Golden Harz Enthusiasts Festival
We repeat 2010's immensely enjoyable Heritage Steam visit to the Harz Mountains Railway at this golden time of year, to again enjoy some most unusual private steam workings with locomotives not normally used on scheduled passenger trains, organised by Railtrail in conjunction with the Friends of HSB. A great opportunity to enjoy something different on the wonderful Harz - plus the beautiful scenery and historic towns and villages.
I had booked to go on a railway tour to visit the Harz region of Germany to see, photograph and travel on the local narrow gauge steam railway. This extensive system of over 100kms in length is located just over the former border of East Germany in the Harz mountains. The railway's headquarters is at Wernigerode and the “main line” extends for 60kms to Nordhausen and this part of the system is correctly named the Harzquerbahn. Fourteen kms from Wernigerode at Drei Annen Hohne is the junction with the Brockenbahn, a 19 km branch to the top of the 1129m high Brocken mountain. During the cold war this was a Soviet outpost listening to western military radio signals and was out of bound to civilians. It is now a much visited tourist destination with as many as ten trains a day taking visitors to the top. The remaining part of the system is the Selketalbahn to Gernerode and Quedlinburg, a most attractive town seeming full of historic buildings and I believe is now a world heritage site. Two branches off this line to Harzgerode and to Hasselfelde completes the system.
My visit started on Thursday 21st October so I caught the 7:15 from Ludlow arriving at Newport promptly at 8:33 to catch the 8:39 train to Paddington. This left on time but we were held at Didcot Parkway for 10 minutes due to a late running train in front of us. Arrival at Paddington was a few minutes late but I had ample time to take the underground to St. Pancras to get the 12:57 Eurostar to Brussels arriving at 16:03. At Brussels we caught the 16:28 Thalys to Köln and then a local train to Wuppertal arriving at 19:10. Here we spent the night before continuing our journey the next day. Apart from being a convenient place to break our journey Wuppertal has the unique attraction for railway enthusiasts of the Schwebebahn or the “Dingle Dangle” railway. It is a suspended monorail in which the passenger cars hang beneath a steel gantry built over the river Wupper for 13kms It was built in 1900 and still operates today. Unfortunately when we arrived it was not working owing to unscheduled maintenance work. However during the evening I went to have a look at the structure which is most impressive.
The following morning we took the 9:43 InterCity train to Hanover arriving there at 12:18 to catch the regional train at 12:55 to our final destination at Wernigerode. Apparently it is normally a four coach DMU but today a two coach train rolled into the station so judging by the number of people waiting on the platform seats would be at a premium. Being one of the last to board there was no chance of a seat and even standing in the aisle breathing out was a problem! The lobbies were also full of passengers and luggage. When anyone wanted to alight at intermediate stations several people would have to get off to allow them to alight and then re-board. I was told that at one time there were five people and their luggage sharing the driving compartment with the driver! Due to the obvious extended station stops we were about a quarter of an hour late into Wernigerode which was a pity as I had hoped to see the 14:55 steam departure to the Brocken as the Harzquerbahn station is adjacent to the main line station.
The normal daily timetable allows for nine return workings from Wernigerode to the Brocken, seven of them steam worked. Eight trains from Nordhausen to Drei Annen Hohne, all railcar worked except one which is steam hauled and which carries on to the Brocken before returning to Nordhausen. On the Selketalbahn from Quedlinburg and Gernrode to Eisfelder Talmühle there are about seven return trains of which two are steam hauled. The Brocken trains are usually hauled by their fleet of powerful modern 2-10-2 tank engines and the Selketalbahn trains by the unique 2-6-2T. My visit was timed to participate in the “Golden Harz Enthusiasts Festival”. This includes the normal service plus a series of extra events including special trains hauled by some of their historic locomotives, photo runpasts, parallel departures, and freight and mixed trains.
Our itinerary was to travel on a special mixed train right through from Wernigerode To Quedlingburg on the Saturday and return the following day. We accordingly met at Wernigerode station for the 07:55 departure. This consisted of a rake of their vintage green coaches, the normal livery being red and cream, and an oil tank wagon hauled by an 0-4-4-0 Mallet tank locomotive dating from 1897. Shortly after starting the journey we stopped at Hasserode where the tank wagon was shunted into a siding. Until quite recently there were several such sidings that fed various industrial premises but these have all now closed. We carried on up to Drei Annan Hohne where the locomotive took on water. While waiting I saw on display an example of a “rollwagen”. This is a metre gauge bogie wagon with a low slung girder framed chassis with the girders being set at standard gauge (4' 8½”). This was used to carry standard gauge freight wagons onto the metre gauge Harz system without the need to transship goods from standard to metre gauge wagons. From there we headed off to Eisfelder Talmühle where an additional locomotive and some timber carrying freight wagons were attached to our train. We carried on to where the train was split into seperate freight and passenger trains and a double departure was enacted with one train on the Stiege main line and the other on the parallel Harzgerode branch line, once a daily occurrence, a spectacular sight, especially when standing between the two tracks! We then made a return trip up the Harzergerode branch before reforming our train and completing our journey to Quedlinburg before returning to our hotel in Wernigerode by road.
The following day we returned to Quedlinburg to rejoin our train for the return journey to Wernigerode. The same green coaches formed the train but with a rather superior looking saloon coach added, the whole train hauled today by the prototype 2-10-2 which was built in 1930 and upon which the 1950's built engines were based. Shortly after starting we were served a glass of the local herb liquor (Schierker Feuerstein) by the local May Queen who was travelling on the train. Very welcome it was too as the weather was rather chilly with only occasional breaks in the cloud. We followed the reverse of yesterdays outward journey but instead of going up the Harzgerode branch we went up the Brocken from Drei Annen Hohne. As we progressed the weather slowly improved so we were in full sun by the time we reached Drei Annen Hohne so the chance of good views from the Brocken seemed assured. However as we climbed the branch and neared the summit at 1129m we entered low cloud and by the time we alighted at the Brocken we were in the mist with a gale blowing snow horizontally with the ground covered in a thin layer of snow and ice. Instead of indulging in landscape and railway photography I headed straight for the café and shelter where a coffee and a glass of mulled wine did wonders for the constitution. As our tickets were only valid on the special train we had a two hour wait before descending to more equable climes.
As the altitude lowered the spirits climbed and by the time I reached Wernigerode I was sorry the journey was completed.
The following day we were due to return home but the journey was to be completed in the one day. Our train was due to leave Wernigerode at 9:14 so I went down to the station in plenty of time in order to photograph the 8:55 steam service to the Brocken. After photographing the departure I hastened to the main line station to see that our train was running ten minutes late. “It should be OK” exclaimed our tour guide “We've almost half an hour in Hanover for our connection to Köln” without much confidence in his voice! The train came in 15 minutes late, a four coach set this time and with much fewer passengers there was plenty of space. There was a section of single line just outside Wernigerode so as we were running late the reciprocal working was allowed through which made us even later. It became clear that we would be unlikely to make our connection which indeed happened. On arrival our guide shot off to the booking office and returned shortly afterwards with the news that we could catch the train an hour later both to Köln and onwards to Brussels which would still, just, connect with our booked Eurostar at 17:59 however it would be very tight.
Due to the delay we had no reserved seating on either the Köln or the Brussels train so we had to find what seating was available. Fortunately we found plenty of seats on the ICE to Köln with the added benefit that it was near to the bar and buffet. At Köln we changed and caught the 15:44 Thalys to Brussels due to arrive at 17:35, remember our Eurostar at 17:59! The Thalys service was starting from Köln with Paris as its final destination and so when we boarded it was virtually empty so it was easy to find seats. However the over seat displays did not indicate which seats were booked so there was a lot of shuffling about at the beginning of the journey. As the journey progressed there was a lot anxious clock watching. Apparently Eurostar recommend a minimum check-in time of 40 minutes so we watching every minute. We rolled into Brussels on time but the announcement that the doors would not be opened until the Amsterdam portion of the train had coupled up delayed things until 17:40. I rushed down the stairs and across the underground concourse to the Eurostar terminal. I had previously emptied my pockets of metal objects so I sailed through security, immigration and check-in took seconds so up the escalator to the platform and onto the train with minutes to spare!
We left on time at 17:59 for an arrival at St. Pancras at 19:03. I was booked on the 20:15 from Paddington which was the last train of the day to get me back to Ludlow. An on time arrival should have left me with ample time to get to Paddington but I was dismayed to see that the underground station was closed! There had been “an incident” so with a companion we legged it along Euston Road through the rush hour crush, in the dark, with luggage, eventually getting a train from Great Portland St. to Paddington to make the last train home, phew!
Text and all photos: John Stephens (This report is the personal reflections of the tour participant.)
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