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Goethe and the Harz Mountains – Nature as a Source of Inspiration


Goethe in the Harz: “Who progresses away from the known, moves forward to new goals”. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe visited the Harz four times, hiked and explored it. He covered incredible distances and left his mark in many places.

Goethe in the Harz Mountains – urgent encounters with nature

He wanted to escape his inner turmoil, oppressive professional commitments and relationship problems. And so the young Johann Wolfgang Goethe (1749-1832) chose the untouched and at that time touristically still undeveloped landscape of the Harz mountains. Here he could give free rein to his wanderlust and find himself while hiking. The poet and explorer made his first tour in 1777 and climbed the wintry Brocken in spite of difficult conditions, from which he had a wonderful clear view. The highest peak of the Harz Mountains quickly captivated Goethe. Further ascents and processing of the legendary landscape in his literary works followed.

On the Goetheweg on the way you can climb the Brocken from Torfhaus on the paths that the poet once took, much easier today than in the 18th century. Because “the mountain is […] magical” (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: Faust. The tragedy first part, verse 3869) and the highlight of every Harz trip. Also Plessenburg was a goal of Goethe’s extensive hikes up to the Brocken. The hunting lodge built by the Counts of Stolberg-Wernigerode in today’s National Park Harz offered him accommodation and culinary catering. At the wolf cliffs near Plessenburg, Goethe was also able to indulge his interest in geological rock layers. The waterfalls of the Ilse kept and keep also a rushing nature experience ready.

In Goethe’s works the Harz becomes a part of world literature

In Goethe’s best-known and most complex work, the “Faust”, the mountains play a prominent role in the Walpurgisnacht. Crossing the labyrinth of valleys, climbing rocks from which river springs gush eternally, wandering through the moss and heath – that’s what Faust wants to experience. The area around Schierke and Elend comes alive in a dialogue between Faust, Mephisto, witches and a Night Wisp in about 1000 verses. Between descriptions of nature and wild witch dance the whole mysticism of the Brocken summit and its surroundings unfolds.

devil's wall
Goethe in the Harz Mountains – the Devil’s Wall

Goethe was also strongly inspired by the wintry Brockenwanderung, which he used in his poem “Harzreise im Winter” (“Harzreise in Winter”), to write haunting verses requiring interpretation. The mountains are not literally mentioned, but Goethe’s experiences from the hike are clearly noticeable in the fascinating lines.

Goethe in the Harz Mountains – Research on the geology of stick and stone

It wasn’t just poetry that was Goethe’s profession. He was also enthusiastic about the natural sciences and, during his wanderings in 1783, used every opportunity to geologically examine the cliffs and their types of rock, especially granite, for example. Commemorative plaques remind in many places of the visits of the poet prince and Weimar secret council. Goethe recorded his mineralogical findings in a series of diaries.

One year later drawing was the focus of the next Harzreise. For the poet minister was once again tired of the social constraints in his position at the Weimar court and sought refuge in untouched nature.

Finally, on his last tour in 1805, Goethe visited Thale and the legendary rocky promontory Roßtrappe situated in the middle of forest-covered cliffs. The exploration of the original Bodetal valley and the 20 meter long sandstone cliff devil wall between Ballenstedt and Blankenburg formed the endpoint of Goethe’s Harzreisen.

Goethes Harzreise – everything discovered in the Harz

In about 30 years of his life, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe has explored all historically important towns, regions and landscapes of the Harz Mountains on foot, on horseback and in a carriage, processed them literarily and researched them scientifically. Such a masterly achievement can only be honoured with respect. It’s worth following his lead. So simply put on your hiking boots yourself and set off on an eventful hike through very special natural and cultural areas.

Further links:
| Heinrich Heine’s ascent to the Brocken | The Harz, its princes and kings | More information about Goethe you can find here

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