The Brocken

From Academic Kids

The Brocken Bahn steam engine provides regular service to the summit
The Brocken Bahn steam engine provides regular service to the summit
Elevation:1,142 m
Coordinates: Template:Coor dms
Location:Saxony-Anhalt, Germany
Mountain range:Harz

The Brocken, or Blocksberg, is the highest peak (1142 meters) in the Harz Mountains in Germany, between the rivers Weser and Elbe. Despite its low altitude, it tends to have snow cover from September to May, and mists and fogs shroud it up to 300 days of the year. Its microclimate resembles that of mountains closer to 2000m high.

The peak has long had associations in local legend with witches and devils, dating back before the mountain's mention in Faust.

Today the Brocken forms part of a national park, and hosts a historic botanical garden of mountain plants, founded in 1890. A narrow gauge steam train takes visitors from Wernigerode to the railway station at the top. The mountain features numerous hiking trails.

FM-radio and television broadcasting make major use of the Brocken. The old TV tower has an observation deck, open to tourists. For more information, see Transmitter Brocken.


20th Century History

Missing image
The summit of the Brocken, showing the transmitters

On this mountain the world's first television tower was built in 1935; it began by broadcasting the "Deutsche Reichspost". It carried the first television broadcast of the Olympics -- from the 1936 Summer Games in Berlin. The tower continued functioning until September, 1939, when the authorities suspended broadcasting on the outbreak of World War II.

Allied forces bombed the Brocken on April 17, 1945, destroying the Brocken Hotel and the weather station, but not the television tower. American forces used the installation from 1945 to 1947. Before the Americans left the Brocken in 1947, they disabled the rebuilt weather station and the television tower.

Between 1973 to 1976 a new modern television tower was built for the second GDR-TV. Today the second German TV station (Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen or ZDF) uses this tower.

From 1957 the Brocken constituted a security zone, and after construction of the Berlin Wall began on August 13, 1961 the East German authorities designated it as a military high security zone and turned it into a fortress. Due to its high altitude the station also served to spy on communication signals from the surrounding area. Border troops took up quarters at the Brocken railway station, and the Soviet Red Army used a large portion of territory. The Stasi (East German secret police) used the television tower until 1985, when they moved to a new building -- now a museum. To seal the area, the entire Brocken plateau was then surrounded by a concrete wall, built from 2,318 sections, each one 2.4 tons in weight and 3.60 meters high. The wall has since been dismantled, as have the Russian barracks and the domes of their listening posts.

The Brocken Spectre or Brocken Bow

Missing image
Brocken Spectre of a Caravelle aircraft, photographed from an altitude of 35000 feet over France. A circular rainbow surrounds the shadow of the aircraft. The Caravelle's wing appears in the left foreground.

A strange apparition has occasionally frightened climbers on the Brocken: a towering, shadowy figure looms out from the mist, its head sheathed in rainbow rings.

This Brocken Spectre appears when the sun shines from low behind a climber who is looking down from a ridge or peak into mist. The light projects the climber's shadow forward through the mist, often in an odd triangular shape due to perspective. The spectre appears so huge because the mist obscures the reference points by which an observer can judge its size, and because the shadow falls on water droplets of varying distances from the eye, confusing depth perception. The "ghost" can appear to move (sometimes quite suddenly) because of the movement of the cloud layer. The glow and rings constitute a "glory", a circular rainbow-like phenomenon centered directly opposite the sun.

This type of "spectre" can appear on any misty mountainside (or even from an aircraft), but the frequent fogs and low-altitude accessibility of the Brocken have created a local legend.

Literary mentions

Goethe described the Brocken in his Faust (written in 1808) as the center of revelry for witches on Walpurgis Night (April 30; the eve of St Walpurga's Day on May 1).

Now to the Brocken the witches ride;
The stubble is gold and the corn is green;
There is the carnival crew to be seen,
And Squire Urianus will come to preside.
So over the valleys our company floats,
With witches a-farting on stinking old goats.

Goethe may have gained inspiration from two rock formations on the mountain's summit, the Teufelskanzel (Devil's Pulpit) and the Hexenaltar (Witches' Altar).

Another famous visitor on the Brocken, author Heinrich Heine, wrote the book Harzreise ("A Harz Journey" -- published in 1826). He says: "The mountain somehow appears so Germanically stoical, so understanding, so tolerant, just because it affords a view so high and wide and clear. And should such mountain open its giant eyes, it may well see more than we, who like dwarfs just trample on it, staring from stupid eyes."

Other Mentions

The heavy metal band Fates Warning titled their debut album Night on Brocken. The title track relects the Witches Sabbath on Walpurgis Night. The title of the band's second album -- The Spectre Within -- probably takes its inspiration from the Brocken Spectre, but the content does not allude to it directly.

The Cradle of Filth song "Born in a Burial Gown" (from the album Bitter Suites to Succubi) contains an obvious allusion to the Brocken's history as a witches' gathering-place.

"Walpurgis sauntered in the skies", followed later in the song with "Then at once as Brocken's peak tried once concealing hell..."

The band Black Sabbath wrote a song called Walpurgis, which talked about witches gathering to perform paganistic rituals. Later, the lyrics were changed, and the name of the song became War Pigs. The lyrics from the song War Pigs talks about the genrals of war, and their evils. An example of the original song can be found on the Ozzy Osbourne album The Ozzman Cometh.da:Brocken de:Brocken ja:ブロッケン山 nl:Brocken (Harz) pl:Brocken


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