If you love steam, narrow gauge, or the audacious, get yourself to Germany!

Posted by Jim Wrinn
on Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Trains magazine Editor Jim Wrinn is in Germany to cover last week's InnoTrans 2010.

My trip to Germany is coming to a close, but I wanted to tell you about the last few days spent riding and photographing the Harz Narrow Gauge Railways in what was once East Germany. After attending and reporting on InnoTrans, the big railroad trade show in Berlin, last week, a dispatcher who is a pal of mine asked if I wasn’t overdue for steam preservation, and he’s right. I did need to catch a whiff of hot valve oil and bituminous. If you read Davidson Ward’s report in our preservation magazine released earlier this year, Historic Trains Today, you know that the Harz is an operating steam railway with diesel rail buses that provide both regular and tourist service on an 87-mile network based out of Wernigerode and Quedlinburg. More than a million people a year ride this line, about 700,000 of them tourists, but the rest are using it for transportation. On Friday, I took standard German regional trains and local trains to reach this amazing meter-gauge railway that reminds me of four of my favorite American tourist railroads: Cass, Durango & Silverton, Cumbres & Toltec, and Great Smoky Mountains Railway.

After I checked into my hotel at Wernigerode, I returned to the railway station. The Harz is in a separate building from the DB, but just feet away. I bought a ticket for the afternoon roundtrip to Brocken, one of the highest peaks in northern Germany. The pinnacle was once an observation post looking westward during the Cold War and off limits to the public until 1991. Today, it’s a beautiful national park filled with hiking trails and steam trains.

I wandered out to the engine terminal before my 2:55 p.m. departure. Our power, one of the railroad’s 17 husky 2-10-2Ts, set up for bi-directional running, was being readied in an approach, and you could tell the crew did this every day. These engines are truly at home here: In two days of riding, I never saw one slip, strain, or fail. We left on time, but paused three minutes out at a suburban station for the west side of town. Apparently the tourist trade to Brocken is good, so more locations to serve customers better is preferred. With everyone loaded, we headed out. Climbing the mountain on a series of ridges, we gained elevation. The stocky engine pulling the train dug in with a rapid exhaust like a Shay, and given the dense forest, it was not unlike being at Cass, climbing the Back Alleghany Mountains. Only 15 kilometers out, we arrived at Drei Annen Hohne, where two other steam trains were on hand. After a brief pause to water the engine, we resumed the trek to the top of Brocken. We stopped once again for a break at Schierke and to let downbound steam train pass.

Near the top, the train literally spirals inward to reach the summit, encircling the mountain. Clouds were rolling in. It wasn’t the view from Bald Knob, but on a sunny day, I bet you can see well into what was once West Germany.  This is laid back railroading: Our crew switched the engine to the downhill side, collected our tickets upon departure, and returned a few minutes later with a basket full of small fruity liqueurs. I chose blackberry flavored with the image of a locomotive on the front.

A check of the forecast showed my plans for photography on the mountain were going to be dashed by rain and cold on Saturday. Nevertheless, on Saturday morning, I arose early and headed to the engine terminal to view in amazement seven steam locomotives hot, not unlike Durango at the height of the tourist season. I watched the parade of trains leave town, at 8:30, 9:40, and 10:25 a.m. Then I bought a ticket for the 11:55 to Eisfelder Talmulhle, the junction with the line from Quedlinburg. After leaving the line to Brocken, the railroad dashed along high plains not unlike parts of the C&TS and then arrived at Eisfelder Talmulhle, a station that reminds me of GSMR’s Nantahala Gorge in western North Carolina. Riding a train in the rain is much better than getting wet, and another fan from Germany and I took seats in the first coach behind the engine on the return tip and enjoyed the sound of the hog at work.

So, if you want to see what a narrow gauge steam line with block signals, concrete and steel ties, and a fleet of hard working locomotives looks like, head on over, and bring good weather. Just tell me when you’re going. I want to go back and get my pictures!

Engineer on the Harz departing Wernigerode












An engineer on the Harz studies the line ahead before departing Wernigerode. Jim Wrinn photo


engine terminal in Wernigerode












The engine terminal in Wernigerode on a typical Friday afternoon. Jim Wrinn photo


Harz steam train summit at Brocken












As viewed from another train, a Harz steam train bounds upgrade for the summit at Brocken. Jim Wrinn photo


2-10-2T on the point

























A Harz train climbs the grade toward Brocken with a 2-10-2T on the point. Jim Wrinn photo

Train on the Harz descends from Brocken












 A downward bound train on the Harz descends from Brocken. Jim Wrinn photo 

Front of one of the Harz’s 2-10-2Ts












 Here’s what the front of one of the Harz’s 2-10-2Ts looks like from the first coach behind the engine on the downward trip. Jim Wrinn photo


Steam train departs Wernigerode










A steam train departs Wernigerode in the rain on Saturday. Jim Wrinn photo

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