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The Devil’s Wall in the Harz Mountains: Where God and the Devil Divided the World Between Themselves

by Silke Elzner

Right in the heart of the Harz region in the middle of Germany you will find a very strange place. People call it the Devil’s Wall. It is a surprisingly high wall of rocks on a mountain ridge, several metres in height and so crooked that it seems to be toppling over any minute. This rock formation is so unusual that the people living in its shadow have been telling stories and myths about it for generations. 

The Devil’s Wall in Germany’s Harz region is an amazing site to visit, a place like no other. Since I have a weakness for unusual places, I had no choice but to add it to our itinerary when we were visiting the area earlier this year.

Come and join us on our short winter hike.

Our climb up to the Devil's Wall was under the watchful eye of tree trolls which were following our every step.

Our climb up to the Devil’s Wall was under the watchful eye of tree trolls which were following our every step.

When God and the Devil Built a Wall to Keep the Peace

There were many fairytales surrounding the Devil’s Wall. Local children would know of at least one or two stories that tried to explain this strange phenomenon of the rocky range. All of these stories would usually include a core where God and the Devil would agree to divide the world between themselves.

The legend goes that one night the Devil started to build a wall around his lands. The Devil’s plan was to keep the Harz region for himself while God was to get the lands beyond the border. Besides this common core element of the tale, the rest of the stories always differed. For some reason or another, the Devil would fail at his task which was why the Devil’s Wall looked somewhat incomplete.

Not just storytellers but also geologists have been taking an interest in the rocks. Yet, the scientific explanation was rather simple and almost unimaginative. The Devil’s Wall consisted of a thick layer of hard limestone. Over time, tectonic movements have brought the layer into an upright position. Natural erosion washed away any softer material over time, leaving behind the hard rock.

However, this latter explanation did sound a bit too sober for my liking. I preferred to add some fantasy to the facts. And I am positive that I am not alone with this notion. For example, famous German poet Goethe visited the Devil’s Wall near Weddersleben to conduct geological studies. As a poet, I am sure he was equally smitten with the folklore surrounding the site. I was wondering, did he also see the mystical relevance that the place must have had for the people living in its shadow? Or did he simply follow scientific principles when inspecting the wall? I would like to think that in the age of romanticism a man like Goethe could hardly resist the fairytale appeal of the site either.

In the winterly landscape of Central Germany, the Devil's Wall near Weddersleben seemed like an inexplicable freak of nature.

In the winterly landscape of Central Germany, the Devil’s Wall near Weddersleben seemed like an inexplicable freak of nature.

The Century-Old Fascination With the Rock Wall

There was evidence that humans had been settling in the vicinity of the Devil’s Wall for thousands of years. They had probably been attracted by the shelter that such a wall might provide. Archaeologists found pottery and hand-axes nearby. The scientists also suspected foundations of an early settlement in its vicinity. Since these early days of humankind, not just the elements have shaped the appearance of the wall. For hundreds of years, men sourced the readily available stone for building materials. Luckily, around 100 years ago the Devil’s Wall was put under protection which stopped the rapid decline of the site with immediate effect. Today, we had to be thankful for this protection order as the site was still largely intact.

As we were climbing the 100 metres to the top of the hill we passed by strange wooden trolls and red-berried winter trees. It surely felt a little bit as if we had come under a spell. A mystical charm which caught us off-guard with every step. Only as we were standing right underneath the wall we could finally sense the amazing size of the formation. The comparatively thin stones, the weird angles that seemed to defy gravity.

It almost appeared as if the rocks would come tumbling down with the next gust.

It almost appeared as if the rocks would come tumbling down with the next gust.

A Short Stroll Along the Devil’s Wall

We followed the wall for a couple of hundred metres. Up here on the ridge of the hill we enjoyed great views over the surrounding countryside and the nearby villages. After our climb up to the top of the hill we were now blissfully protected from the cold winter winds. As it turned out, the Devil’s Wall was indeed a great wind-breaker. Every couple of metres we could make out broad gaps in the wall which opened the view to the other side. Many of these omissions were a result of glacial movements during the Ice Age, but some of them might have been man-made as well.

The path followed the length of the wall, some 20 kilometres in total. We could only cover a short section of that walk but the experience was wholesome enough for us. In one spot, the path even allowed a close approach which was a great way to find out how small a person could feel next to the many metres high rocks. Their shapes inspired us to think of new names for them. For example, one of them seemed to look like a sitting lion, proudly overlooking the landscape like the ruler of the animal kingdom that he was.

Our walk would only be a short version of the complete path that wanderers might wish to take along the side of the wall. However, we felt that that this particular section might be one of the most amazing sections of the wall overall. A site where the rocks were the tallest and the natural elevation in the countryside offered the best views. Before we returned to our car, we took one last look at how the wall and the path next to it seemed to disappear in the distance. Almost like the Great Wall of China.

As it happens all over the world, people enjoy making up names for unusual shapes in nature. Many of the rocks of the Devil's Wall have official names. For us, this particular rock did resemble a sitting lion overlooking the countryside near Weddersleben.

As it happens all over the world, people enjoy making up names for unusual shapes in nature. Many of the rocks of the Devil’s Wall have official names. For us, this particular rock did resemble a sitting lion overlooking the countryside near Weddersleben.

At the end of the day, the Wall is What you Make of it

The big difference, of course, was that the Great Wall of China was a work of men and not the result of many million years of complicated geological processes. But don’t you agree that this was a rather boring way of looking at it?

I prefer to think of the Devil’s Wall as a site where Good and Bad fought over the souls of the living. A mystical place where humble rocks could tell stories. Stories that were so unlike anything that we mere humans would ever experience. These were stories that our inner self craved to explain the world around us. A means to find a sense of security and inner peace.

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What you need to know before you go:

The Devil’s Wall, German: Teufelsmauer, is a worthwhile excursion in the Harz Mountains. The Harz is a region right in the heart of Germany. The section that we visited near Weddersleben was a very easy walk and can also be done with little children in tow. We parked the car on a parking lot near Bode Bridge. You will find it on the road between Neinstedt and Weddersleben. Then follow on foot the signs to Teufelsmauer-Stieg. The initial climb is via well-maintained stairs of wood and dirt and takes around 15 minutes. Once on top, you may follow the length of the wall for as long as you like. Since you are already in the area, make sure you also visit the nearby historical cities of Quedlinburg or Goslar.

The Devil's Wall continued well into the distance but for us it was time to turn around and get back to our car.

The Devil’s Wall continued well into the distance but for us it was time to turn around and get back to our car.