Holiday in Berlin. 1- The rail trip.
We had decided in early Summer that we wanted to visit Berlin and we determined that we would do this during October half-term. For some reason though, we decided we would only do this if we could travel by train. There is something very different between landing somewhere and arriving somewhere. Something about putting the time and effort into the travel, glimpsing people’s lives and environment through snatched pictures through the window.
(Perhaps my most memorable rail trip was as a teenager, travelling overnight from Franco’s Madrid to revolutionary Lisbon….)
After some research, and consulting regular euro rail travellers, I headed to the Deutsche Bahn website. I would recommend this site to anyone travelling from UK to anywhere in Germany. It is easy to use, very flexible and easy to find the bargain tickets. The ones to look out for are the London-Spezial tickets- these include the Eurostar from London, meaning you only have to book the one ticket.
That’s 127 euros out (about £90.00) and 227 euros return (about £162)- we could have had a cheaper return but we wanted a few hours in Brussels. The price seemed right to us (that’s for the 2 of us btw) though we still had to add the fare from Derby to London- more of that later.
Stage 1 Derby to London.
The train was crowded and included several people travelling for the Rugby World Cup final who hadn’t reserved their seats. Chaos ensued and it took awhile for things to settle down and find seats. Meanwhile the extensive 1st class carriages were relatively empty….. Otherwise the journey was uneventful….
Stage 2 London to Brussels.
I’m always impressed by St.Pancras station and proud of it’s links to Derby. Increasingly however it feels like a luxury shopping mall with station attached.
We were a bit concerned as to how we would get through the Eurostar barriers as DB had only issued one ticket for the two of us but the staff are clearly used to DB tickets and we went through a staffed barrier. Why the had to print out two boarding passes I don’t know…
The departure lounge was busy but not full; mainly French and Belgians returning home..
On rail trips like this, I am an inveterate starer out of the window. H on the otherhand got her Kindle out at the earliest opportunity…
though to be fair, she did look out for more interesting views…
The most depressing sights during this leg of the journey are the rows of additional fences and barbed wire being erected, protecting our island from the “swarms.” How scared are we that we have to build these things? And I think what it might be like if we withdraw from the EU, from the continent with which we have so much in common…
We arrive at the Gare du Midi, Bruxelles, home of Tintin and my place of birth. I have not been back in Brussels for a while but, despite all the changes, it is a place where I feel at ease, at home…
We stay the night in a nondescript chain hotel whose main advantage is that it is 10 minutes walk to the station for our 6.25 am train in the morning.. Breakfast is a Belgian pastry and a proper coffee at the station.
Stage 3. Brussels to Cologne.
With hindsight, we might have carried onto Cologne before having a stopover on the way out. We still have a way to go to Berlin- the rail trip makes you understand just how far East Berlin is….
The train arrives. The least crowded train so far..
The train is spacious- the luggage racks over the seats actually accommodate…luggage…
These carriages are built by Bombardier… if only they used the same specifications when building carriages for UK use…
It doesn’t take long to travel across Belgium to Aachen- memories of a previous visit there, as a teenager with long hair, being tormented -and then being bought drinks- by a group of Belgian soldiers on national service. Borders cannot be discerned by looking out of the window. The landscape merges, blends and then becomes different.
These wires transport us across the landscapes… linking towns and cities…
Cologne Station in the mid morning autumnal sun. A brief stop and a platform change for the final leg..
Stage 4. Cologne to Berlin.
The longest stage and the one were we move through different zones…
More crowded but no less spacious.
Across on the next platform, commuters are boarding their double-decker regional train..
The journey from Cologne to Berlin is long. Plenty of thinking time. Different landscapes, history. Autumn..
Crossing the Rhine at Cologne…
Staring out of the window at the landscapes, the autumn colours.. day dreaming now….
- Is this where the pied Piper stole the children? (No.) There was a Treaty of Westphalia wasn’t there? (Yes) What was it about… research when I get back….
And then, almost suddenly, but after so much time, we arrive..
I hope I have conveyed some sense of journey, of time taken to arrive….
Next up- Berlin: City of layers, echoes and trompe d’oeil….