A Journey of Love in the Harz Mountains of Germany

November 20, 2008 Updated: October 1, 2015

Known for its clean and beneficial air, the town of Hahnenklee in the Harz Mountains of Germany had managed to survive into the 1990s on the income from a loyal group of gray-haired tourists.

Now the town’s 1,300 inhabitants can’t shake a feeling—that they have been transported to a 1970s-style museum. This is the story of a town’s transformation.

Hahnenklee is situated close to the border of the former East German Democratic Republic. With the change in the political landscape following the German Reunification, residents found their livelihood threatened. New money was being pumped into developing tourist venues to the east, and health insurance providers were cutting back their support of rest-cures for their subscribers.

It became more and more difficult for the people in Hahnenklee to fill their 4,000 guest beds. Those former loyal customers who had been satisfied with the laid-back, somewhat shop-worn atmosphere, were dying out. New retirees were more demanding, more spoiled and more agile. Not satisfied with local concerts, a dance, or a game of mini golf, they took their business elsewhere.

With guests staying away, venues became defunct and structures showed signs of disrepair and decay. It seemed almost as if the gray veil that had persisted in the Eastern Harz Mountains would cover this corner of the West Harz. The spa town of Hahnenklee, whose biggest drawing card had been a 1,000-year-old wooden Norwegian-style Stave Church, was in crisis. Something had to be done. 

New Strategies to Attract Potential Tourists

Inspiration came with news about another tourist town—a most uninteresting, war-ravaged town called Halberstadt. Halberstadt was publicized globally when avant-garde American composer John Cage wanted to sound a single organ note in an old church there for 639 consecutive years.

That was enough to mobilize the Hahnenklee city fathers and mothers to explore new strategies for luring tourists. What they came up with was good enough for the German Government to open its purse strings and finance the project with funds from cultural donations.  

Hahnenklee’s new plans?—high rope gardens, mountain biking, Nordic walking, snow boarding during the winter at nearby Bocksberg, and an array of new, fresh business opportunities. They even settled on a motto—“love”—to breach any generation gap and provide a market niche. Additional perks aimed at enticing vacationers to extend their visits are in the planning stages. The “Love Bench Path” is one of the new concepts.

Many Options to Encourage Extended Visits

"Follow your heart," declares Kerstin Appelt, Tourist Information Chair for Hahnenklee. The slight blonde woman with painted-on eyebrows leads a group of journalists through the neat and tidy town to the place of interest—the "Love-Bench Path." 

Beginning at the Stave Church, the group will follow the path for 4.3 miles (7 km.) to Bocksberg, passing lyrical landscapes, murmuring brooks, and various other attractions along the way.

The tourism bureau plans to erect sculptures with a love theme along the path to inspire the visitors. They are also planning for 25 artfully carved wooden benches with love themes. There will be a love gate and a love hut—all placed along the walkway as visitors make their way to the Bocksbergbaude Inn.

The "Love Spring" is advertised as a source of strength and the way to empower one’s capacity for love. A sculptor's design enhances this gentle water feature which is ensconced in an oval grotto. Further ahead, the path becomes steeper, affording the hiker a fascinating view of the Harz region.

The "Harz Gondolas," constructed of 200-year-old, hollowed out oak tree trunks, simulate the appearance of Venetian Love Gondolas. They will surely encourage the imagination of any lover, according to Ms. Appelt. One restaurant owner even suggested a Viagra Bench, but his idea was quickly dismissed as unacceptable—the  tourist office fearing for their reputation. A"Walk of Fame" is in the planning stages: Prominent loving couples will leave their footprints in concrete along the "Love Bench Path.”

Further information can be found at www.liebesbank.de (in German).