FolkestoneJack's Tracks

Tegel Touch and Go

Posted in Berlin, Germany by folkestonejack on May 6, 2014

On my outbound and return trips I had plenty of time to kill so on each occasion I headed up to the observation deck at Tegel to watch the world go by. It seemed like a good opportunity to get one last good look at the airport as I am sure that by the time I come back it will have been shut down, replaced by the troubled Berlin Brandenburg airport which lies to the south of the city.

On Borrowed time - Berlin Tegel

On Borrowed time – Berlin Tegel

The impressively spacious viewing terrace at Tegel covers the entire roof span of the airport’s distinctive hexagonal terminal A, allowing you to get a good view of the entire runway and most of the gates from this terminal.

I wouldn’t normally expect much from any time on an observation deck, but seemed to have timed my visit exceptionally well on both occasions. On my outbound leg I managed to see the arrival of two Bundesrepublik Deutschland aircraft that are used for official travel and diplomatic business – the first was Airbus A340-313X VIP ‘Konrad Adenauer’ (16+01) whilst the second was the Airbus A310-304 VIP (10+21) that used to bear this name.

Bundesrepublik Deutschland Airbus A340-313X VIP ‘Konrad Adenauer’ (16+01)

Bundesrepublik Deutschland Airbus A340-313X VIP ‘Konrad Adenauer’ (16+01)

Bundesrepublik Deutschland Airbus A310-304 VIP (10+21)

Bundesrepublik Deutschland Airbus A310-304 VIP (10+21)

On my return trip I saw one of the smaller Bundesrepublik Deutschland VIP jets, a Bombardier Global 5000 (14+01), take off after a couple of black limousines had delivered some passengers. Other notable sights included a BMW Gulfstream G550 and a classic liveried Lufthansa A321.

Bundesrepublik Deutschland Bombardier Global 5000 (14+01)

Bundesrepublik Deutschland Bombardier Global 5000 (14+01)

As if this was not enough excitement, the next flight to come in was a Deutsche Marine Lockheed P-3 Orion (60+01) named ‘Friedrichshafen’ (in the 100 Jahre Marineflieger livery that she was painted for last year’s celebrations) which proceeded to touch and go (landing on the runway and taking off again without coming to a full stop). I assume this was a training exercise as the same procedure was repeated just ten minutes later! It was like having a mini air-show before the flight home.

Deutsche Marine Lockheed P-3 Orion 'Friedrichshafen' (60+01)

Deutsche Marine Lockheed P-3 Orion ‘Friedrichshafen’ (60+01)

In all the excitement on offer it was easy to forget that I still had to get through security and on to my own flight. Luckily, I made it through just in time and my reward (c/o British Airways) was a 15g bag of crisps, which has to be the most miserly snack that I think I have ever seen on a flight. Nevertheless, I was very happy to have made it on board and be heading homewards!


The Battle of Nations

Posted in Germany, Leipzig by folkestonejack on May 5, 2014

The Battle of Nations on October 1813 was the largest battle in Europe prior to the First World War, drawing in the armies of Prussia, Russia, Austria, and Sweden in the attempt to defeat Napoleon and his Grande Armée (which in itself was something of an international coalition).

The battle was a pivotal moment in history, particularly as the decisions made at the subsequent peace congress of Vienna re-shaped Europe, sealed the fate of many nations and set a slow-burning fuse that would lead to war before the end of the century. I am sorry to say that it was a period that I never really covered at school, but Adam Zamoyski’s terrific book ‘Rites of Peace’ provides a compelling account of Napoleon’s fall and the diplomacy of the congress.

The Völkerschlachtdenkmal

The Völkerschlachtdenkmal

On my visit to Leipzig I headed to the best known of the monuments erected to remember the battle – the gigantic, if not exactly beautiful, Völkerschlachtdenkmal. This monument was actually only completed in 1913 to commemorate the centenary of the battle, but there are other monuments dotted around the former battlefield that were erected in the immediate aftermath of the bloodshed (not dissimilar to the monuments you see spread around the battlefield at Waterloo).

The vast scale of the Völkerschlachtdenkmal really hits you as you enter through the crypt, looking at the vast foundations, then again as you look down from the Singers’ Gallery at the matchstick figures having their pictures taken next to the feet of the giant statues in the Hall of Fame. It’s not necessarily a monument that you fall in love with but you cannot fail to be impressed.

Tiny figures in the Hall of Fame

Tiny figures in the Hall of Fame

It turns out to be a good time to visit as the renovations completed for the 200th anniversary have removed the black discolouration and once again revealed long hidden details, such as the equestrian relief that covers the interior of the dome. It is quite astonishing to see the transformation that the restorers have wrought.

There are other innovations that have been delivered in the refreshed presentation that has accompanied the restoration, such as an audio-visual presentation that cleverly wove the story of the battle, the commissioning of the building, its construction and subsequent appropriation in the national socialist and DDR eras.

Traffic lights at the top

Traffic lights at the top

The ascent to the very top of the monument requires you to climb a very narrow set of stairs, which would be a nightmare if it was not controlled as there is no room to pass. Ingeniously, they have installed traffic lights to go up and down! Having experienced the awkward moment of trying to squeeze pass visitors on many a spiral staircase in English castles, this makes a refreshing change.

The classic view across the water

The classic view across the water

Although the rooftop view is great, it is the view across the water up to the monument that adorns most picture postcards of Leipzig. This shot is particularly effective in late afternoon with the full effect of sunlight striking the front of the structure.

The Napoleon Stone

The Napoleon Stone

Two other memorials to the battle are in easy walking distance. The first, the Napoleon Stone, is literally just around the corner. The monument was unveiled in October 1857 and marks the spot from which Napoleon observed the battle. It is a simple affair – a small granite block on which replicas of the sword, hat and telescope of the Emperor rest.

Saint Alexi Memorial Church

Saint Alexi Memorial Church

The second memorial site that I visited was the Saint Alexi Memorial Church. This Russian Orthodox church was completed in 1910 to commemorate the 22,000 Russian soldiers who died during the battle. The church has been undergoing restoration in time for the anniversary but the scaffolding was only just coming down today. It is as beautiful on the interior as it is striking from the outside, with an iconostasis containing 87 icons.


Twenty four hours in Leipzig

Posted in Germany, Leipzig by folkestonejack on May 5, 2014

After a good night’s sleep at the InterCity Hotel Leipzig I bounded out into the city centre, relishing the prospect of a single full day of sightseeing in Leipzig. As it was a monday (a day that many museums close in Europe) my options were already limited but there was plenty on my agenda to keep me happily engaged.

The first stop was to grab breakfast in the cathedral to the railways that Leipzig Hauptbahnhof, the world’s largest railway station (albeit with an alternative guise as a shopping centre). It’s an imposing space by any standards, with it’s vast interior reminding me of Grand Central Terminal, New York and Milano Centrale. Not only that, but it has facilities that really make travel a pleasure – a marvellous bookstore, a good selection of bakeries and even a few heritage locomotives.

Leipzig Hauptbahnhof

Leipzig Hauptbahnhof

The first stop of the day was to be the Museum in der Runden Ecke, a place that I have wanted to visit ever since I read ‘Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall by Anna Funder’ and it did not disappoint. The full story of the organisation was astonishing and would have seemed laughably absurd in many instances, were it not for the terrible impact it had on the real lives of the people in the DDR (especially the description of how the Stasi manufactured ‘life crises’ to destabilise those that they saw as a threat).

The audio guide is absolutely essential for any english speaker as it describes the original features of the building in its stasi era configuration as much as it explains the exhibits on display, such as the fact that the doors could only be opened from the outside (anyone wanting to leave had to be let out by a Stasi officer). I spent 90 minutes in the museum having listened to all the commentary available and taken a reasonable look at the exhibits, but could easily have spent longer.

Markers for the Friendly Revolution of 1989

Markers for the Friendly Revolution of 1989

On a similar theme, there are signposts throughout the city that highlight where the significant actions of the ‘Friendly Revolution’of 1989 took place. It really helped put events into their local context, especially with the insights from the Museum in der Runden Ecke to draw upon.

A chance stop at a local bakery gave me an opportunity to try one of the traditional local pastries, a Leipziger Lerche, which takes its name from the larks that used to be baked in pies. I think the modern replacement of larks with a mixture of almonds, nuts and cherries is a vast improvement!

My next move was to take the tram out of the centre. The first stop was the Russian Orthodox church, of which more in another post, followed by Sudfriedhof cemetery. The cemetery was a haven of quiet solace with some quiet astonishingly beautiful memorials, including a monument to the local lads who died in the First World War. It was the individual memorials that really grabbed me though – a man clutching at a tomb door, a mother laying plants at a son’s grave and a hauntingly young face carved into a soldier’s grave.

First World War memorial at Sudfriedhof

First World War memorial at Sudfriedhof

The next couple of hours were taken up with the colossal memorial at the Völkerschlachtdenkmal and the modest but fascinating museum about the battle. Finally, with my energy a little sapped, I headed back into the centre and took a more leisurely wander around. Sights that I passed included the Leipzig Bayerischer Bahnhof, Germany’s oldest preserved railway station, the Neue Rathaus and lastly, the City-Hochhaus. I took in the sunset from the City-Hochhaus (aka Panorama Tower) and headed back to the hotel, satisfied to have seen so much in my one day in Leipzig.


Crocodiles in the wild (at Profen)

Posted in Germany, Profen by folkestonejack on May 4, 2014

The final day of our tour dawned brightly and our spirits rose as we reached Tagebau Profen in full sun, enjoying a splendid view over the open cast mine from a public viewing gallery. The open cast mine at Profen is operated by MIBRAG (Mitteldeutschen Braunkohle AG) and comprises the mine fields at Profen Süd, Schwerzau and Domsen. Together these produce 9-10 million tons of coal per year.

Our interest in the mine is, rather predictably, down to the company’s use of 15 unmodified class EL2 electric locomotives. The railway network here is much smaller (just 100km) and uses a traditional telephone block system (in contrast to the centralised operations centre of the kind that we saw at Schwarze Pumpe).

A crocodile in sunshine

A crocodile basking in sunshine

Although we did not have an official photo permit for the mine we were able to photograph trains on the system. To help us, the railway gave us the services of the shift mining engineer as a guide and he was able to stop the trains if we needed to photograph them a second time. I liked the sound of that!

We soon had need of this special power as our attempts to photograph a double headed train looked likely to be thwarted by clouds. It was somewhat strange to hear the instruction “Let the regular train come when the sun is out!”. I like to think that this is not the artificiality of a photo-charter, but rather a slightly altered reality!

The morning went incredibly well overall and we got shots from the best of the locations on offer – though I think the backdrop of the distinctive light blue power plant was my favourite.

Two crocodiles push a coal train into the yard at Wählitz power station

Two crocodiles push a coal train into the yard at Wählitz power station

We spent some time chasing locomotive 1255 and it’s driver became an unwitting film star as he filled the sand boxes on the locomotive at a stop just before midday. It couldn’t have been easy carrying out your everyday job with a bank of twenty photographers snapping away, but he managed admirably!

Our morning ended at the company’s site which includes a narrow gauge class EL3 locomotive and a spreader used to shift tracks.

Satisfied with a good morning’s work we headed to the Hotelgasthof Draschwitz for some rather tasty homely fare (the goulash with Thuringer klose and rot kohl comes highly recommended!). This seemed like a good way to celebrate the end of a short but highly enjoyable tour, with just the relatively short drive to Leipzig/Halle airport left ahead of us.


Chasing crocodiles at Schwarze Pumpe

Posted in Germany, Schwarze Pumpe by folkestonejack on May 3, 2014

Our second day took us to the mine railway around Schwarze Pumpe, which translates literally as ‘black pump’ and sounds oddly appropriate given the concentration of industry today.

It is tempting to imagine that this area got its name from the mining industry, but in fact the pump in question was a watering hole for horses next to a restaurant! It was painted black (signifying the plague) during the Thirty Years’ War to protect the locals from the plundering of Swedish mercenaries.

Electric locomotive 4-1306 hauls an early morning at Schwarze Pumpe

Electric locomotive 4-1306 hauls an early morning at Schwarze Pumpe

Today, the powerplant dominates the area and a fleet of crocodiles regularly criss-cross the largely rural landscape. Our first stop, at a field on the outskirts of Schwarze Pumpe, gave us the perfect illustration of this.

The frequency of trains was a delight – a stop at a nearby level crossing delivered three trains within the space of half an hour. A couple of bemused security guards from the local mine turned up to check us out, convinced that we must be environmental protesters. To be fair, it’s probably not often that they get visitor enthusing about their mining operations!

After a lunch stop in Spremberg we returned to the fields, hoping that the sun might make an appearance and give us at least one perfectly illuminated shot. Luck did not seem to be on our side – from our spot in the fields we saw five trains on distant lines, but none appeared on the bridge/line nearest to us until one and a half hours had passed. Our wish for sun had not been granted either…

In fact, it was not until 4pm that the sun put in more than a fleeting appearance – at last giving us some good opportunities to shoot crocodiles in sunlight. After four trains passed within half an hour we could relax a little and head away knowing that not all our shots would betray the gloom of an overcast day.

Fully laden with coal for Schwarze Pumpe

Fully laden with coal for Schwarze Pumpe

Shortly after this, an emergency stop by our convoy (three minibuses and a handful of cars) gave us an unexpected chance to get a shot from our field of dreams in full sunlight. It was rather wonderful to see a crocodile crossing the bridge fully lit.

Electric locomotive 4-310 crosses  the landscape in full sun

Electric locomotive 4-310 crosses the landscape in full sun

Our day finally ended at 6pm and our minibus transformed into the “Zwenkau Express” for a blast down the autobahn to our hotel on the outskirts of Leipzig. The express tag turned out to be more literal than we anticipated, with the rest of our convoy arriving at the hotel forty minutes later.

Parallel roads

Parallel roads

The reward for a sometimes frustrating day by the lineside was some rather terrific food at the Krautergarten restaurant (Hotel Seehof) which has to be the most unlikely location for a four star hotel that I have ever seen (opposite an industrial estate and lorry park), but really deserves to be given a try.


In to the crocodile pit

Posted in Cottbus, Germany by folkestonejack on May 2, 2014

The first day of our short tour gave us the rare opportunity to enter the open cast coal mine at Cottbus Nord and see the venerable class EL2 electric locomotives in their element.

Crocodile at Tagebau Cottbus-Nord

Crocodile at Tagebau Cottbus-Nord

Unfortunately, the weather gods had decided that this should be accompanied by some of the worst conditions imagineable for photography – heavy rain, thick cloud and poor light. At times it felt like they had misunderstood our mission and were hellbent on providing a swamp for the crocodiles…

It was really hard to remember that this was spring, with temperatures falling overnight from 18-20 degrees to just 4-6 degrees! Nevertheless, all we could do was try and make the best of it. Maybe it would give our photographs a gritty, grimy industrial authenticity!?

Mercedes Unimog U500

Mercedes Unimog U500

We were not allowed to drive our own vehicles into the pit, so we clambered aboard one of Vattenfall’s own vehicles – an inconspicuous bright yellow Mercedes monster truck – for the rough journey down. At the bottom of the pit we found a double headed coal train waiting to be loaded by a giant excavator – a quite astonishing sight. It is a necessity to double head the trains here to cope with the gradient in the pit.

The excavators I have seen in China are minnows in comparison to the beast of Cottbus Nord and clearly nowhere near as efficient. It was truly impressive to see just how quickly an entire train could be loaded. As we sheltered from the driving rain under an inactive exacavator we watched two crocodiles push in a new set of empties before 4-1272 and 4-1275 hauled the fully laden coal train out around 11.30am. We didn’t hang around to see the new arrival depart as it was not expected to climb out of the pit for around two hours.

Loading in the pit

Loading in the pit

Escape from the pit

Escape from the pit

Although the conditions might have been attrocious, it was fascinating to see the crocodiles being loaded in the pit. Most other open cast mines have modernised and no longer send coal trains into the pit for loading, but this did not make economic sense at Cottbus as the mine is expected to run out of coal in 2015. Another veteran, the impressive gypsum loader/spreader, is already on the list of machinery to be scrapped within the next two years.

Gypsum loader/spreader

Gypsum loader/spreader

It proved to be an interesting, if sometimes exasperating, exercise in photography. I didn’t have any wet weather covers for my camera, but it was possible to improvise a surprisingly effective cover using a shower cap (with a hole cut in the centre) and some rubber bands. I came away with a good record of the morning, even if they were not the most stunning photographs of a mine railway that you will see!

After making our way out of the pit we ended up at a nearby restaurant which was successfully persuaded to open and prepare a meal for a horde of hungry photographers. Maybe our luck was turning…


Cottbus crocodiles

Posted in Cottbus, Germany, Schwarze Pumpe by folkestonejack on May 2, 2014

The class EL2 electric locomotives of Vattenfall Europe Mining AG (previously Lausitzer Braunkohle AG) are some of the most remarkable survivors of the railway scene in Germany, but they keep a relatively low profile tucked away on an industrial network not far from the Polish border.

Cottbus Crocodile

Cottbus crocodile

A study by LAUBAG had revealed that it would be more cost efficient to revamp the existing fleet of locomotives than to build new locomotives for their system. The state railway’s vehicle maintenance shop at Cottbus and Kiepe Elektrik in Düsseldorf together modernised 58 locomotives, now designated EL2m, with just 3 locomotives left untouched.

The locomotives have a maximum speed of 65km/h and have a service weight of 100 tons. A single locomotive operating on the network normally hauls 16 coal wagons with a total weight of around 1,600 tons. Full specifications for the modernised locomotives can be found in the Vossloh Kiepe leaflet Modernization of the EL2 Electric Locomotive for the Lausitzer Braunkohle AG.

Class EL2 locomotive 4-314 in the workshops

Class EL2 locomotive 4-314 in the workshops

It would be easy to imagine the crocodiles in the run down setting of an antiquated coal mine, but nothing could be further from the truth. The crocodiles operate on a network that encompasses 323km of track, connecting up five mines and three power stations.

The whole system is monitored from a technologically sophisticated control centre (Zentralstellwerk) at Schwarze Pumpe, near Spremberg. It is an impressive and calm place, well away from the tracks, that runs 24 hours a day with five members of staff. The railway’s workshops, a short walk away from here, are equally impressive. The facility can handle small repairs, overhauls and even full locomotive modification.

In fact, everything about the operation takes your breath away. As we toured the facility by minibus the vast scale of the operation became apparent, with multiple unloading points and bridges leading up to them that looked to have been built relatively recently. Although I have visited many coal mine railways, it is fair to say that I have never seen anything as efficient or impressive as this.

Hunting crocodiles

Posted in Cottbus, Germany by folkestonejack on May 1, 2014

After an awkward journey out to Heathrow last night during the latest strike, it was a relief to be able to settle back and relax a little today. I am making a leisurely journey eastwards to join a short tour organised by FarRail to see some of Germany’s last remaining crocodiles.

The crocodiles in my sights are not the kind to sneak up on you in a swamp, but long nosed electric locomotives that were produced in large numbers by Lokomotivbau Elektrotechnische Werke ‘Hans Beimler’ of Hennigsdorf (usually shortened to LEW) for the open cast mines of East Germany and the wider communist world. You only need to take one look at the locomotives and it’s clear to see how they acquired their memorable nickname.

Electric locomotives 7326 and 7328 on the upper level of the open cast coal mine at Pingzhuang

Crocodiles at Pingzhuang

I first encountered crocodiles at an open cast mine in Pingzhuang, China, about three years ago. The nickname seemed particularly appropriate for these members of these class EL2 locomotives, painted green and able to creep up far too quietly for ears attuned to the noisier steam locomotives of the neighbouring system. At Pingzhuang their days were numbered – the electric railway in the open cast mine was abandoned by late 2012 and dumper trucks took the place of the crocodiles.

The EL2s that we saw in China first appeared in 1952 and were still in production as late as 1988. It seems remarkable to think that these crododiles were rolling off the assembly lines of Hennigsdorf for just five years short of the entire lifespan of the Deutsche Demokratische Republik. Although well over a thousand crocodiles of this class were produced just fifty are still in use today in eastern Germany.

Our short trip will take in the crocodiles working the lines in and around the open cast mines at Cottbus and Profen, with a rare opportunity to enter the mine for a closer look. It will be a delight to reacquaint myself with these characterful locomotives.

More plandampf-ing

Posted in Frankenstein, Germany, Neckargemünd by folkestonejack on September 27, 2009

The dawn brought another beautiful day into focus and I carried on with my travels across the network, albeit with a growing realisation that whilst hopping from one station to another allowed me to see alot it was also limiting me to some rather dull station shots (given the beautiful countryside around and the rich backdrop of castles, churches and villages that the river valleys could provide). Nevertheless, I made the best of my day and grabbed some video footage and enjoyed the spectacle of express steam.

I visited Neckargemünd in the morning and shot some video footage from a viewpoint over the river bridge. The resulting footage isn’t particularly good (it’s on the wrong side for the sun for a start…) but I like the way that the peel of church bells up and down the valley gives way to the sound of a steam locomotive (50 2179) as it crosses the Neckar.

Later in the day I found myself at Frankenstein (Pfalz) and filmed steam locomotive 01 066 (disguised as 01 045) as it passed smoothly through, shortly after 3pm. You could almost imagine that there was nothing unusual about this, that this was an everyday sight… if only!

All in all, the weekend presented a very different way to experience steam and heritage diesel/electric locomotives than I am used to but it was still thoroughly enjoyable. Tomorrow I head back to Frankfurt by more modern traction (an ICE train) and then on to London City c/o British Airways. Real life beckons once again…


Posted in Frankenstein, Germany, Kaiserslautern, Schifferstadt by folkestonejack on September 27, 2009

Across the world there are legendary locomotives classes that everyone wants to see and hear once again, long after their time has faded… some are easy targets to meet whilst others may never come to pass. This weekend presented one such target in the form of the V200, a diesel-hydraulic express locomotive of the German Deutsche Bundesbahn, which lasted in service from the 1950s to early 1980s. The survivor running this weekend was V200 033 which is owned and operated by the Museumseisenbahn Hamm.

I caught my first glimpse of V200 033 at the tail of a service yesterday but the schedule today gave a better opportunity to see the locomotive in action. I’m not sure what makes the locomotive so special but there’s something about the design and the sound produced by its engines that is wonderful.

A game of leapfrog

Posted in Germany, Heidelberg, Neckargemünd by folkestonejack on September 26, 2009

The game of leapfrog was good fun, following the plan I had worked out in advance using the event timetable. Typically, I would watch one of the special trains arrive or depart, leap onto a regular train and then bale out somewhere suitable to get a shot of the next special train passing through. In many cases I had only a handful of minutes to get to a position once I’d arrived at a station, so apart from anything else it was good exercise!

One moment that stands out came when I was standing around at Heidelberg Karlstor by a tunnel portal. I hoped to get a shot of a steam locomotive emerging from the tunnel into brilliant sunshine but moments beforehand a freight train came through kicking up all manner of rubbish. My clear view of the tunnel portal was now shrouded in a dust cloud. If the steam locomotive was a little late there might have been time for it to clear, but no on this occasion it was perfectly on time! I thought that was the end of my shot, but looking back on it now I rather like the moody look that it created. It’s a lesson I often have to remind myself of – never to give up on a shot too quickly.

The leapfrogging carried on until sunset when I took my final shots of the day at Neckarsteinach. After a day spent on the move I was quite relieved when the light finally fell and I could chill out at my hotel in Heidelberg with a cool drink!


Posted in Germany, Mannheim by folkestonejack on September 26, 2009

Arrived in Frankfurt late last night for a weekend following the ‘Reisen wie vor 50 Jahren’ plandampf around the Rhein-Neckar which was celebrating three anniversaries (150 years of the Nahetalbahn, 20 years of the Verkehrsverbund Rhein-Neckar and 10 years of the Rhein-Nahe Nahverkehrsverbund).

Plandampf is a concept that has developed in Germany where enthusiasts group together to pay for preserved steam locomotives to haul scheduled passenger or freight services in place of the modern traction that you would normally find. It’s not something that happens in the UK where the emphasis falls on railtours from A to B or on the many preserved railway lines.

The way plandampf usually works is that you make a payment towards the use of the locomotive(s) and if sufficient money has been raised you would get the timings enabling you to chase and photograph the steam locomotives. Although I love the concept you really need to be able to drive to make the most of a plandampf, which is why I haven’t participated until now. The difference this weekend is that it is a public event, sponsored by the railway companies and the regional authorities – meaning more locomotives and more services have been replaced. For this weekend only some of the normal passenger services which would be operated using electric multiple units will be replaced by heritage steam, diesel and electric locomotives.

Sleepy eyed I caught the 5:55am ICE from Frankfurt to Mannheim, picked up a 24 hour regional train ticket and headed out to the first photo spot of the day at Mannheim Seckenheim. A quiet and sleepy station with wooden platforms seemed an appropriate place to begin! I watched the sun rise at 7:18 and about a quarter of an hour later the Deutsche Reichsbahn Pacific 01 066 (disguised as 01 045) stormed through the station. It was an exhilarating moment even if I did fluff the shot…

01 066 (disguised as 01 045) storms through Mannheim Seckenheim with a semi-fast service from Neustadt Weinstrasse to Heilbronn.

I gave myself a relatively easy ride for the rest of the morning, making short hops to Mannheim Rangierbahnhof and Ludwigshafen to see the next services pass through or terminate. At Ludwigshafen I took a few shots of an E10 at the end of the platform – although this was not one of the heritage units taking part in the weekend, it was hardly new – the class dates back to 1952.

E94 approaches Ludwigshafen Mitte

Electric locomotive 110 401-7 at Ludwigshafen

After a morning getting my head in the right place I got ready to head further afield in the afternoon – following a carefully constructed plan to use service trains to continually leapfrog the special services and be in the right place to take photos. Now I would find out if the plans I constructed from the comfort of my desk would work…

Underground Berlin

Posted in Berlin, Germany by folkestonejack on October 5, 2008

At some stage in my travels I became aware of the underground tours run by Berliner Unterwelten e.V., the organisers of the Mythos Germania exhibition that I saw a few days ago. Although it wasn’t originally part of my plans I made a trip out to Gesundbrunnen and booked a place on their Subways, Bunkers, Cold War tour at 1pm.

The first part of the tour concentrated on a civil defence shelter which was originally constructed in the 1930s and served as a bomb shelter in the Second World War, although it wasn’t actually bombproof… in the tour we got an insight into the way the shelter would have functioned, including the hand operated controls that were essential to keep things running. It quickly became clear that the place would be pretty inhospitable in a real emergency with temperatures of 40 degrees and 100 percent humidity. Essentially, its purpose was to keep a panic stricken public off the streets so that the roads could be kept clear for the military…

The second part of the tour took us to U-Bahn to Pankstrasse station. I think this was all the more remarkable than the first shelter as the rooms we visited were all accessed from within a working station – which we entered through an airlock. Our guide showed us round the rooms and then out onto the station platforms to show us the markings that would be used to line up carriages in the station during a civil emergency. It was amazing to think that so many elements of this were right in front of us – but as good as invisible until they were pointed out by an expert guide.

I can honestly say that booking a tour with Berliner Unterwelten e.V. was one of the best moves in my entire trip as it was absolutely fascinating from start to finish – a truly remarkable experience. Indeed, I rather regretted that I didn’t have more time in Berlin to enjoy their other tours. Still, at least it’s one more to add to the list for a return visit…

The east side

Posted in Berlin, Germany by folkestonejack on October 5, 2008

A quiet Sunday seemed like the perfect time to take a walk on the east side, so I headed over to Treptower Park to take a look at the Soviet war memorial. It’s an impressive sight – the moment you pass through the portal gates you can already see the twelve metre tall statue of a Soviet soldier with a sword holding a child, captured in a moment of extreme bravery. It doesn’t get any less impressive the closer you get – it is certainly a fitting tribute to the tens of thousands who died in the battle for Berlin.

After leaving the park behind I took a route past the last remaining watchtower from the old border, across the Oberbaumbrucke and on to the East Side Gallery. Finally, I made it back to the Ostbahnhof and my fascinating morning walk on the east side was over.

Nature-Park Schöneberger Südgelände

Posted in Berlin, Germany by folkestonejack on October 4, 2008

I took a morning walk at the Nature-Park Schöneberger Südgelände, which is a rather wonderful green park on the site of a long vanished marshalling yard (Rangierbahnhof Tempelhof).

A few traces remain of the vast complex, such as a water tower, turntable and overgrown tracks hidden amongst the trees – though I thought the most appealing touch was the use of tracks as paths themselves. Other elements in the park have been created to evoke a connection with the past, such as a freshly re-painted class 50 steam locomotive. The modern railway still runs alongside the park and helps define its long narrow shape of the park, literally following the tracks.

The park was quite a contrast with my encounter with the steam survivors of the previous day but as a tranquil morning walk it couldn’t be bettered.

Tag der Deutschen Einheit

Posted in Berlin, Germany by folkestonejack on October 3, 2008

After leaving Tempelhof behind I headed to the Tiergarten and the Siegessäule (a column originally designed to celebrate victory in the Danish-Prussian War with later additions recording victories in subsequent wars). The view from the top across the Straße des 17. Juni was quite spectacular, particularly with crowds building on the closed road to celebrate the Tag der Deutschen Einheit (day of German unity).

In the evening I headed east to Frankfurter Tor to meet up with a friend, but as ever I arrived way too early and spent my extra time wandering along Karl-Marx-Allee checking out the fascinating information boards that explained more about the socialist architecture all around me.

After my friend arrived we headed off to the Dritte Ohr (the Third Ear), a friendly kneipe on Matternstraße, where we spent the evening drinking. My friend thought it appropriate that I try every kind of local speciality that I had never encountered before, resulting in a rather odd array of drinks including Berliner weißbier (green) and kirsch bier. All good fun.

Amongst our conversations my friend told me about some of the absurdities of the Stasi grip on the east, such as a competition for kids in a West German school to release balloons with their address on – to see which landed furthest away. One landed in East Germany and the resulting exchange between two kids guaranteed the westerner a stasi file!

At the end of the night I somehow managed to navigate my way back to Frankfurter Tor and caught a late night/early morning train west and fell into my bed having felt that I’d made use of every second of the day.

The last days of Tempelhof

Posted in Berlin, Germany by folkestonejack on October 3, 2008

After leaving the giants of the steam age behind I headed out to Berlin Tempelhof, another legend soon to pass into history. Tempelhof opened as an airport in the 1920s and feels like it belongs to a different, more glamourous era of aviation even whilst it is in use today as a commercial airport. Indeed, most of its peers have long since vanished – such as Croydon airport near me.

If I had any regrets about my trip it was that I didn’t think to arrange my itinerary so that I flew into Tempelhof and that chance has pretty much gone now – the airport is to close at the end of the month. I don’t really understand the logic of the closure, but then maybe I am biased as I am a complete convert to the benefit of small city-centre airports like London City.

Anyway, I had to settle for a walk around the perimeter instead – walking to the gap in the apartment blocks that landing planes descend through on their way onto the runway. It’s a spot that has seen many iconic photographs from the time of the Berlin airlift (such as the shot of Berliners watching a C-54 land at Berlin Tempelhof Airport, 1948). I stood on a small mound and felt a tingle of excitement as I watched a passenger jet approach through the gap, pass overhead and land.

I made my way round to the main entrance and took a look inside the near deserted terminal building. I wasn’t alone in soaking up the nostalgia of the last days of Tempelhof as a functioning airport. I had followed the progress of the campaign to prevent the closure (see: Apathy dooms plan to save Tempelhof, site of Berlin airlift – Independent, 28th April 2008) and felt rather sad that no means had been found to retain some element of active aviation. I don’t think it would feel quite right without the sound of a plane – in the same way that the banking at Brooklands only really comes alive when cars return to the small surviving section of the circuit. Maybe time will prove me wrong.

My wander took me round the other notable elements of the area – the famous Tempelhof eagles and the memorial to the Berlin airlift – before I headed back underground.

Eisenbahnfest Schöneweide

Posted in Berlin, Germany by folkestonejack on October 3, 2008

After seeing the photographs of the Eisenbahnfest Schöneweide organised by Dampflokfreunde Berlin in 2007 I made up my mind to visit – planning this holiday around the date of the 2008 event. In many respects it seemed to be a lower profile event than the previous years event, in so far as I could tell from comparing the footage. Nevertheless, it was worth coming to see a variety of locomotives close up and in steam – particularly on the turntable in front of their roundhouse.

A whirlwind tour of Berlin

Posted in Berlin, Germany by folkestonejack on October 2, 2008

A whirlwind day of sightseeing took me from west to east and across a bewildering number of time periods. My first stop was the rooftop of the Reichstag with its wonderful fusion of old and new, certainly well worth all the hassle that you have to go through with security. It was a fabulous first look across the surprisingly green heart of Berlin. After this leaving the Reichstag behind, I moved on to the Monument to Soviet Soldiers in the Tiergarten and then through the Brandenburg Gate.

The German flag flies from the Reichstag in Berlin on 2nd October 2008

The German flag flies from the Reichstag in Berlin

I took in a fascinating exhibition Mythos Germania: Shadows and traces of the Imperial Capital which provided a fascinating glimpse into the way Berlin might look today had the war worked out differently and the ambitious scale of the changes that were planned (with a fair amount of disregard for what was already there). It was interesting to learn how much had been started and still remains today in its embryonic state.

After this look at what might have been I headed from Unter den Linten to Hackescher Markt (via Friedrichstrasse) for a look at what has been and gone at the Pergamonmuseum, followed by a short visit to the Berlin Wall Documentation Center on Bernauer Strasse. Finally, I wrapped up the day at the Berliner Fernsehturm with a view across the city as night fell…. time to get some rest after a frenetic first full day!

An unexpected detour

Posted in Berlin, Germany by folkestonejack on October 1, 2008

I am never very good at arriving just on time. Instead, I can usually be guaranteed to arrive anywhere far earlier than I need to. Today was no different – an early start got to me to London City airport with oodles of time for my 9.25am flight to Berlin Tegel. Or at least, it would have been oodles if there was still a flight to catch! Instead, I found myself ambling over to the Lufthansa desk to see what the options were now that my flight had been cancelled…

…and then dashing to catch an 8.40am flight to Dusseldorf on a two-leg re-routing that would get me to Berlin a couple of hours after my scheduled arrival time. It was a relief to be able to sink into my seat and relax after all that unexpected activity. Nevertheless, I have to say that Lufthansa organised my re-routing very efficiently and it certainly gave me confidence to fly with them again in the future.

After landing I headed to my hotel in Schöneberg by a combination of bus and u-bahn, checked in and allowed myself some time to chill – knowing that I have six days ahead of me in Berlin. The plan is to pack in a few sights, exhibitions, tours and get to see the Eisenbahnfest Schöneweide. Hopefully, I’ll have no more need of a Plan B after today’s diversion!