Number 187 on the Harzer Wandernadel trail is the Bergruine Lauenburg, the underwhelming remnants of a medieval castle set above the equally underwhelming village of Stecklenberg. Lauenburg Castle is not the only ruin overlooking this village; just a kilometre or so to the south stand what remains of Stecklenberg Castle, another medieval castle. With two ruins in such close proximity, I can only assume, then, that Saxons in the middle ages were very fond of masonry, not so much of routine maintenance.
Of the hikes around the Harz Mountains for the collection of the Harz Wanderpass stamps, the travel to the ruins of the Lauenburg is one of the more simple, if rather winding, treks. From the direction of Neinstedt, for instance, one of the closest villages to Stecklenberg connected via a main road, the journey is largely one straight line along one path from bottom to top. It is only when you get further up the mountain and closer to the Lauenburg that the path begins to snake and wind, though it remains the same stretch of road from start to finish.
The downside of this simplistic approach, however, is that the walk is lacking in scenic views. As one might expect from a main road along two villages, the sights between Neinstedt and Stecklenberg are nothing more than a long, large, straight tarmac, surrounded on either side by residential houses. There are some open plots of land, which I can only assume are for some smaller level of farming based on the tractor and other faming equipment on show, and occasionally a garden of one of these houses will have a chicken coop, but there is nothing that is going to make you stop to take a picture. Not that you should stop to take pictures of people’s houses, of course. The ruins of Stecklenberg and Lauenburg both are visible from the road but are often too shrouded by the woodland of the mountains–and quite often by a form of mist–to get a clear view of the ruins.
The village of Stecklenberg itself feels unsettling to walk through, simply for how bleak, lifeless and rather vacuous it is. Beady-eyed locals stare at you as walk in your fluorescent blue-and-orange mountain jacket, telepathically communicating with the hive community, warning each other of the Ausländer walking through their streets. I have had the misfortune of walking through Stecklenberg on three- or four occasions now; and each time that I do, I fear that this is time that the locals will swarm the streets, dragging behind them a giant wicker man to sacrifice me to their gods. Indeed, on one occasion, as I peered to the ruins in the mountain above, I saw a new decoration–a giant wooden star– looming over the town. I promptly turned around and walked the other way.
Once on the mountain path, it is a simple upward ascent, marked by little other than trees and a stream that runs down the left side of the mountain as you make your way upwards. Occasionally there is a fork or split in the road, with one leading to the Lauenburg and the other direction leading to some other places which also have collectible stamps, the closet of which to the Lauenburg is the Glockenstein. The mountains are thick, thick enough to understand why tales of witchcraft and all sorts of demons seem to originate from this part of the world.
At the top of the mountain, there is very little itself of the Lauenburg still standing. This is most likely why it’s referred to as the Bergruine and not the Bergvolle. What does remain, is what appears to be a part of the keep, or at the very least some kind of tower. The largest remaining portion of the ruin is on a hilltop, standing above a house. Underneath this hill, dotted around various bits of the land, are small portions of the ruin, which appear to be an old curtain wall, based on their circular structure around the hill itself. It is possible to stand at the top of the keep; a metal staircase has been built alongside, and inside, the remnants, for a higher view of the area. The stamp box is at the base of the hill, next to a path that leads you to another metal staircase, up which is the Lauenburg keep.
Further down the mountain path, another bunch of ruins, though not of the Stecklenberg. It is unclear if these are another part of the Lauenburg or of something that just happened to be built nearby the area. The stone is certainly of a different quality than that of the Lauenburg, and the shape of the remaining architecture and the still-standing altar piece in the middle is clearly a church, abbey, or some other place for religious worship. There is also a ‘sword in the stone’ sitting in the middle of another open piece of ruin, though I was unable to successfully pull the sword. I must go another day without having my kingdom.
All in all, there isn’t a great deal to the Lauenburg beyond being a place where there is a stamp box. It is effectively a glorified seating area, in the shadow of a rather ugly looking piece of rubble, made all the uglier by having a metal stair attached to it. It is a chilly area in general, too. The first time I went to the Lauenburg was in the middle of Winter, which would explain the cold on that occasion. The second was a warm Spring day, and yet, as one would expect from a mountain range, the higher one went up, the colder the air became.
If you are coming to collect stamp 187, I would wager that is best to collect it on the way to another stamp, for instance the Glockenstein or one of the many stamps in the Thale region. It is a nice view to pass, but it should not be the central focus of your hiking plans.