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Witchy goings-on set for Walpurgis Night

29 April 2004

OSTERODE – The Witches’ Trail leads through dozens of ancient German towns and wild, romantic areas full of craggy peaks, steeped in a tradition of myth and mystery.

It is renowned for the Walpurgis Night celebrations on 30 Aprilwhich the Germanic peoples once celebrated as the beginning of spring. Today only puppet witches loom from the souvenir shops.

But every year on the night before 1 May, an estimated 100,000 self-styled witches and warlocks, along with New Age adepts and tourists take part in May Eve revelries on the summit of the highest peak in the Harz Mountains.

Children in spooky costumes participate in parades and street fairs in villages on the slopes of the Brocken, the mountain immortalised in Alexander Borodin’s “Night on Bald Mountain” orchestral suite.

Bonfires light the nighttime skies on mountain tops in the Harz region as local communities hold their own May Day Eve festivals marking the end of winter and the coming of summer.

In the town of Schierke, a four-hour Walpurgis Night open-air play is held, tracing the history of the persecution of witches, with players performing writhing modern dances to Medieval music.

The day of the Saint Walburga is celebrated on 1 May. But the night before, 30 April or May Day Eve (Beltane Eve), is called Walpurgis Night, formerly the date of the pagan festival marking the beginning of summer.

Its autumnal counterpart, six months later on 31 October, is Halloween. According to German legend, this festival has been associated with a witches’ carnival, and on this night it was believed that witches met with the devil for one final night of revelry before being consigned to the underworld until they emerge again on Halloween.

The Harz Mountains region is the location of many German fairy tales featuring witches and goblins and the Brocken is the highest Harz peak at 1,142 metres.

Nowadays, tourists can follow a 97-kilometre Witches’ Trail that leads from west to east along the region once divided by the Iron Curtain between the towns of Osterode in Lower Saxony to Thale in Saxony-Anhalt.

The Witches’ Trail is a marked route that can also easily be walked by families, says Stefan Krooss of the Harz Tourism Association, who initiated the project. The logo of the route is a witch riding a broom.

“A fit hiker should plan about four days for the route,” says Krooss.

The path also leads to the 1,142 Brock Mountain, the favourite mountain of famous German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. He undertook the route in 1777 which was very difficult during that time and described the experience in “A Winter Journey” in the Harz. The mountain also appears in the drama Faust.

The Witches’ Trail leads us through the Medieval town of Osterode over the mountain village of Buntenbock to Altenau, the Brock Mountain, Drei-Annen-Hohne, Koenigshuette, Altenbrak through the deep Bodetal valley and on to Thale. It is here where the former Germanic cult site of Rosstrappe and the witches dancing floor Blocksberg are easily reached.


Subject: German news