The Harzer Schmalspurbahnen (HSB) in Germany is a metre gauge (3 feet - 3 3/8 inches) railway comprised of several branches totaling 140 kilometres (87 miles) in length. With just four days to explore the area only the line from Wernigerode to the Brocken is included in this article, a distance of approximately 32 kilometres (20 miles). The line is steeply graded through forest as it connects Wernigerode with the Brocken station at a summit of 1,125 metres (3,691 feet). When this area was part of the GDR (German Democratic Republic, commonly known as East Germany in North America) a Soviet listening post monitored the West from the mountain top which is the tallest peak of the Harz Mountains. 2-10-2T steam locomotives are the main motive power used on this section of the network but an articulated engine was also spotted in service.
This photograph by Daniel Simon, published on the web, was the item that spiked my interest in the HSB. The freight train has just emerged from the fog near the Brocken summit and has been stopped by two soldiers of the GDR border troops. They will now very carefully inspect the complete train and search for persons attempting to flee the GDR. In the former GDR, the border troops were closely watched to ensure that they could not take advantage of their inside knowledge to escape across the inner German border. Patrols were always manned by two or three guards at a time. They were not allowed to be out of each others' sight in any circumstances. If a guard attempted to escape, his colleagues were under instructions to shoot him without hesitation or prior warning. 2,500 did escape to the West. 5,500 more were caught and jailed while a number were killed or injured in their escape attempt. The photo was staged during a 16 Feb 2011 Bernd Seiler charter. Notice the rolling stock. It consists of standard gauge cars riding on narrow gauge flatcars known as rollbockwagen.
The present HSB can be divided into three sections:
Today's HSB was assembled from just two original railways. The first, formed in 1897 but later expanded, was known as the Gernrode-Harzgerode Railway Company (GHE). It connected Gernrode to Harzgerode, Hasselfelde, and Eisfelder Talmühle. Because the line followed a portion of the river Selke it was nicknamed the Selke Valley Railway. The second railway, formed in 1896, the Nordhausen-Wernigerode Railway Company (NWE) operated between Wernigerode and the Brocken. Shortly after the end of the Second World War, in 1949, these two became part of the Deutsche Reichsbahn (East German State Railways) of the GDR. German reunification occurred in 1990. In 1993 the private railway company, Harzer Schmalspurbahnen GmbH (HSB) took over all rolling stock, rail lines, and staff from the Deutsche Reichsbahn. The HSB in turn, is owned by the districts of Harz and Nordhausen, the communities along the railways, the town of Quedlinburg, the Municipality of Tanne, and the spa company of Braunlage.
HSB steam trains operate year-round to the summit at Brocken. At 1,125 metres (3,691 feet) the HSB station lies just below the actual summit but you can imagine the amount of snow that will accumulate there during wintertime. Planning for the trip to Wernigerode and the Brocken summit began in February of 2013 with the intention of arriving there in late April. Due to the necessity of travelling light (1 aircraft carry-on bag) there was no possibility of bringing winter clothing. This became a concern after discovering the HSB have a web camera mounted on the Brocken station overlooking the platforms there. As it turned out winter clothing was not required, brrr... that was cutting it close.
Here are two types of HSB locomotives found on the Brockenbahn section:
Dampfladen No. 6 (steam store) is the Harzer Schmalspurbahnen souvenir shop located at the corner of Westernstraße and Heidestraße in Wernigerode a half block west of the Marktplatz (market square). Besides a small garden railway inside the shop, souvenirs and even tickets to ride the HSB are for sale. The main HSB Wernigerode station lies immediately beside the DB station in Wernigerode and also sells souvenirs and tickets. A second HSB station known as Westerntor is also located within Wernigerode offering the same. This store, Westerntor station, and Wernigerode station are all within walking distance of each other. Westerntor is also the location of the HSB maintenance shops.
Here are just a few examples of HSB souvenirs for sale at the above locations or that may be ordered online from the HSB Dampfshop:
6 May 2013 - HSB Congratulations on 150