Go with Ted

Travel, trains, drinking and cooking with Ted

The Harz Mountains and Saxony – an introduction

In October 2016 Steve and Ted spent ten days travelling round Germany, mainly in the east of the country, with a focus on the Harz mountains and Saxony. We wanted to visit some obscure railway lines, eat plenty of sausages, drink plenty of beer and generally explore. The full account of the trip can be read by clicking on this link:

This is a downloadable PDF file (3.21Mb). It is well worth a read if your interested in the area or the subjects. This page is a summary of the highlights of the journey, with extra photographs.

The Harz Mountains

We reached the Harz Mountains from Dusseldorf via Paderborn to reach Nordhausen, the southern terminus of the Harz narrow gauge railway network. The longest journey in the network is the 70km line from Nordhausen to Quedlinburg which takes the railcars, like the Quedlinburg Flyer (above), nearly three hours.

We based ourselves in Quedlinburg for a couple of nights – a pleasant small town (pictured beneath the page title and below). The old town is a UNESCO world heritage site.

Wernigerode and the Brocken

The best known of the Harz railways is the steam Railway from the nearby town of Wernigerode (top picture, above) to the summit of the Brocken mountain, close to the old East-West German border and out of bounds for many years, except for the military.

In Wernigerode and the lower slopes of the route it was autumn, but the weather became wintry as we climbed. Snow was falling and lying at the summit, where a plate of goulash soup warmed us up. There wasn’t much of a view from the telescope at the summit (below).

Thuringia

Our next destination was the town of Saalfeld in Thuringia. We chose the town as a base to reach an interesting group of railways, though it turned out to be an attractive place in its own right – our hotel was on the central square, where the autumn festival was being prepared and there were a couple of decent pubs nearby.

We spent a day exploring the Oberweissbacher Berg und Schwarztalbahn railways. The first of these was a standard gauge line along the valley floor, operated by railcars.

The strangest railway is the funicular from Obstfelderschmeide on the valley floor to Lichtenhein on the plateau above. It was designed so that goods wagons could be transferred from the valley to the plateau and one of the goods platforms is still in use today to support a funicular carriage (below).

At the top wagons could be transferred onto the line along the plateau to Cursdorf. Today a separate railcar operates this line and took us to our lunch stop.

On the return journey the valley line train was a preserved ‘piglet taxi’ the nickname for a class of East German railcars used on minor routes (pictured below). Then it was back to Saalfeld and the autumn fair – specifically the beer tent set up by the local brewery.

Bamberg

The next destination and overnight stop was Bamberg, in the north of Bavaria, a university city with a spectacular old town .

Bamberg’s other claim to fame is as a centre of brewing. There are still about 10 working breweries in the town, many producing the distinctive ‘rauchbier’ – beer which tastes like smoky bacon crisps. So of course we visited a few of the brewpubs.

Chemnitz

From there we headed east once more, into Saxony, aiming for Dresden. We stopped for a lunchtime drink and break in Chemnitz, known as Karl Marx Stadt in German Democratic Republic days. The man is still there, looking out disapprovingly at a new skyscraper hotel.

Dresden

Dresden was our base for exploring some of the railways of Saxony. It is well-known for the wartime destruction of the city – the rebuilding of the historic city centre continues today. The attention to detail is impressive but it can feel a bit lifeless. The central pubs are modern and soulless, however we had two of the best currywursts of the trip in Dresden. Across the River Elbe in Neustadt are surviving nineteenth century districts, now mainly a student area with lively places to drink and eat.

We spent a day visiting the Zittauer narrow gauge railway, still operated by steam trains and not only for tourists. Zittau is on the border of Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic. The trains head for Oybin, a small resort in the nearby hills. These are a few views of the trains at Zittau and Oybin.

En route is Bertsdorf, where a branch line, also operated by steam trains, heads off to Jonsdorf. We called there to take the opportunity, unique in Europe today, of watching two steam trains set off for Oybin and Jonsdorf . We were convinced that, when they see someone taking photographs, the drivers and firemen ensure that the locomotives are producing the maximum amount of smoke.

The Elbe Valley

We spent a day wandering up the Elbe valley through the suburbs of Dresden, to Bad Schandau, almost on the Czech border.

At Loschwitz two lines link the riverside to the posh suburbs of Dresden in the hills above. The first is a funicular (pictured above). The second (below) is an early monorail, built by the same person who went on to build the Wuppertal monorail.

Bad Schandau is the centre of an area of hills and valleys known as Saxon Switzerland, The station is across the river from the town (actually from the local Lidl, see below) and trains are met by a ferry across the river. From Bad Schandau a rural tramway winds uphill to the Lichtenhein waterfall.

On the edge of town is a historic external lift up the cliff face to give access to walks in the woods, though we settled for a beer in a cabin near the top of the lift.

And that is a summary of the trip – from Dresden we reached Durham by train in one (long) day. Of course, as well as sightseeing, there was a fair amount of eating and drinking, particularly by the bear. Here’s a few pictures of the sot in action, including a photo of the bananaweizen we saw in Saaalfeld but couldn’t bring ourselves to drink, goulash soup at the Brocken summit and some interesting beers and schnapps.

For the full write up of the journey download this file:

(c) Text and photos copyright Steve Gillon, 2020.

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