In case you ever wondered where the grotesque witches who ride brooms came from, you may walk along the Harz witches’ trail. The mountain is almost always shrouded in thick clouds, and the wind is so strong that when it blows at night, the needle trees would orchestrate together to produce a shrieking sound. Even Goethe was filled with horrid imaginations when he hiked up to the top of Harz, and conceived two witches in his Faust from the precariously perched rocks. I was not very superstitious, but when Toni decided to start hiking from Saturday evening, and camp overnight in the middle of Harz, I still shuddered for a moment.
After the echo from the last train vanished, we found ourselves alone with an amazingly peaceful sunset. We enjoyed a simple dinner, and chatted about our wonderful experiences in Quedlinburg. But deep in my heart, I was anticipating a pitch darkness that would soon follow, and the invisible eyes that would appear behind the mumbling trees. With an unspoken foreboding, we set up our small tent quickly beside the only human evidence- a family bench, and zipped up the door tightly. Before I could brace myself mentally, the wind started blowing hard, and the temperature dropped to a freezing degree.
When we woke up the next morning, droplets of water had condensed on the outer layer of our tent. Everything was damp and cold, but the wind had slowed down significantly, after blowing away the heavy clouds above us. By some most unlikely chance, we were under a clear blue sky.
The forest was extremely dense, and the signs could not be discerned easily. While Toni was sharing with me how he was deterred from reaching the top a few years back because of a frightening thunderstorm, we noticed that we had lost track of the signs. It was too demoralizing to turn back, so we followed the small trail until there was a tiny opening among the trees which offered us a scant opportunity to glance beyond the forest. With a terror-stricken gasp, we realized that we had walked even further away from the peak, now wrapped in a threatening grey backdrop. I turned cold all over, but deprived of everything that was associated with surrender and retreat, Toni maneuvered into a even smaller trail that “seemed” to lead to the “should be correct” direction.
I couldn’t remember how long we had walked, but even Toni admitted that we should have turned back in the first place, which would only mean that he had lost all his hope. As if choreographed by an experienced director, the sun disappeared at the same moment, and thick fogs rose among the trees. We began to contemplate seriously the idea of turning back, and argued about its advantages and disadvantages for such a long time that the disadvantages of turning back loomed larger and larger. To our relief, the sign of the trail eventually reappeared in front of us. We had to walk for an extra ten kilometers, but Toni recovered his self-confidence immediately. As we agreed, he always always had an acute sense of direction.
Not wanting to waste more time, we started ascending the mountain quickly. The forest thinned down, and the landscape changed to one that was covered with grass and less intimidating trees.
Toni was sentimental when we saw the top of Harz, Brocken, because he almost couldn’t reach there for the second time. Even though it was extremely cloudy, he claimed that we had such a good luck to be able to get an overview of the neighbouring mountains, which were half hidden, but absolutely not fully hidden in the fog. The historical significance of Brocken also stimulated him, as he gave me a long speech about how it was first occupied by the US Air Force and later the Soviet Union. On the contrary, I was cold and exhausted, and was more interested in gulping down a hot soup and taking the train back to where the sun was as soon as possible. However, the prices being steep up there, we decided to extend our lunch infinitely (to my dismay) and board the train at the next station (which would be more than ten Euros cheaper for each of us) after a difficult mental struggle.
The train at Harz was certainly another highlight of our trip. It was the very model adapted from the first industrial revolution, being still powered by steam and coal. Even from a considerable distance, we could foresee its arrival because of volumes of dark smoke that were churned out from the chimney and the piercing sound of the horn. Toni walked on the train like a kid, and explored every compartment with a keen excitement. He not only tried to put his whole body out of the train (to record the motion of the train), but also chatted with the staff so that he knew how many litres of water would need to be added to drive the train. On the other hand, I was devoured by an intensifying pain that gradually traveled from the bottom of my heels to the blades of my shoulders, and sank deep into the soft couch. But while I sat alone there, occasionally massaging my sore muscles with an overflowing amount of self-pity, I couldn’t help being ashamed of my own weakness. I was so jealous of Toni’s unflagging energy, that I made up my mind that I would explore as much as I could until my last breath. Yes, wait until the next time. In the meanwhile, my fear of the witches subsided, and I looked out of the window to find the sun shining.