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For the Very First Time… Snow! Wintertime in the Harz Mountains

by Silke Elzner

In the first week of this year, we went on a short trip to the Harz Mountains, an area right in the heart of Germany, just abour 3.5 hours from Berlin. An exciting trip for the whole family, but even more so for the children who had grown up under the Australian sun. Because if all you know is sunshine and the beach, a day covered in snow can be the most amazing experience of your life. Their joy was indeed infectious, it transported us right back to our own childhoods…

Ever wondered if travelling with kids would be fun? If you can gift them with an experience like this it’s all worth the trouble!

When was the first time that you had seen snow? If you grew up in the UK or the US, chances are that it happened so early in your life that you may not even remember this magical moment. Our daughter, however, had to wait until right before her tenth birthday to finally experience real snow. It all happened on the first Friday of the new year. A day that will now be in our memories forever.

For many years, our daughter had begged us to take her to see the snow. In Australia, this had been near impossible, Spain was no different. Now that we had moved to Germany we knew that this year would the year. But since there was no snow in sight in Berlin, we eventually decided to leave the city for a short trip to chase the snow. Now, when you live in Berlin there are two possible regions you can try for winter sports: the Iron Mountains in the south, or the Harz Mountains in the west. Since I was also intrigued by the idea of visiting the historic town of Quedlinburg, we decided to give the Harz Mountains a chance.

However, when we arrived in Quedlinburg on the foot of the Brocken mountain, the weather was not ideal for snow. Too warm and too dry. The forecast left us with just one day in the whole week with a chance of snow: that Friday just before we had to return home. And so we risked everything and just gave it go. What we didn’t know that morning was how quickly we would be surrounded by the pure white of snow.

From one moment to the next the landscape changed and presented us with a winter wonderland.

A Trip To a White, White World

Our trip to the snow started in the beautiful town of Quedlinburg. Our plan was to head to the Harz Mountains and hope for the best. Since we hadn’t been to the area before, we selected a couple of sights along the way just in case that we wouldn’t encounter any of the forecasted snow.

The Harz Mountains are a mystical and remote area in Germany, where witches are rumoured to have lived for centuries. Accordingly, our destination of choice was the Hexentanzplatz (literally Witches’ Dance Floor), a famous high plateau where celebrations of that nature would take place every year on the 1st of May. We also had a look at possibly visiting the mining city of Goslar if everything else failed. We also found out that Braunlage was the premier winter resort in the Harz Mountains, so this would be a place to try too. Either way, we were keen to get on the road, snow or no snow, and have a bit of an adventure with the kids.

Little did we know that we would not get very far once we had reached the Harz region.

There is something magical about a snowy landscape. The way fresh snow changes the light is just special.

There is something magical about a snowy landscape. The way fresh snow changes the light is just special.

A Pleasant Powdery Surprise

As we approached the mountains, taking the highway that runs parallel to the Broken, we could catch first glimpses of glittering snow on the mountaintops. Our mood improved immediately, and there were quite a few “oh”s and “ah”s escaping our mouths. It was not yet enough to lure the kids away from their iPads but we got somewhat an idea of what we might be able to expect that day.

We left the highway and approached the small town of Bad Harzburg, sort of a gateway to the higher regions of the mountains. A small town with a little bit of tourism and the distinct flavour of a mountain town. Driving through, we could spot a cableway for tourist, a huge quarry, a lively waterfall, a holiday resort that was built right into the mountainside. And just like this, the atmosphere had changed radically.

But, alas, where was the snow? We continued driving through the town, climbing the road to the top of the mountain. Soon we had left the people behind and were surrounded by woodland. And suddenly, it all happened at once, almost like a miracle: snowflakes were hitting our windscreen! At first, you would almost not notice that there was snow in the air, but then the flakes got thicker and softer, dancing and tumbling down to earth. The forest around us got a soft cover of icing sugar. We had made it – we had arrived in a winter wonderland!

The clouds were low in the beginning but this didn't stop anyone from having fun on this first snowy day in the Harz region this year.

The clouds were low in the beginning but this didn’t stop anyone from having fun on this first snowy day in the Harz region this year.

An Unforgettable Experience: The Very First Snow

Just a few minutes later we were surrounded by whiteness. The kids put away their iPads, magically drawn to the views outside the car windows. Now it was their turn to cry “oh” and “ah”. The trees of the forest now stood on a white carpet, with flakes of snow dancing around them in a fog of cloudy air. The road disappeared under a cover of snow, trucks slowed down to a snail pace or stopped entirely, the wind was drifting the white snow, piling it up into small heaps.

We arrived at a village called Torfhaus. It was not much more than a holiday resort with a parking lot and a ski lift. But it was busy indeed, with groups and families heading out into the woods and onto the slopes to enjoy the winter goodness. We continued on our journey, slowly, carefully. We were still headed for the Hexentanzplatz further up the mountain. But then Google Maps directed us up a service road which was clearly not a good idea at all. We decided to turn around and simply make use of the facilities in Torfhaus. After all, all we wanted was to touch the snow with our bare hands.

We spontaneously joined the crowds, paid for parking and freed the children from their car prison to run freely into the snow. Let’s go! Let’s have fun in this winter wonderland! Adventure, here we come!

After all these years without snow, a snowball fight was just the right way to celebrate the occasion.

After all these years without snow, a snowball fight was just the right way to celebrate the occasion.

Things we had Always Wondered About Snow

For many years my daughter had asked many questions about snow, having never experienced it herself. What does it feel like? Is it very cold? Is it soft like kitten’s fur? Is it ok if I catch it with my tongue? How does a snowball fight go? And how do I build a proper snowman?

But there were many more questions that she hadn’t even thought of asking yet because she had so little experience with snow. For example: Did you know, my dear daughter, that snow mutes all sounds around you? Do you know this very special smell that only lingers in the air on snowy days? Do you see how the light is cast back in a very special way, brighter, colder and yet cosy? It was high time to introduce this child to something very, very new indeed.

Wrapped up as if we were facing a nuclear winter we left the car and dived into the wintery landscape of the Harz mountains. We knew that we didn’t need to go far to provide the kids with an unforgettable experience. A lawn or some free space covered in snow would suffice. As it turned out, that was all we could offer anyway because it seemed that there were a thing or two that I had forgotten about winter weather as well.

Within moments the kids were busy exploring the endless options of fun activities in the snow.

Within moments the kids were busy exploring the endless options of fun activities in the snow.

The First Snowball Battle of Their Lives

Soon we realised that we weren’t prepared at all. My shoes had holes and my socks were wet within a minute or two. My coat was not waterproof and soaked me from the top as well. I had only packed two pairs of gloves, woollen ones at that, so that the kids’ fingers were icy cold in no time at all. With no profile in my soles, I was in danger of slipping at any moment.

Yet still, the joy about our snow adventure topped it all. Seeing the kids at play, making their first discoveries in the snow, made up for any pain and discomfort. Within minutes the first real snowball fight was unfolding in front of me. Shrieking kids threw masses of snowballs at each other which found their targets with a satisfying thump! Oh, the joy! Marvellous!

Due to my bad decisions in regards to footwear, I was condemned to stay in one place to avoid any slips and falls. On the upside, this left me with plenty of opportunities to capture this magical moment with my camera, the innocent fun of the kids, and to join in with their infectious laughter. A few moments later we returned to the car. Frozen to the core, wet, in pain, but immensely happy.

Winter wonderland in the Harz Mountains, one of the snowy regions in the centre of Germany in winter.

Winter wonderland in the Harz Mountains, one of the snowy regions in the centre of Germany in winter.

An Unforgettable Family Trip to the Harz Mountains

In the end, it had just been a short episode in the snow. But for us, it was worth every minute. We left the mountains and returned to a snow-free reality, to warm up in one of the Goslar restaurants. The cold and the snow had surprised us and we were just not equipped to face this weather.

Without a doubt, the children will never forget this trip to the mountains. We are lucky that we had the chance to share this moment with them, to be part of this childhood memory.

I am sure we will be back. There is so much more to see here including the Hexentanzplatz that we need to return to satisfy our curiosity. In summer, we may give it another chance.