The Harzer Wandernadel (literally: "Harz Walking Badge") is a system of hiking badges based on a network of checkpoints in the Harz mountains in central Germany. The hiker (or mountain biker) can earn badges at different levels of challenge by walking to the various checkpoints in the network and stamping his or her passbook to record the visit. With 222 checkpoints in three federal states and across five districts in the Harz and with membership in five figures, the system has gained a following Germany-wide.
The idea of the Wandernadel ("hiking badge") is to give those holidaying in the Harz a worthwhile goal to achieve and encourage them to stay for longer or return. It also aims to encourage those who live in the local area to go hiking and improve their fitness.
In addition the system helps tourists and locals to get to know the many, varied and attractive sights and hiking trails in the Harz. To that end, checkpoints have been located at scenic viewing points, places of geological or botanical interest and locations that are either rich in culture or steeped in history. With a few exceptions, the checkpoints can only be reached on foot or bicycle.
Hiking badge system
The Harz hiking badge can be awarded at several levels depending on the number of checkpoints reached (verified by stamping a pass book):
- 8 stamps: Harz hiking badge in bronze
- 16 stamps: Harz hiking badge in silver
- 24 stamps: Harz hiking badge in gold
- 50 stamps: Harz Hiking King (Wanderkönig) or Queen (Wanderkönigin)
- 111 stamps: Harz Mining Foreman (Steiger) (111 different control points, of which 22 are special checkpoints connected with mining in the Harz)
- 222 stamps: Harz Hiking Emperor (Wanderkaiser) or Empress (Wanderkaiserin)
The awards may be earned over any period of time; there is no time limit within which the stamps have to be collected.
In addition there are special themed hiking badges that may be earned. For example there is one for collecting 11 stamps on checkpoints located on the Harzer Hexenstieg the "Harz Witch's Path". Others include a Goethe Way (Goetheweg) badge and an Inner German Border badge.
It is also possible, in addition to collecting all 222 stamps, to collect several additional special stamps that are recorded at the end of a walking pass. These special stamps are only collector's items and do not count towards any award.
Process for getting a hiking badge
Before visiting checkpoints and starting to collect stamps, the hiker first needs to buy a hiking pass book (Wanderpass); these can be obtained cheaply online or in the tourist and spa facilities in the towns and villages of the Harz, in participating pubs within the network and in some bookshops. It is also worthwhile buying a set of 3 maps on which the checkpoints are marked, although this information can be found in other ways, including the organiser's website. The website first published its English pages in 2012 with the support of the British garrison in Hohne.
The pass must be stamped at each checkpoint. If the stamp is missing or damaged, a code number can be noted down as an alternative. This ensures that vandalism should not prevent hikers from collecting points towards their badges.
On gaining the requisite number of stamps, the pass is handed in again at a counter and the badges can be bought at little cost after the pass has been checked. The Foreman (Steiger) and Emperor (Kaiser) badges can only be obtained from the Harzer Wandernadel main office in Blankenburg, which is only open Monday to Friday during working hours.
The Harz hiking badge is significantly different from many other hiking badge systems. For example, there are hardly any other places where there is a system with as many as 222 control points crossing state and district boundaries. In addition the system is relatively well protected from vandalism and can be set up anywhere on the terrain, whilst with other systems the checkpoints are at restaurants, shops, etc., and can only be used during opening hours.
Unlike other hiking badge projects, the hassle of enrolling as a 'customer' is avoided, because the stamps may be collected freely without needing to supply anyone with a telephone number or address.
The initiator and operator is the Gesund älter werden im Harz ("Grow old healthily in the Harz") with its head office in Blankenburg, which is supported by various public institutions. The first checkpoints were set up in 2006; since 2007 the current system of 222 control points has been available. There are no plans to extend it, however the checkpoints are sometimes relocated to different places in the Harz.
The system soon gained extraordinary popularity, as can clearly be seen from the number of walkers stamping their passes at the control points. In 2009 alone about 10,000 hiking passes were sold. It is also noteworthy that in each year there has been a three-figure number of walkers that have achieved the highest award, the "Harz Hiking Emperor". Because the control points are spread across a 110 km long and 30 - 40 km wide range of low mountains, that can only mean that individuals have spent a total of several weeks driving by car or motorcycle to the area of the checkpoints, and then walking or cycling on the hiking trails.
Some of examples of checkpoints in the Harzer Wandernadel are listed below:
|1||Eckertalsperre (Staumauer)||Barrier of the Ecker Dam||4 km SE of Bad Harzburg|
|5||Froschfelsen||The Froschfelsen rock formation that looks like a frog||2 km SW of Ilsenburg|
|9||Brocken||The Brocken, the highest peak in the Harz||Brocken summit|
|17||Trudenstein||The Trudenstein rock formation||2.5 km NE of Schierke|
|80||Burgruine Regenstein||Regenstein Castle||2 km N of Blankenburg|
|98||Ruine Hohnstein||Hohnstein Castle||1 km NNE of Neustadt/Harz|
|101||Einhornhöhle||Unicorn Cave, a popular show cave||near Scharzfeld|
|122||Kreuz des Deutschen Ostens||An Ostlandkreuz, a cross in memory of former eastern German lands||Above Bad Harzburg to the SE|
List of checkpoints
The following is a list of all the checkpoints as at December 2012. They are listed by their German names used by the Harzer Wandernadel.