Friday, October 2, 2009

Bad Harzburg

I love a town that loves its witches. On the eve of every April 30th, the people of Bad Harzburg celebrate Walpurgisnacht (Night of the Witches). Legend has it that the witches convene with the devil on this night. However, some sources say that the witches fight the devil and others say that the witches convene with themselves.
Whichever the case, these days the festival is more symbolic of springtime; the fairytale is that witches fly in during the night, sweeping away all of the negativity and bad spirits from winter. A glorified spring cleaning and a celebration of light over darkness (the coming of spring).
While Walpurgisnacht is celebrated in the spring, figures of witches are found in Bad Harzburg throughout the year- as souvenirs for tourists, in shop windows, on the roofs of houses, on labels for various products. It’s like perpetual Halloween.
And Halloween is my favourite holiday. I was in Bad Harzburg just this past weekend, and was delighted to discover that Bad Harzburg was celebrating yet another festival: KastanienFest (Kastanien means “chestnut”). The streets were filled with vendors selling everything from scarves to wooden toys. Smells drifted from food stalls selling goodies such as candy apples and bratwurst, crisp and hot off the grill. Music from buskers playing accordions, bag pipes, flutes, and other instruments mingled with the chatter and laughter of the people milling about.
Bad Harzburg appears to be this sleepy little mountain town, evident by its population of old people. However, a closer look reveals that there is a mischievous and mystical character about the town and its people. In addition to the witches, other fairytale delights freckle the town. For example, a large fountain sits just off of the main street. Numerous sculptures of strange creatures- mermaids, dwarves, nymphs- perch on the fountain, most of them naked, some of them shooting water out of their penises or from wine bottles, and all of them with a naughty twinkle in their eye. One of the dwarves even has his hand around his dick as he gazes at another naked dwarf with huge breasts (check out the dwarf to the right in the picture). Alcohol, debauchery, and sex. And that’s all just in one fountain.
If you take the sky tram up the mountain and into the forest that’s at the edge of the town, you’ll enter a real fairytale, or what‘s left of it. Hidden from site deep within the forest is the Harzburg Castle. Once mighty and strong, the castle is now in ruins, making the grounds feel spooky and haunted.
Hiking trails criss-cross the mountains and forests, leading to waterfalls and spectacular views. Bad Harzburg may be renowned for its spas and as a place to retire, but the town also offers mischief and fun for a person who’s more of the adventurous type. While much of Bad Harzburg’s residents may be elderly, if you look closely, you’ll notice that they all have a twinkle in their eye.

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