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Saturday, 28 December 2013 18:29

Harzer Schmalspurbahnen (HSB)

Written by Mike
99 7232 departing Hasserode with 09.10 Wernigerode to Brocken service, 11 February 2007 99 7232 departing Hasserode with 09.10 Wernigerode to Brocken service, 11 February 2007

Not too far from the UK is a place where you can find daily steam operations, often with up to eight engines in steam.  Better than that, most of them are massive 2-10-2T tank locos that thrash up a steep track to a mountain top that is very often snow-covered from December to March.  What more could you want?

I’m talking about the famous metre gauge Harz system in Germany of course – or the Harzer Schmalspurbahnen (HSB) to give it its proper name.

It helps if you think of the Harz system as being three systems combined into one.  They are:

  • Wernigerode to Drei Annen to Brocken (Some Brocken trains start at Drei Annen)
  • Wernigerode to Drei Annen to Nordhausen
  • Selketalbahn from Talmühle (Junction with HSB) and Quedlinburg - the more lightly used section to Quedlinburg

Harzer Schmalspurbahnen (HSB) system map

You will note from this that the section from Wernigerode to Drei Annen is shared between services going to the Brocken and those continuing south to Nordhausen.  Drei Anned is a junction, and that makes it a great place to watch the fairly intensive train service.

To find out more about the Harzer Schmalspurbahnen (HSB) in English:


The Harz system is in the old East Germany, so English is not as widely spoken as it is in the old West Germany.  Having said that, with patience and a lot of smiles I’ve never had a problem. Bear in mind English started to be taught universally in schools when the country re-unified, so if you find yourself in a fix, find a young person to help you.

Train service

Even in the winter, the service is surprisingly intensive.  In the three timetables, refer to the second set of times – “Winterfahrplan gültig vom 30.11.2013 bis 25.04.2014”.

The timetables cover the three sections of the HSB:

Fancy a ride up to the Brocken?

The top station is in a tightly managed nature reserve and you can’t drive there.  You can walk to the summit, but if you are going in less than clement weather be sure to dress properly.  The difference in temperature between Drei Annen and the Brocken can be quite startling.

If you take the train to the Brocken the return fare to the summit is €32 regardless of start point. The trip to the Brocken takes about two hours from Wernigerode and one hour from Drei Annen.

Loco sheds

Can visit the loco shed?

The HSB has a running shed and the system’s workshops at Wernigerode.  With smiles and diplomacy I’ve never been refused, and I have even been there at night with tripods etc.  In fact it might be easier at night when there is less risk of Jo Public following you in.

There is some sort of loco servicing facility at Nordhausen, but I’ve never been there.  The Selketalbahn shed/workshops is at Gernrode.  Again, I’ve never been there so don’t know what there is.


Will I get snow shots?

I just checked now.  There’s already 30cm (1 foot) of snow at the Brocken (December 2013).

Check out three live webcams to see what the weather is like right now.  Note all open in a new window.  (It’s live – if you look at night everything is strangely dark!)



Possibility of snow?  Yes – especially above Drei Annen on the way up to the Brocken.  My last visit in early February 2007 had a lot of snow everywhere, even down in Wernigerode.

Getting there

The easiest way to get to Wernigerode and the HSB is by air with easyJet.  They fly frequently from a number of UK airports to Berlin Schöneberg airport.

Once you're there, you're almost certainly going to want a car to explore the Harz system, so the smart solution is to rent a car at the airport to drive to Wernigerode.  The drive from Berlin takes about two and a half hours of which a big chunk is autobahn.  easyJet offer special deals with Europcar so in the winter months you can get both flight and car at very attractive prices.

There are a host of hotels you can stay at in Wernigerode at varying price points.  Our favourite is the Hotel Der Kräuterhof directly opposite Drei Annen Station.  One morning I woke to the sounds of a steam loco, pulled the curtains and looked directly at a Mallet taking water.  How cool is that?  Again prices are generally attractive if you stay away from peak times.


Click to check out my Harz pictures.

Is it worth the effort?

You bet.  Get yourself there soon to shoot steam in the snow at the Brocken.




Mike McCormac has been a photographer since about ten years old.  He's a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society, and splits his time between living in Olney in the United Kingdom and a village in the hills near Paphos in Cyprus.

Read his full Bio

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