The Brocken, or Blocksberg, is the highest peak in the Harz Mountains in Germany and also the highest peak of northern Germany; it is located between the rivers Weser and Elbe. Although its altitude (1,141 metres) is below alpine dimensions, its microclimate resembles that of mountains of 2000 m altitude. The peak tends to have a snow cover from September to May, and mists and fogs shroud it up to 300 days of the year. The mean annual temperature is only 2.9 °C. It is the easternmost mountain in North Germany; travelling East in a straight line, the next elevation would be the Ural Mountains.
The Brocken has always played a role in legends and has been connected with witches and devils; Goethe took up the legends in his Faust, in which he also referred to the mountain. The Brocken spectre is a common phenomenon on this misty mountain, where a climber's shadow cast upon fog creates eerie optical effects.
Today the Brocken is part of a national park and hosts a historic botanical garden of mountain plants, founded in 1890. A narrow gauge steam railway, the Brockenbahn (part of the Harzer Schmalspurbahn), takes visitors from Wernigerode in the north and Nordhausen in the south to the railway station at the top. The mountain features numerous hiking trails.
FM-radio and television broadcasting make major use of the Brocken. The old TV tower, the Sender Brocken, is now used as hotel and restaurant. It also has an observation deck, open to all tourists.
On this mountain the world's first television tower was built in 1935; it began by broadcasting the Deutsche Reichspost. It carried the first television broadcast of the Olympic Games – from the 1936 Summer Games in Berlin. The tower continued functioning until September, 1939, when the authorities suspended broadcasting on the outbreak of World War II.
Allied forces bombed the Brocken on April 17, 1945, destroying the Brocken Hotel and the weather station, but not the television tower. American forces used the installation from 1945 to 1947. Before the Americans left the Brocken in 1947, they disabled the rebuilt weather station and the television tower.
Between 1973 to 1976 a new modern television tower was built for the second GDR-TV. Today the second German TV station (Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen (ZDF)) uses this tower.
From 1957 the Brocken constituted a security zone, and after construction of the Berlin Wall began on August 13, 1961, East German authorities designated it as a military high-grade security zone and turned it into a fortress. Due to its high altitude the station also served to spy on communication signals from the surrounding area. Border troops took up quarters at the Brocken railway station, and the Soviet Red Army used a large portion of territory. The Stasi (East German secret police) used the television tower until 1985, when they moved to a new building – now a museum. To seal the area, the entire Brocken plateau was then surrounded by a concrete wall, built from 2,318 sections, each one 2.4 tons in weight and 3.60 metres high. The wall has since been dismantled, as have the Russian barracks and the domes of their listening posts.
Since the restricted access to the area and the unique climate provided outstanding conditions, the Brocken area is still covered with Germany extremely rare primary forest. It provides perfect conditions for endangered and in Germany nearly extinct species like Eurasian Lynx, Wildcat and Capercaillie. Therefore, it was protected as Harz National Park commencing in 1990.
Goethe may have gained inspiration from two rock formations on the mountain's summit, the Teufelskanzel (Devil's Pulpit) and the Hexenaltar (Witches' Altar).