Leaving the buildings of Torfhaus behind us we follow along the Goethe Trail, turning to the right into a forest of spruce trees. During the summer months we soon turn off to the left onto a wood board walk. Here the woods thins, revealing a large slightly mounded piece of ground. We are in the middle of the Great Torfhaus Moor, also known as the Radauer Born Moor, a high elevation moor which is one of the largest and oldest in the Harz. Its origin dates back to 8,300 B.C.
The moors are among the most untouched of the Harz National Park's natural landscape. They provide unique environments which are gravely endangered, offering special habitats in which the plant and animal species adapted to these conditions can survive here. In the Great Torfhaus Moor grow, among other interesting plants, the dwarf birch and common bog sedge - two plants which are considered to be relics of the Ice Age.
The most important moor plants are the peat mosses which form a thick lawn here. With sufficient moisture they continue to grow in height while the lower portions die and form peat. In this manner the Great Torfhaus Moor has built a thick layer of peat measuring 6.5 m maximum depth, seldom even in the Harz.
We follow along the man-made water channel, the Abbegraben, which was built after Goethe's walk. This 1,540 m long channel is a part of the Oberharz Water Regal national monument - a many-faceted system of ditches, lakes and underground water courses, which was built between 1536 and 1866 under great effort by the Harz miners to power their various "Künste", that is, their mechanical inventions to facilitate mining.
Although Goethe had to wind his way through difficult terrain, today we use the comfortable walking paths. We reach the Quitschenberg, on which in Goethe's time many "Quitschen" or rowan trees grew. Because the mining process devoured such great quantities of wood, the forests were replanted with fast-growing spruce trees.
Many of the spruce trees you see around you are dead, killed by the bark beetle. It, too, is a natural inhabitant of our forests. In masses they are able to kill the spruces, already weakened by environmental influences, in a short time. On the Quitschenberg, however, in contrast to the usual practice, the multiplication of bark beetles is not curtailed by chain saws, peelers or traps.
On the Quitschenberg, nature is left to heal herself by her own devices. The first positive results can be seen: many small sunlight-hungry rowan trees have overtaken the bare spots. Soon the first spruce trees will follow.
The National Park offers us the unique chance to re-naturalise the spruce forests of the High Harz. Very gently the natural transition of the former cultivated forest to natural woodland is being encouraged.