Walpurgis Night on April 30 is an old pagan festival, which borrowed its name from Saint Walburga whose feast occurs on May Day. On this night witches are believed to ride on broomsticks to places of old pagan sacrifices in the Harz Mountains, especially to the Brocken. The Brocken, the highest peak in the Harz Mountains, is considered the focal point of Walpurgisnacht. Also known as the Blocksberg, the 1142-meter peak is often shrouded in mist and clouds, lending it a mysterious atmosphere that has contributed to its legendary status as the home of witches (Hexen) and devils (Teufel). There, they dance around a huge fire and worship their lord the devil, who bestows them with new magic power.
The writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) in Faust writes that the witches come on Walpurgis night and sing:
"Now to the Brocken the witches ride; the stubble is gold and the corn is green; There is the carnival crew to be seen, And Squire Urianus will come to preside. So over the valleys our company floats, with witches a-farting on stinking old goats."
Historically, it is most likely that the witches celebrating on the Brocken were ordinary humans that were forced to Christianity by Charlemagne. They still adhered to their pagan religion and went secretly in the mountains to worship their gods,hooded or masked to protect themselves.
"There is a mountain very high and bare...whereon it is given out that witches hold their dance on Walpurgis night"
Jacob Grimm, 1883.
If tales of goddesses, witches, and diabolism weren't enough, the Brockenberg also engenders a meteorological phenomenon: the Brockengespenst, or spectre of the Brocken. Given the right atmospheric conditions, the mountain can produce an eerie optical illusion. As the sun sinks, the shadow of a walker cast from a ridge becomes magnified and an enormous silhouette appears on low-lying clouds or mist banks below the mountain. Although it's only a shadow, the distant "spectre" appears to be walking at the same pace, doggedly tracking the observer's path. The name Brocken spectre came into use among mountaineers after a climber fell to his death on the Brocken. Not realising that he was observing his own shadow, the climber apparently lost his footing after being startled by a rainbow haloed figure emerging from the mists. Forest pathways snake through Brocken National Park, shrouded in mist, their gnarled limbs dripping with moss and lichens, the trees seem to close in behind the hiker. With names such as the Witch's Altar and Devil's Pulpit, bizarre rock formations rise from the forest floor. In the brooding green half-light, the rocks take on a malevolent appearance.
Even in modern times this night has significance, Adolf Hitler, with several members of his staff including Joseph Goebbels, committed suicide on Walpurgisnacht, April 30, 1945.
Today in Harz it is used as a time for celabration and party for the whole family. You will see witches and devils walking around the towns, people come from all over Germany and the world to celbrate this event. Booking ahead is advisable for this time. In Schierke over 20,000 people can meet up. Walpurgis evening is a fun time for all the family not just for the party animal. Children can dress up in various costumes and the night has a very child friendly feeling. At midnight the beginning of Spring is launched with much noise and fireworks to drive the witches away.