To people in the US trains carry a certain Romantic mystique. We think of the Old West, or Dr. Zhivago, or long, literary travel logs of days gone by. But, in Europe trains are a ubiquitous aspect of daily life. As one of my German friends noted, trains were “basically my school bus replacement”. Because of this fact, Germans are very good at riding the trains. They know where to stand, how to get on, how to fit their things into the compartments, etc.
Mom, Mark, DS and I had a harder time of it. Once again my German Newbitude showed loud and clear. Each train station has nice large charts that show where the different cars are expected to stop. Presumably this should show where one needs to get on board to be close to his/her seat. But, only once in 8 trains did we actually manage to get on anywhere even remotely close to our assigned seating! No matter how hard we tried to read the maps, we invariably got on at the complete opposite end of the train from where we were meant to be. Then came the long trudge down car after car, bumping past every seat with our luggage. “Entschuldigen. Entschuldigen. Es tut mir leid. Entschuldigen”. I took it with a sense of humor honed over many many “ha, I am such a dumb auslander!” moments, but I think it was a bit more embarrassing for Mom and Mark- especially with the larger luggage.
AH the luggage. There is another story. Mom and Mark have, of course, a lovely set of purple suitcases in all sizes. But, at one of the very first train stations we hit, Mark was wrestling the giant Pullman down the stairs and one of the wheels popped off! DOH. The rest of the trip poor Mark had to lug a disabled suitcase through every train station, every city center, every train. It was, quite literally, a drag!
But, those facts aside, I was surprised to find that the train travel actually did capture a bit of the flavor described in so many Edwardian novels. Even though we were often on ICE bullet trains going upwards of 200 km per hour, the sense of being gently transported through time and space was real. One could almost picture E.M. Forster riding along in the same car. I suspect that some of the credit for this goes to the winter weather. As I mentioned, it started snowing on our first day. Nürenberg only got a dusting. But, the further north and east we went, the whiter the landscape became. And, honestly, most of it was already pretty white! I mentioned Dr. Zhivago earlier, and it became a bit of a motif for our travels. It was difficult to look out on the snowy scenery, hear the whistle of the train and not find yourself humming Lara’s Theme.
Here, let me give a sampling:
[REMEMBER- You must click on the pictures to see their captions]
As you can see, there may have been some snow out there. And, after about 10 hours of riding trains through the backdrop of countless picturesque movies, my mind was completely full of German Snow. Which proved to be just fine, because the next three days we would be staying with Peter and Connie and their two young sons E. and J. in Dresden. The warmth of our welcome and the opening of their home to us made a fabulous balance for the chill that was outside. Well, OK, honestly, the chill outside did, in fact, necessitate some further warming- but that is another story!