The clouds came into the valley and covered the coniferous trees like a blanket. Once caught by the treetops, the soft whiteness slowed in pace and sunk further down. Eventually, it consumed the whole forest.
My parents and I had travelled here to escape the city when I was younger. To them, the national park Harz compares to a time capsule as this place holds so many memories. I was surprised how a place that charms with its hourly change, has in fact not changed at all: When I was five years old, I stood on the concrete bridge in my striped purple leggings and with my purple summer hat. We picnicked at the wooden benches under the shady oak next to the river.
Ten years later, I returned with my mother and watched the sun climb above the clouds and fill the sky with light.
Coniferous trees give the national park its structure, deciduous trees fill it with life while grasslands break open the forests and set a highlight. 97% of the 25,000 hectares (61,776 acres) of the national park is covered by trees. It’s a home to more than 7,200 animal and plant species. Above the gentle highlands thrones the Brocken. With 1,141 meters (3,743 feet) altitude it’s the highest point in the mountain landscape.
We walked through the Narnia-like forest. It seemed to have taken over the dimensions of time and space. Some trees were over three hundred years old. The trunks were covered with moss and fallen over trees disappeared under a new generation of other trees and ferns. In some ways, the forest made me feel small. As they reached many meters high, the hills next to the trails seemed to put them on a pedestal even closer to the clouds.
On the hiking trail Harzer Hexenstieg, we followed the river Bode. Where the stream calms, fishermen walk the shallow waters. Other times, the river appeared forceful. The water rushed fast, shaping rocks that had fallen into its bed. Next to sheer rock walls, one can hear the sound of the river echoing.
The river connects tree-engulfed towns, like Treseburg, Altenbrack and Thale. In Thale, the Hexentanzplatz and the Rosstrappe are popular tourist destinations. Both are granite crags with a spectacular altitude of over 400 meters (1,312 feet) that can be reached by foot or by lift. The mountain tops are separated by a deep valley with only two trails from the starting point, which can often cause confusion and disappointment by hikers as they find themselves on the wrong side of the valley. In my mind, it doesn’t matter which crag you decide to conquer as they equally offer a breathtaking view.
As the sun went down, thick clouds tucked in the forests for a goodnight sleep. We watched the spectacle, ending the day with a warm cup of tea and then followed the same ritual.