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Digital Subscriptions > Lonely Planet Traveller (UK) > March 2017 > Witch SEASON OF THE

Witch SEASON OF THE

They’re very witchy and slightly kitschy, but spring festivities in eastern Germany’s Harz Mountains have deep roots in the region’s prehistory @Therouvian
PHOTOGRAPHS MATT MUNRO

AT THE END OF EVERY APRIL, the quiet, half-timbered towns of Saxony-Anhalt, in eastern Germany, are suddenly overrun. A vast coven of witches, warlocks and minor devils descend in a blur of brooms and face paint for one of Europe’s oddest celebrations: Walpurgis Night.

By mid-morning on the last day of April, the cobbled streets of picturesque Wernigerode are thronging with people in costume. An informal parade snakes up the steep path to the central courtyard of the town’s castle, which was founded in the 12th century. A band called La Marotte

(The Crook) is playing a version of medieval funk, while people dressed like extras from Game of Thrones eat bratwurst and drink mead. Pallid with white make-up, Frank Wilhelm from Berlin is here as his alter ego, Necronomos, a warlock who carries a horned skull on a long staff. ‘It’s cos-play. It’s fun,’ he tells me. ‘It’s like World of Warcraft, but in real life.’

A pair of tiny horns sprout from Rico Bernhagen’s crimson forehead. Rico comes from Hamburg and works in logistics. He’s walking arm in arm with a green-faced witch who’s wearing a six-inch branch on her nose that’s so realistic you expect robins to perch on it. ‘It took us five hours to get ready,’ says the witch, who’s a hairdresser called Carolin Blank. Carolin has to tip her head back so she can sip her beer without getting her prosthetic nose wet.

‘She likes to make potions,’ says Rico.

‘She grows herbs in the garden. You know rune stones? She’s very good at those.’

Carolin may dabble in the magical arts, but for most people, Walpurgis, like Halloween, is just a one-day commitment to the supernatural. The event has more to do with drinking beer and having a good time than any real interest in the occult.

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March 2017
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