zur Post is on the left between the two white cars.

Views of the half-timbered building in Wernigerode and the castle on the hill

I headed down to the HSB station to see the 9:10 departure having decided that the Brocken looked cloudy and, in addition, the Railway Touring Company were due to leave town this morning behind 99.6001 (one of the smaller non-standard locos). If they did, they must have left early but see below for another reason to suspect that something has gone wrong with their plans.

One of the Westerntor kof shunters came on shed at Wernigerode prior to the departure of the 9:10. That’s an unusual event, I thought. I should have pursued that line of thought more for while I wandered off to the booking office, it collected a mallet and propelled it back to Westerntor. I’ve no idea which one but it must have got behind it somehow to propel it so maybe both the kof and the mallet can fit on the turntable at the same time.

After the departure of the 9:10 which I videoed from the new footbridge over the railway, I wandered to Westerntor where 99.7236 was in steam outside the works, then back to Wernigerode to make sure all was quiet with no RTC special due out and had a look around town until 11 am when things had again got interesting. There were 2 loaded timber wagons in the station at Wernigerode, one of them a pair of logging 'disconnects' connected by a metal bar as used on the rollwagen. I still don’t know where they came from or were going to but mallet 99.5901 was coaling and eventually connected up to them and attached a last wagon marker to the back end of the train. I caught the 11:55 train which left before the mallet. However 99.5901 on two loaded timber wagons is probably one of the rarer trains you are likely to see on the HSB. By the way, 99.5901 is due to be used tomorrow morning from Quedlinburg or Gernrode on the other side of the system for the RTC train. Given its location and job at 11:55 today, I doubt it will be there (but I could be wrong). If anyone knows what the RTC trip actually did while in the Harz, please let me know.

Alex writes:
Enjoyed your pictures of the HSB, I was on the RTC trip. On the 7th we left Wernigerode at 07:40 behind 6001. The mallet with the timber wagons was supposed to go down to Eisfelder Talhmühle for a double departure. The only information we had was that it had an accident and didn't make it. We did see the wagons though the next day which we used for a double departure out of Alexisbad.
If you want to see what else we got up to there are some of my pictures at including a sunny day on the Brocken on the 6th
Alex Morley

I rode the 11:55 to Drei Annen Hohne and then transferred to the 12:35 from DAH up the Brocken. Despite a bit of sun between Schierke and the Brocken, the top was in the mist and I came back down on the return working at 13:38. I now have 4 days left on the HSB 5-day travel card to get the Brocken in sun.

The snow is deep everywhere and many of the footpaths and forest tracks I have used in the summer look difficult if not impossible. I need to respect the conditions and there will be limits to what can be achieved from the lineside. It looks like the tunnel will be impossible, the horseshoe curve may be possible from the Drei Annen Hotel track (probably best to get to the start point by bus not train) and the minor road up the Brocken beyond Schierke may also be possible by bus to Schierke village. Any idea of walking between stations from Steinerne Renne to the top of the Brocken (or vice versa) seems out. However, once on top of the Brocken, it looks possible to walk down some distance on the non-treed part of the hike.

On return to Schierke, there was time to video the arrival of the uphill train running about 10 minutes late. There were no other trains due at DAH so I stayed on the downhill train until Steinerne Renne where I got off to video the uphill train at 15:14. I could have hopped on for a return to DAH but instead walked back to Wernigerode on the normal route along the railway one would use in the summer. This was not bad for walking and the footpath between Hochschule Harz towards Westerntor has been cleared with a mini snowplough (we have never seen such a beast in the UK!) and was the easiest bit of the walk. I videoed the downhill train near Westerntor at 16:30 but it was already dark and the autofocus was struggling. I had it on manual by the time the Nordhausen railcar came past in the other direction after the cross at Westerntor.

So that was it for the first day. I shot 26 minutes of film and the only bit from the train (which tends to pad things out) was of the mallet on the logs as we left Wernigerode. I think there will be a DVD in this.

Wednesday 8 December 2010

Coal was being delivered this morning in two articulated trucks

I started off this morning on the first steam train 8931 at 9:10 and this will probably be the pattern for the rest of the trip. I rode the train to the top of the Brocken passing a diesel with a snow plough coming down at Schierke. Light snow fell all day and the temperature was between 0 and -2 degrees.

This is what the trees look like near the top. I hope I get the chance to get up close to them.

Along with a diesel propelled snow plough seen today, this road-rail vehicle was working on snow clearance at the top. I wonder how this gets to the top of the line - by road, hauled or 'under it's own steam'?

Given the conditions I came straight back down but most of the passengers stayed on top until at least the next train.

This was the view at the top today. Don't laugh - it may get better.

More of the wonderful trees on the way down.

So, it was into plan B which involved returning to Drei Annen Hohne to see the variety of trains there around 12 o'clock. The Traditionszug was the first in after us at just before 12 but before it left the train from Nordhausen arrived.

Traditionszug with mallet 99.5902 leaving Drei Annen Hohne.

Followed by the regular train behind 99 7240.

Having let all the trains go, I was then left with about an hour to wait before the next train up to Schierke. The restaurant on the platform has been showing 'Heute Geschlossen' for two days and I'm not sure if it will open at the weekend. The open-air soup and sausage stall in the car park is doing good business however and I tried one of their specialty wursts and the stood under the trees almost out of the snow until the 13:33 uphill train. The ride to Schierke and back was more to have a ride in the warm than anything else but on arrival at Schierke we faced a 20-30 minute wait for the late running train down from the Brocken (eventually 25 minutes) that I planned to catch. On a single-track line, if one train is delayed, everything is delayed. At least if you stick with the trains, you are in the warm. The restaurant at Schierke is functioning but with limited walking potential either side, I'm not sure if I will get a chance to use it.

So, 25 minutes late, I hopped on the down train to Wernigerode and got off at Steinerne Renne again around 15:20 but varying my shots today.

Approaching Steinerne Renne, 99 7235 working hard in the snow.

I then repeated my walk down to Westerntor expecting the mallet to get there before the regular service trains crossed at Westerntor but that didn't happen. So far also all crosses have been at the places where they are due to happen (despite any delays) so it looks like the Traditionszug is due to come down behind train 8904 from Drei Annen Hohne. Anyway, the service train running around 20 minutes late was the one that came first well after dark around 16:50.

Late-running train 8904 due at Westerntor at 16:30 was held well outside the station.

Here is the late-running 8905 Triebwagen (last train of the day from Wernigerode) at the Westerntor crossroads.

I didn't see the mallet return but those who sign up for this trip do face an extended stay on top of a foggy mountain and a slow journey back on the Traditionszug. It runs again on Saturday so I should see it again. Hopefully, storming the Brocken in sunshine next time!

Thursday 9 December 2010

The day started with promise with broken cloud. I saw the sun twice at Wernigerode around 9:10 and late morning at Drei Annen Hohne. However, everywhere also got some snow showers.

Between Wernigerode and Drei Annen Hohne to weather was quite good with some distant views.

Train 8931 taking water at Drei Annen Hohne.

Trees at Drei Annen Hohne

Although I didn't know it at the time, anyone who wanted a Brocken ticket today was sold one only to Schierke as they were not sure if they would be able to get beyond. After a short delay at Schierke, the decision to continue was announced and the conductress went through the train upgrading tickets for the ride up the Brocken. The diesel and the snow plough was at the top. The Brocken was again in the cloud and it was snowy and windy with near-blizzard conditions. It felt seriously cold and there was no point in hanging around and I didn't feel like I was dressed for it despite all my layers.

Plan B had been to go down to Drei Annen Hohne and then ride to Eisefelder Tahlmuhle but my desire to get some lineside shots in the can won out and I shot various trains at Drei Annen before riding down to Steinerne Renne on train 8920. I tried a bit of walking on the footpaths but ended up full circle on the platform due to the limited view from up above the line. Train 8903 arrived from Wernigerode and had to wait for the diesel and snowplough to pass on their way downhill.

I walked back to Wernigerode for the third day running but this time tried the main road as no train was due. It seemed to take about as long and the only advantage was that you didn't have to think so much about where you were walking and avoiding cars.

I got back to my hotel prior to the last steam departure train 8929 and had to persuade myself to go out to see it. It was worth it but it started to snow heavily as I then waited for the downhill train 8930. These pictures were taken about 30 minutes apart and although the second one may not show clearly how much snow had fallen in the meantime, it was considerable.

Trains 8929 and 8930 seen at the main road level crossing at Westerntor.

After that, I decided to call it a day. Three days and still no views from the Brocken. I have 2 days left on my 5-day ticket and 5 days in total including my departure day, to achieve it.

Friday 10 December 2010

Today I got my first views of the Brocken from Wernigerode and the first train missed the sun on top by around 30 minutes. I stayed on top for the second train in the hope that it would clear again but it stayed cloudy for the rest of the day. However, I got some good shots on the way to the top.

The Brocken seen from Westerntor around 8:30 am

The first steam turn approaches Westerntor in the sun!

Still in sunshine, the loco takes water at Drei Annen Hohne

Impressive icicles at Schierke

The sun has gone but the top is still clear as we approach.

The visibility was not bad on arrival

But had returned to 'normal service' when the second train arrived

Down below, there was still plenty of light at Steinerne Renne for the last uphill train

The HSB is not the only train in town. This Santa Train is part of the Christmas Market.

Saturday 11 December 2010

Today started wet and warm with temperatures above freezing and a bit of a thaw. The first train up was announced as not going beyond Schierke. That contrasts with other days when they weren't sure if they would go. The reason given was melting snow falling off the trees and as far as Drie Annen Hohne most of the trees had already shed their snow. However, I did eventually see the snow plough and diesel returning after lunch so the line may have been cleared for later trains.

As this was due to be the busiest schedule during my stay, I stuck with it despite the rain. I got off at Drei Annen Hohne and took my first lineside shot of the day above DAH.

I then started walking down towards the horseshoe curve to see the traditionszug there. The road down to Wernigerode was closed but cleared of snow which made for pleasant walk down to the crossing at Drei Annen.

I watched the the weekend-only train 8933 at the road crossing.

99 6101 was a surprise on a train down to Wernigerode and the sun shone briefly.

The rain had returned by the time 99 5902 arrrived on the traditionszug

I decided to walk down to Steinerner Renne which became a bit of a slog through melting snow. Above the tunnel, I took some distant shots of train 8935.

In the winter, the train is visible as it heads back into the valley before coming back out to the tunnel

Impressionist view of the same train approaching the tunnel

I caught train 8930 back down to Westerntor where we crossed 99 6101 returning on its special train

In addition to 99 5902 and 99 6101, a heritage railbus was also out on a special working as well as the diesel and snow plough, making the line very busy.

Sunday 12 December 2010

My 5-day all-HSB pass (€47) has run out so I am now on a 3-day Harz Tour Card (€18). This bargain ticket gives all HSB trains except Schierke - Brocken, all buses and trains to Halberstadt and Quedlinburg. It was low cloud with wet snow falling off and on (mainly on) all day so there would have been no view.

Above Schierke - my first attempt at a train slogging uphill through the trees and snow. This was the train I travelled on so I only had about 7 minutes to find a position. Walkers have created a firm packed-down trail which makes walking above Schierke relatively easy.

My second train above Schierke. By now trains were running 40 minutes late. This will be very good on the video.

An uphill train below Schierke. This looks OK as a still but the loco had shut off just before it came into view. I had to make my own path to this spot through 1-2ft deep snow. Getting further to where the locos work would have been a struggle.

The last steam turn of the day waiting to depart seen through the balconies of the late 14:15 arrival around 14:40.

This image really struck me - amazing tiling and the snow falling

This shows the above image in context - on a church roof

With the snow almost gone - we get some more.

Only 1 day left before I leave and I've just found my local Lidl!

Monday 13 December 2010

As this was my last full day, I decided to have a day off and took the HEX train via Halberstadt to Quedlinburg which is covered by the Harz Tour Card. Before I departed, I needed to see the 09:10 HSB train leave Wernigerode. The foot- and cycle-bridge proved to be a very good position today.

The Brocken was clear again for only the second morning of the trip but was in the clouds by afternoon.

With 99 7234 already on its train, this is the view from the bridge showing to two locos out of use beside the shed and one of the converted standard gauge diesels 199 872 which was on snow plough duties last week.

Close up of the two locos beside the shed 99 7238 and 99 7232

Wernigerode Castle looked impressive with the sun behind it

99 7234 departs Wernigerode on time with train 8931 for the Brocken at 09:10

I arrived in Quedlinburg just before the 10:30 departure of train 8963 to Alexisbad behind 99 6001

My mission in Quedlinburg was to do some Christmas shopping but the old houses were of more interest and the shopping opportunites limited. Probably best to ignore the fact that the building at the end is an Irish Pub!

If you like architecture, there is so much to see and spread over a large area including churches, official buildings, houses great and small. It was also good to see various grand old building being restored and one modern intrusive building being knocked down! There is even a very impressive factory/farm complex on the right of the train as you travel to Halberstadt just after leaving Quedlinburg station which must have an interesting history.

I didn't spend long in Quedlinburg as I planned to treat myself to lunch at the Brauhaus Heine Brau close to Halberstadt station. This place was very busy on a Monday lunch time and the food and drink was excellent as usual. This is the Schwarzen Friedrich but they also had their Pilsner and a seasonal Bock available. Cheers!

I returned to Wernigerode to snow falling again somewhat before the final steam turn of the day to Nordhausen which I saw departing Westerntor behind 99 7240.

Monday 13 December 2010

Departure day. It was snowing again. I had decided to leave on the 09:38 HEX via Halberstadt to Magdeburg and then on to Berlin. That gave me a last chance to video the 09:10 first steam departure from the footbridge. At the main road crossing near the shed, I spotted today's surprise visitor to Wernigerode shed but I was held by the lights and only just got a grab shot of a very cute HSB mini-railbus.

99 7243 was the loco on the first train.

With a leaden sky, the 09:10 heads for the Brocken - on time as usual.

My last view of a train on the HSB for this trip. I'll be back!

Locos seen so far:

99 7232*/7234/7235/7236/7238*/7240/7241/7243
99 5901/5902, 99 6001, 99 6101
* parked outside Wernigerode shed on Saturday on the line alonside the standard gauge. 99 7238 had its chimney covered over with blue plastic and 99 7232 was behind it. Perhaps these locos had been moved out of the shed to allow working locos (5 today plus 99 6101 visiting) to stable under cover.


I'll list up some of the practicalities of visiting the Harz in winter here as I think of them.

Food and drink during the day - especially if linesiding

The sign no-one wants to see. A restaurant that would normally be open Monday to Sunday from 10 am until 6 pm has been 'closed today' for 3 days now. And this is the restaurant on the station at Drei Annen Hohne which would be very useful for a drink and a hot meal between trains. I came to Germany prepared, however. I have a travel kettle and a flask which I fill every morning and I have a plate, knife and sandwich bags to use to make up sandwiches from the supermarket in Wernigerode. These were intended for emergency use but so far have been very welcome every day. The Drei Annen Hohne station buffet and sausage stall was, however, open at the weekend although by that time I had given up on it.

The Brocken in winter
Assuming you would like to video or photograph trains storming up to the top in the area without trees where the footpath parallels the line or around the spiral to the top, there are the challenges to overcome. 1. Although the Brocken may be clear when seen from from the bottom before the first train arrives, it could cloud over at any point and most likely will before the first or second train arrives at the summit. 2. The snow can be very deep (waist deep or more) at the top and the normal path around the summit that you can use to look down on trains climbing to the peak in summer, can be impassable. 3. It can be very cold on top and wind can add considerably to the effect. 4. There are not many trains up the Brocken even at the weekend (roughly one every 70 minutes). All 4 scuppered my attempts to get some lineside shots from the summit although I did get to the top 4 times in 4 days and did manage some video of the train storming the Brocken from the train with reasonable visibility. I was also able to achieve some good lineside shots in the forest above Schierke as well as others from Wernigerode to Drei Annen Hohne and below Schierke.

The rest of the HSB not just the Brocken
The whole of the system can be covered (but not in one day) based on staying in Wernigerode but some legs would involve the diesel railbus or the Nordhausen tram. You may also need to return to Wernigerode by bus from Stiege or Hasselfelde or mainline train from Quedlinburg to achieve this. The trains on the rest of the system (i.e. not Wernigerode to the Brocken) are infrequent and with less steam traction. You would need a car to successfully lineside steam on the rest of the system at this time of year but driving conditions and parking on roads narrowed by snow with snow banks on either side would be challenging. You might think that this suggests that chartered trains are the only way to do this but allowing groups to get off trains into deep snow drifts is not very sensible so chasing by car is probably the only (if dangerous) option. At the time of my visit, the section from Stiege to Hasselfelde was undergoing long-overdue track renewal from 1 November 2010 until 21 April 2011 with a substitute bus service.

Suitable clothes
Starting from the bottom, I am wearing waterproof hiking boots, hiking socks and an inner pair of light socks, jeans, shirt, sweater, down jacket, warm gloves (also thin gloves for operating the camera), scarf, wooly hat. In reserve, I have waterproof outer trousers and warm under trousers, an anorak, a fleece and ski gloves but these haven't been needed yet! I considered buying gaiters in the UK to keep snow off my socks and out of my boots but didn't see anything I liked. So far, this has not been a major problem but the more you walk on uncleared paths or step off the path into the deep snow, the more snow you pick up around the top of your boots. Conclusion, gaiters are a good idea.

Free bus travel
In return for daily tourist tax paid at your hotel, visitors get a Hartex pass which gives free bus travel in the area. Wernigerode - Hasselfelde - Steige is possible this way to meet steam on the Selketahlbahn as is Wernigerode - Drei Annen Hohne - Schierke to walk to locations on the Brockenbahn. The pass is also good for buses to Halberstadt and Quedlinburg and more.

HSB 'Mehrtageskart'
Available for 3 or 5 days, the 5-day card is a bargain at €47 including as many rides up the Brocken as you like. As the Brocken costs €26 return from anywhere on the Harz system, my 4 trips covered the cost and saved me €55. The cards are not transferable and you will be asked to sign them to confirm the user. Once you have got the Brocken out of your system and perhaps want a trip to Halberstadt (beer and trams) or Quedlinburg (old buildings and the other part of the Harz system), the €18 Harz Tour Card is good for 3 days.

My thanks to David Thornhill for making me aware of the local transport options before my trip.


The following was written before I left the UK. I'll leave it on the end of this report for reference.

Here are some of the things I hope to cover during my visit:

What's on offer:

4 steam trains Mo-Fr from Wernigerode to DAH (9:10, 11:55, 12:55, 14:55 big gap between 1st/2nd train 2hrs 45 min and 3rd/4th train 2 hrs)
1 Nordhausen steam train to DAH and return
DAH also sees 2 extra trains up the Brocken (and return)
DAH provides a minimum 7 steam arrivals/departures daily. Increased by 1 Sa and Sun
Wern - EFT and return behind steam possible on 1155 - 1349 out, return 1406 - 1633
Wern - Nord day return only possible if done mainly by railbus
Quedlinburg - Gernrode - Alexisbad possible as a day trip using the steam out but return by steam unlikely unless I go straight back.

The Harz railway timetable can be found here.

Daily options - in no real order but I will have 7 full days in Wernigerode:

1. Brocken day: Ride to Brocken (photography at summit), further rides up Brocken, return to Wern
2. Eisfelder day: Phot 1st morning dep from Wern, Ride to EFT, return to DAH and Wern
3. Drei Annen Hohne day: Ride to DAH, linesiding either side of DAH
4. Additional day for Brocken (walking if conditions permit?) or linesiding from Schierke to Wern
5. SG day: day out to Quedlinburg and Halberstadt?
6. ? day: (after 11 Dec when steam resumes) for steam on the Selketahlbahn? (may be combined with Quedlinburg?) or day trip to Nordhausen (railbus/tram no steam haulage)
7. Spare day: for anything else

John Raby
Wernigerode, December 2010