Zorge in the southern Harz lies – sheltered from the wind – deep in a narrow valley. People who have experienced the autumn magic, but also the cooler days in spring, understand that Zorge is a small paradise for hikers and mountain bikers. In front of a board which shows the many hiking trails of the village I casually get into conversation with Annelise Capon. The Belgian visits the Harz for the first time and is enthusiastic about what she has seen so far.
Annelise Capon can’t be deterred by the sometimes-harsh climate of the Harz Mountains. On the contrary: “Even between 6 and 17 degrees you can hike quite well” says the 48-year-old, “even if my friends, who are drawn into the warmth, can’t understand it at all”.
“Nothing comparable in Belgium”
Capon works as an expert for work safety in Ghent. What excites someone from a dream city like Ghent to come to the Harz Mountains? “In Ghent there are only houses, in the Harz there is silence, nature and a lot of water everywhere – streams, rivers, lakes and dams. I like that.” There’s nothing like it in Belgium, not even the Ardennes could match it. Capon’s assessment would perhaps explain why more and more Belgians and especially Dutch people are moving to the Harz Mountains.
Annelise Capon, who likes to travel alone because of the silence in nature, has come to the Harz for six days. What has she seen so far? The Teufelsmauer (“wonderful”), the Oderteich (“very beautiful”). But she doesn’t need the hustle and bustle on the Torfhaus. “I’m only here for hiking.” And after two days she is already convinced: “I’ll come back. Absolutely.” She’s even thinking about buying a house in the Harz Mountains. “Here it is beautiful in both summer and winter.”
“A computer scientist refuels.”
Pascal Treiber has come to Zorge with his son Theo to hike in the beautiful autumn sun. He reports enthusiastically about the “beautifully situated stamping point ‘Bremer Klippe'”. Treiber works in Hamburg as a business IT specialist for the publisher Gruner + Jahr. Younger colleagues of his regularly go hiking or mountain biking in the Harz Mountains. “You can really recharge your batteries after a busy day” he says.
Does Gruner + Jahr support the trend for friends of nature experiences? “Yes indeed” smiles Pascal Treiber, “we regularly publish the outdoor magazine ‘Walden'”.
At the bell tower high above Zorge I meet a young church musician from Goslar who immediately disagrees with me when I try to give preference to the mixed and deciduous forest of the southern Harz Mountains over the sometimes dark fir forest of the northern Harz Mountains. Both have their charm.
“Hiking trail on the former death strip.”
Zorge, situated on the little river of the same name, is an elongated street village with almost 1000 inhabitants. On one of the at least eight hiking trails – most of which offer wonderful views – you walk along the “Todesstreifen” (death strip), the former inner-German border, today a real biotope, the “Grüne Band”. Zorge is the southeasternmost tip of Lower Saxony and lies in the triangle of three German federal states, explains a friendly gentleman in the tourist information. Thuringia is within reach and Saxony-Anhalt is only four kilometres away.
The road from Zorge to Hohegeiß is – because of little car traffic – popular with racing cyclists, but quite exhausting, as there are about 300 metres of altitude to overcome on the seven-kilometres route. Mountain bikers, on the other hand, prefer to use the many varied forest paths.
“Glen Els: Highly praised whisky from the Elsbach Valley”
What is Zorge still known for today, apart from its ideal location for hikers, racing cyclists and mountain bikers? Since 2005 Zorge has been home to the Glen Els, the Harz Single Malt Whisky. It is distilled in the “Hammerschmiede” at Elsbach next to spice liqueur and fruit brandy. The basis: Harz water of the highest quality from the large Staufenberg spring in the Elsbach Valley.
The growth of the manufactory and distillery, which employs ten people, speaks for itself. In 2017, around 25,000 bottles of Glen Els and 50,000 in total were sold. Visitors to the “Hammerschmiede”, whose history dates back to the 13th century, are particularly impressed by the extensive warehouse with its 700 barrels.
The Malt’s of Zorge have received the accolade of none other than Jim Murray, who has praised them in his Whisky Bible as absolute top products, even in comparison with Scottish Malt’s.
“Most important industrial site of the Duchy of Brunswick”
Zorge’s successful industrial past has almost fallen into oblivion: in 1570 the town developed into the most important industrial site of the former Duchy of Brunswick due to mining and ironworks. Both economic sectors shaped Zorge until the end of the 19th century. In 1842 the Brunswick State Railway built the first two state-ordered German steam locomotives in Zorge. Over the years a total of six steam locomotives were produced, and later the smaller industrial locomotives.
Text, photos and design: Michael Hotop, Jochen Hotop