Germany gets ready for night of the witches

Up to 150 000 self-styled witches and warlocks, New Age practitioners and the simply curious are converging for May Eve revelries on the summit of the highest peak in the Harz Mountains, Germany, on Saturday night.

Children in spooky costumes will 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 will 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 being 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 May 1. But the night before, April 30 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 October 31, 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 exactly six months later on October 31—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 142m.

For 40 years, the region was split down the middle by the fortified border between East and West Germany. But in the 15 years since unification in 1990, the region has regained its title as one of the most romantic fairy-tale areas.
Local merchants and hoteliers brazenly capitalise on the witch angle, and have come up with a “Witches’ Trail” for visitors to follow.

Tourists can follow the 97km 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 Brocken, the favourite mountain of the German language’s most renowned 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 features in the drama Faust, about an alchemist nobleman who sells his soul to the devil—on Walpurgis Night.—Sapa-DPA

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