Once again on a hiking tour in the Harz Mountains near Clausthal-Zellerfeld, we met a young Dutchman who was hiking with a backpack, a small tent, an insulating mat and a sleeping bag.
We were quickly immersed in a conversation, as he also reported on his hometown, Giethoorn, which we know well. However, we got to his current project just as quickly, because he tells us about his current idea of hiking the "Harzer Hexenstieg", and he also referred to his parents, who are also enthusiastic hikers. In this context, he also showed us his "Hiker's Book Harzer Hexenstieg" and pointed out that a total of 20 stamps have to be hiked to on this hike if you want to receive the "Harzer Hexenstieg" hiking pin. His planning: travel by train to Osterode, then start his hike over the Brocken to Thale. He had planned five days for it!
Harzer Hexenstieg, hiking pin, stamps and stamp offices
We had often observed hikers on the way digging out a booklet from their backpack at certain places, then going to a small box with a number on it, opening it and printing a stamp in their hiking book. Our interest has gone no further. Inspired by our encounter, our interest was now aroused and so we started our research:
The Harzer hiking pin is a system for awarding active hikers. By achieving and documenting hiking destinations, they can obtain hiking pins of various degrees. With 222 stamp offices in the three federal states of Saxony-Anhalt, Lower Saxony and Thuringia in five districts in the Harz mountains and a five-digit number of participants, the system has gained great national importance.
The purpose of the hiking pin is to give Harz vacationers an attractive destination and to extend their stay. Holidaymakers and locals alike should be encouraged to go hiking.
In addition, the system helps hikers to get to know various particularly attractive hiking destinations and hiking trails. Efforts have been made to place the stamping points at viewpoints that are particularly worth seeing, geological or botanical features, cultural or historical places. With a few exceptions, the stamping stations are located in places that can only be reached on foot or by bicycle.
Hiking pin awards
- 8 stamps: Harz hiking pin in bronze
- 11 stamps: Wanderprinz (since 2011)
- 16 stamps: Harzer hiking pin in silver
- 24 stamps: Harz hiking pin in gold
- 50 stamps: Harzer Wanderkönig
- 100 stamps: Harzer Kaiserrucksack (since 2022)
- 111 stamps: Harzer Steiger (including 23 mandatory stamps at mining sites)
- 150 stamps: Harzer Kaiserschuh
- 222 stamps: Harz Wandering Emperor
The acquisition of the hiking badge is not time-bound, collecting the individual stamps can also extend over several years.
In addition to the regular 222 stamps, a large number (2020 more than 40) of special stamps can be collected. Like the hiking stamp box, these are only available for a short time and are noted at the end of the hiking pass or in a separate stamp book. These special cancellations are primarily of collector's value, but are sometimes also required to obtain a themed hiking pin.
In addition to the regular awards (bronze to Kaiser), there are several themed hiking pins for which the relevant stamps (regular and sometimes also special stamps) must be proven in the respective accompanying booklet, but if necessary also in the normal hiking pass:
- "Goethe im Harz", since 2010, 28 stamps in places in the Harz Mountains where Goethe once stayed.
- "Harzer Baudensteig", since 2010, nine stamps along the Harzer Baudensteig.
- "Harz historical sites 'castles and palaces'" (needle: copper Heinrich), 32 stamps (including 26 special stamps) on well-preserved monuments.
- "Harzer Grenzweg", since 2010, 25 stamps (including three special stamps) in connection with the German-German border.
- "Harzer Hexenstieg", since 2014, 20 stamps, any nine stamps along the Harzer Hexenstieg plus stamps no. 69 and no. 140 are required for the hiking pin.
- "Harzer Klosterwanderweg" (needle: copper pilgrim's cross), since spring 2017, eleven special postmarks in red stamp boxes.
- "Lutherweg" (needle: Luther rose), ten stamps (including seven special stamps) along the Lutherweg in the Harz Mountains.
Procedure for acquiring the hiking pin
Before the first hike, a hiking pass must be purchased, which is available for a small fee (a nominal fee) in the tourism and spa facilities of the Harz towns, and in some cases also in bookstores. A map showing the stamp locations is recommended, but these can also be researched in other ways (e.g. on the website of the organiser). For users of navigation devices, the stamp locations are available free of charge as GPX files on the website.
The hiking pass must be stamped at every stamping point. If the stamp is missing, a number can be written down instead, so that vandalism cannot fundamentally damage the system.
Once the required number of stamps has been reached, the hiking pass is presented to one of the issuing offices and the badge is purchased for a small fee after a corresponding check.
On the history of the Harzer hiking needles
The initiator was Michael Lütje from Wernigerode/Harz, an employee of the municipal employment agency for the Harz district. He independently developed the entire system of the "Harz Hiking Badge" and also designed the hiking badges that are still used today.
The planning, the construction of the stamp boxes and the establishment of the stamping stations took place in 2005 and in the first quarter of 2006 in various workshops. The association "Healthy aging in the Harz" e. V. based in Blankenburg received permission from Michael Lütje to continue operating the project (sponsoring association) after the start of the project on April 8, 2006.
The association receives support from various public institutions in the Harz-wide entertainment. Around 5,000 hiking passes were already issued at the start of 2006. After the project was initially limited to the districts of Wernigerode, Goslar and Osterode in 2006, it was expanded in 2007 to include the system that still exists today with 222 stamping points across the entire geographical Harz region, which is not to be increased.
However, the locations of the stamp offices may change to a small extent. Since the season opened in April 2012, there have been eleven new stamp offices, for which eleven existing stamp boxes have been converted.
Increasing popularity despite forest dieback and deforestation
The system is extremely popular and demand continues to grow. In 2006 alone, around 10,000 hiking passes were sold. Almost 20,000 hiking passes were newly issued in 2015. The number of hiking passes sold annually rose to 50,000 in 2019 and reached 90,000 in 2020. It is also noteworthy that every year up to 2019 there has been a three-digit number of hikers, and since 2020 a four-digit number of hikers who hike the "Harzer Wanderkaiser". In 2022, the 9000th Wanderkaiser award was presented since the hiking pin was introduced. Since the stamping stations are spread over an area of around 2500 square kilometers, extensive hiking is required to acquire this title.
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