Globetrotter Torfhaus: Where we are, is top

The mens from Torfhaus: Kristian Nitsche, Christian Moog and Rolf Becker. | Photo: Michael Neumann
The Globetrotter Active Store Torfhaus is something very special. Located at an altitude of 800 metres in the centre of the Harz National Park, adventure for customers starts just outside the door. Employees Kristian Nitsche, Christian Moog and Rolf Becker also profit from the location every free minute…

The company’s winter bivouacking sports group are out in action. | Photo: Michael Neumann
The company’s winter bivouacking sports group are out in action. | Photo: Michael Neumann
Torfhaus in February 2015. A strong wind is whipping along wisps of clouds in front of it, howling through the spruces and shaking the snow off the trees. The temperature has now climbed above freezing having been below zero yesterday, a thick fog is rising off the wet snow only to settle like candyfloss over the barren landscape. Somewhat less than perfect conditions for my visit to view Globetrotter’s smallest and highest store and profile the three permanent employees. 

Why does Globetrotter have a store up here, located on Harzhochstraße (Harzhoch Street) in the Harz National Park, far away from all metropolitan areas?

A little bit later, I already have a bit of an idea, because I am welcomed with words no reporter wants to hear: “You should have been here yesterday. Fresh snow, a bright blue sky, no wind and all cross-country ski runs and trails had just been prepared.” To prove the descriptions, the compulsory phone photos are shown around. “Look, even the Brocken mountain looks within reach because the air is so clear.” I look out of the shop window. Brocken what?

Out of the shop and straight into the snow? Welcome to Torfhaus. | Photo: Michael Neumann
Out of the shop and straight into the snow? Welcome to Torfhaus. | Photo: Michael Neumann
Despite the bad weather, the shop is buzzing with activity. Or because of it? My plan to discover something private about the three Globis before the shop closes fails due to all the customers. Every ten minutes or so they are busy serving customers, providing advice and completing a sale. People are from northern Germany, Holland and Denmark and have all travelled to the Harz Mountains to experience the real winter. And because Father Frost has more of a nip than expected, demand for beanies, gloves, down jackets and pocket heaters is high. There is also plenty of interest in cross-country sets, after all, it is the supreme sport discipline up here with several hundreds of kilometres of prepared cross-country ski trails. 

The Bavaria Alm is officially opened

And in summer? You can hike and cycle to your heart’s content. Bikers don’t fail to enjoy the ride up to the Torfhaus either. And it is not unknown for a group sporting leather biker-suits to descend on the shop in their search for performance underwear. Only November, teetering between autumn and winter, is quite special and surreal, says store manager Moog. But they agreed that it is always beautiful up where they are.

Really does taste good: spruce needle tea. | Photo: Michael Neumann
Really does taste good: spruce needle tea. | Photo: Michael Neumann
When shortly after 6 pm – up here they do not unnecessarily extend the trading hours – the last customer has been taken care of and the day’s takings have been safely put away, things get serious. That’s because tonight they are going on a “company sports outing”. Every two weeks, after work they do not go home to their families but into the bush – to bivouac. Irrespective of rain and storm or ice and snow – or both –, the self-imposed overnight stay together out in nature after a good hike always takes place. It is sold to their families as a practical advanced company training activity. Needs to be. In view of the rather inhospitable conditions, they give me what is tantamount to a reprieve. We do not head out immediately, but first cross the street and enter the Bavaria Alm, a hut-like cult restaurant with a southern German Gemütlichkeit. That’s where Christian and Kristian treat the withdrawal symptoms they suffer since leaving their last jobs at Globetrotter’s store in Munich by filling up on roast pork washed down with wheat beer. But that doesn’t happen often because the application for the job in Torfhaus was a conscious decision and not a transfer to north Germany’s Siberia for disciplinary reasons or suchlike. Rolf however, who was born in Hess and lacks any ulterior motives, tucks in to his vegetarian tarte flambée. Finally it is time to draw up some brief profiles. The three came to Globetrotter, of course, because they wanted to combine their outdoor enthusiasm with bringing home the bacon. Store manager Christian Moog had previously spent 14 years at Kaufhof, Kristian Kitsche started his career in the newly opened Globetrotter store in Cologne in 2006 after completing an apprenticeship in a little sports shop. Rolf Becker, however, is a textbook example of a newcomer with an interesting CV: has manufactured plastic parts, repaired cars, sold insurances, driven chemical trucks…. and has an apprenticeship diploma for some of those sectors. But the self-declared gear freak didn’t find real love until at Globetrotter Ausrüstung. 

After the final apfelstrudel, we return to the store to get changed and pack our backpacks. Then we put on our snow shoes. As the store is located in the National Park and camping of any nature is prohibited, we head towards Altenau. We walk west through the night on prepared hiking trails. Creaking noises from the snow shoes merge with those of the intensifying storm. There is no bright moonlight, only our headlamps show us the way. As soon as we stop to orient ourselves with GPS and a map, the wet cold creeps into every badly insulated crack. That kind of weather when you would not even send the dog outside, and we want to sleep here without a tent?

Altenauer Hopfentraum for inner warmth

Business before pleasure. Although the one flows into the other here.  | Photo: Michael Neumann
Business before pleasure. Although the one flows into the other here. | Photo: Michael Neumann
After two hours of walking, we find a nice clearing that offers us space for four bivouac pitches. Four backpacks sink into the snow, but Rolf’s seems to make a particularly dull thud. Immediately the jokes start about what he probably just couldn’t leave behind. The choice of A or B always ends in A plus B with Rolf. You never know. And so he digs out of a full Bergans backpack a Hilleberg tarp, a 2 kg synthetic fibre sleeping bag, Exped Downmat, Gransfors axe, the big Trangia pan set as well as a bottle of Altenauer Hopfentraum – a regional malt liqueur for warmth from inside. Winter camping is not for light-weight fanatics. 

Our separate sleeping spots are quickly prepared with branches, tarps and snow pegs. We even manage a little camp fire, although the wood is too wet and smokes more than it burns. Time for the relaxing part which means everybody unpacks their stove and cooks a meal on it. Why not a stove for everybody? Because then we would not be able to compare whether the new MSR takes a few seconds less to boil water than the Primus classic. And what is to be found cooking in the pots? Nitsche has freeze-dried food from Trek’n Eat, Becker tries an experiment a la Aldi range consisting of boil-in-the-bag rice and soy balls, and Moog serves up a classic dish: ravioli out of a can. Be that as it may, why were we in the Bavaria Alm before?

 Good night, good morning – Kristian Nitsche would not swap any bed in the world for a palace. | Photo: Michael Neumann
Good night, good morning – Kristian Nitsche would not swap any bed in the world for a palace. | Photo: Michael Neumann
Afterwards, Nitsche has a culinary knockout on offer: tea made of… spruce needles. Simply pick the new shoots from the trees and put them into boiling water. Skim the stock after five minutes, cheers. And no worries, dear environmentalists, the German conifer forests are not in danger because the taste of spruce needles tee is, to put it euphemistically, interesting. And the numbers of forest walkers in this republic are not enough to decimate stocks. 

A night’s rest where wolves might be

After a last round of Altenauer Hopfentraum, we finally go to “bed”. The temperature has dropped below zero again which has taken away the humidity. The wind has also settled down so that the occasional noises from the undergrowth can not be anything else other than wild animals. Wolves have not yet been sighted in the Harz, but the population of lynx has apparently flourished since they were reintroduced to the area. Isengrim cannot be far away either, as northern Germany’s highest uplands are regarded as an area where wolves should be expected. Feeling pleasantly scared, we fall asleep.

The night shift leads seamlessly into the early shift. | Photo: Michael Neumann
The night shift leads seamlessly into the early shift. | Photo: Michael Neumann
Dawn is already breaking when the alarm clock goes off at 6.30am. Just a normal working day. Judging by the rustles from the sleeping bags, nobody has frozen to death. Whereas the store manager is ready to go within ten minutes – probably has something to do with his leadership skills – the others take a bit longer until they are up and about again. We postpone breakfast until later and toddle back in single file. 

Once we arrive at Torfhaus, we just have a quick coffee at Kiosk Brockenblick – true to its name today, with a view to the Brocken, – and then go straight into the shop where the shelves need to be filled up before the first customers arrive and wait for the door to open at ten o’clock. Will they notice that the staff all smell of camp-fire smoke?


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