Visit to Germany in August 2014

Notes on the tour compiled by Alan de Burton

Off to Poland and Germany

This travelogue is aimed primarily at transport enthusiasts. It covers the German section of a short trip made by Patrick Chandler and myself to Poland and Germany in August 2014. The Polish section which also has Appendices will appear separately. Thanks are due to contributors in Milton Keynes and South Gloucestershire. Planning for the trip had three objectives:

·    A long weekend based in Warszawa in Poland around a rail tour. In the event, the rail tour was cancelled but since we had already booked hotels and flights, we replaced the rail tour days with travel of our own
·    Nights in Leipzig in Germany. The opening in December 2013 of the Leipzig S-Bahn tunnel under the city centre provided the incentive.
·    A final weekend in Berlin using train services which only run on summer weekends

As it proved, engineering works on railways and tramways made August less than ideal but we didn’t miss  anything serious. Readers will need some maps, for example the Schweers + Wall Atlas

Poland to Germany and back to UK

Monday 11 August: Warszawa to Berlin and Leipzig by train (abbreviated)

We left Poland for Germany on one of the 4 train pairs of the Berlin – Warszawa Express, a service which began in this form in October 2001. Our train for the 567 kms from Warszawa Wschodnia to Berlin Hbf. was EC44 which we caught at Warszawa Centralna where it was due to leave at 09 55. In a formation no doubt typical for the service our train comprised PKP multi-system electric loco # 370-006 / EU45 006 hauling 6 air conditioned coaches. The loco is in effect the same as an Austrian class 1216 ‘Taurus.’ There were 4 Polish seconds, a German DB ex-IR Bistro car and a Polish first class in which we had seats. The loco is of the Siemens design known as class 1216 on ÖBB in Austria. For reasons unknown and not explained even in Polish the train sat 20 minutes overtime at Warszawa Zachodnia. As far as the approaches to Lowicz, we used the same line as a few days earlier on our way back from Lodz. After another extended station stop in Poznan Glowny we were half an hour late. We found that the menu in the German Bistro car when we went for a lunch snack was only in Polish!

Approaching Frankfurt (Oder), we crossed the Odra / Oder river bridge at the present border between Poland and Germany. The bridge was rebuilt in 2008 and we made a brief stop just after for the system change from 3kV d.c. to 15 kV a.c.  We left Frankfurt (Oder) 35 minutes late for a 35 minute connection at Berlin Hbf. On the way into Berlin we had a view of the extensive reconstruction of the S-Bahn tracks and stations at Ostkreuz and Warschauer Strasse. We arrived at the upper level of Berlin Hbf. with only a couple of minutes to catch the 15 52 ICE 1615 to München from the ‘tief’ level of Hbf. for the 168 kms to Leipzig. The interchange is not straightforward, but fortunately for us the class 411 ICE was running about 8 minutes late. The line south from the ‘tief’ level of the Berlin Hbf. was opened in May 2006, in effect replacing Berlin’s old Anhalter Bf. station closed to passengers in May 1952 and later demolished.

We checked into the new Mercure Hotel Art quite close to Leipzig Hbf. This was somewhat disappointing, especially compared to the Mercure in Warszawa. While the room was comfortable enough, I have found a greater range of facilities in the Travelodge in Slough! We found that catering facilities in central Leipzig have greatly expanded since my previous visit. I was most surprised to find there were now a number of South Asian (Indian?) restaurants. We also saw various notices about extensive tramway engineering works.

Tuesday 12 August: Local travel around Leipzig and Halle

This was the first of 3 days of ‘local’ travel based in Leipzig. For the first day we bought the MDV Mitteldeutsche Verkehrsverbund day tickets from the office outside the Hbf.  since it wasn’t clear how to buy a full system day ticket from a ticket machine. I have met this problem before in Frankfurt (Main). Our route to Halle for our first tram riding session was indirect. We set off broadly eastwards from Leipzig on a DB Regio class 0442 4-section Talent II emu to Cottbus which we left after 25 kms at Eilenburg. Here we turned towards Halle via Delitzsch on VT 015, a RegioShuttle dmu rail car of Veolia MRB (Mitteldeutsche Regiobahn). This service is peculiar. MRB run the base 2-hourly service, but DB Regio provide peak extras and the entire service on Saturday afternoon and evening. While the 51 kms long line is an electrified double track for freight, the passenger stops are primitive halts.

The first of our 4 tram rides in Halle took us to Marktplatz in the city centre where we looked at the statue of the composer Händel who migrated from Halle to the UK in the 18th century. We then headed south looping through Südstadt and then north to Frohe Zukunft. 3 of the tram formations were Bombardier, one was Duewag, all low floor. Central Halle is much smarter than on previous visits, but this time we didn’t ride to Halle-Neustadt where we may have reached other conclusions. We returned to Leipzig using S-Bahn route S3 on a class 1442 Talent II through the new S-Bahn tunnel under Leipzig opened in December 2013. All the S-Bahn trains now seem to be worked by these units. We rode for 40 kms to S3’s final destination at Leipzig-Stötteritz. We then headed back one stop to Leipzig-Völkerschlachtdenkmal, where we found that the station was somewhat distant from the Denkmal itself.

I hadn’t realised this the monument is open to the public, and we took some time sampling it. The monument is fundamentally an enormous dome completed in 1913 to celebrate the defeat of Napoleon at the ‘Battle of the Nations’ a century earlier. The monument has only been restored for public access in quite recent years after (1) WW2 damage by US forces who later ceded control to the Soviets, (2) the inability of the DDR authorities to decide what to do with it and (3) its generally poor condition since although structurally made of concrete it was poorly built on top of landfill. We duly climbed a series of gradually narrowing stairways to the top which is 91m (= 300 feet) from the ground. There were a number of surprises. The monument is adorned by a number of enormous sculptures; I found the overall effect rather Wagnerian since there are no religious connotations at all. Considering the number of stairs, I was surprised there weren’t the ‘health’ warnings you would expect in Britain. Also I don’t believe that the railings are high enough to prevent potential suicides. Finally on a hot day, a staffed buffet would have got business from us.

Thereafter we rode trams, firstly a pair of modernised Tatras on route 15 to Hbf. and then on one of the most recent Bombardier cars to Angerbrücke. We then reversed our direction to use a pair of Leoliners on route 3 to Taucha to the north-east of the city centre. As some readers are aware, the Heiterblick Leoliner is a low-floor tram  developed in-house at the Heiterblick workshops of the Leipzig undertaking, no doubt to provide a cheaper low-floor replacement for the high-floor Tatras. The 2-section Leoliners have a high floor over one bogie under the front section and over 2 bogies under the rear section. I don’t believe they are comparable to low floor cars built by Bombardier or Siemens at the same period.

Taucha is at the end of a single track section opened in 1927 with comparatively infrequent service and outside city limits. We found a DB station where at first sight a train could take us more quickly back to the city. However we had to abandon that attempt when it was clear that trains were stranded by some kind of incident and going nowhere at that time. A tram formation of two Tatras and a low-floor trailer took us back to the city on route 3. The Leipzig operator LVB seem to operate a complete mix of stock on any route. Back on trains S-Bahn services were somewhat chaotic, but we were able to ride the 3 kms to Bayerischer Bahnhof station. Here we ate in a restaurant which occupies one of the original two matching station buildings dating from 1842. The other building was destroyed in bombing in 1943. Train services were still chaotic when we returned.

Wednesday 13 August: Day Visits from Leipzig to Dresden (and for Patrick to Czech Republic)

Patrick and myself had different needs on this and the following day. I used a Sachsen day Länderticket also available in Thüringen and on a more scenic route to Dresden than the main line through Riesa. I left Leipzig Hbf (tief) for the 89 kms to Zwickau Hbf. at 09 40 on a train formed by a pair of DB Regio class 1442s emus. I was surprised when a man joined at Leipzig-Bayrischer Bf. selling refreshments. I bought a coffee at only 1.50 Euros. While the coffee was OK, the Neudeutsch slogan on the cup arguably wasn’t: ‘Coffee to Go.’ There was an SBB-Cargo class 482 electric loco on the way at Gössnitz.

The ride of an hour and half on the top deck of the 11 31 departure from Zwickau through from Hof to Dresden Hbf. in a train formed by a class 143 electric loco and 3 double deckers was worth the experience. This is a temporary arrangement made possible by electrification from Reichenbach to Hof but will cease when new emus are delivered. Zwickau Hbf. still boasts mechanical signals. The former Bw. (loco depot) at Glauchau showed a pair of class 228 diesel locos (ex DR class 118). I noted that the alignment between Chemnitz and Dresden has very many curves, some so sharp that trains are restricted to as low as 70 k/h and even on occasion 60 k/h. Consequently the 127 kms journey is scheduled to take 92 minutes. In my own judgment the double deck experience was vastly superior to the tilting class 612 dmus which work half the service between Hof and Dresden. I had a decent light lunch in the buffet at Dresden Hbf. operated by a subsidiary of the Swiss group Migros.

Dresden also provided me with a look and haulage experience of DB class 182 ‘Taurus’ electric locos working the local S-Bahn route S1 and new to me in Dresden. The 25 locos of this class were built by Siemens in 2001 for the freight sector of DB to the Austrian class 1116 design as a substitute for intended class 152s which weren’t authorised by the Austrians. After a few years, the freight sector DBS decided to rid themselves of them as a splinter class and in due course they were taken by DB Regio who split them 15 to Cottbus and 10 to Dresden. Since they have been fitted out with the software package to work with Regio double deckers on push-and-pull workings, they can no longer work either to Austria or on German InterCity trains. While Dresden S-Bahn trains may seem a waste of 230 k/h locos, they consume one-third less electricity than the class 143s they replaced and no doubt their maintenance costs are much lower.

My afternoon objective was to ride on the 750mm gauge SDG (Sächsische Dampfeisenbahn-Gesellschaft) Lössnitzgrundbahn line from Radebeul Ost to Radeburg, but first of all I needed to reach Radebeul Ost. Pre 1945 the line was quadruple track from Pirna in the south through Dresden Hbf. and Dresden-Neustadt towards Radebeul Ost and Coswig. Since about 1996, DB have been gradually reinstating quadruple track and renovating the two major stations in Dresden. Work on Dresden Hbf. originally completed in 1898 was largely finished in 2007 while work at Dresden-Neustadt continues. A different set of platforms than before (now platforms 1 – 3) were out of use at Dresden-Neustadt and quadrupling was in progress on to Radebeul Ost. I found that the station here had been rebuilt in 2012 and the former station building was now the public library.

On the narrow gauge Lössnitzgrundbahn it is quite difficult to fit in trips going all the way to the terminus at Radeburg. My train was hauled by steam loco # 99-1789 which in British terms is a 2-10-2T. It was built by the East German LKM Babelsberg works near Potsdam in 1957. One of the 8 coaches was ‘open’ above the waist. The fare of 13.60 Euros return payable to the guard for 16 kms each way seemed reasonable to me by British standards. However, there are none of the shop or catering facilities the British would expect although there may be some at the intermediate station at Moritzburg where some trains terminate. The terminus at Radeburg serves a small town with no obvious ‘draw’ for tourists. I did note that the first steam train of the day is scheduled to leave Radeburg at 06 11 on Sachsen school days. No doubt these trains have active steam heating! Back at Radebeul Ost I caught the 17 28 RE train for the 110 kms to Leipzig Hbf. This was formed by a 4-car and a 3-car class 442 Talent II emus. I found the section from Radebeul Ost to Coswig was now quadruple track.

Patrick was using railway employee ‘FIP’ tickets so he could start earlier and also use InterCity trains without charge. He attempted to start at 08 26 on an ICE for the 120 kms to Dresden Hbf via the main line through Riesa, but the class 411 ICE-T emu set only appeared after scheduled departure time and a further ICE-T emu set (class 415 this time) was added on the front and the train was 20 minutes late leaving. Some time was made up afterwards. On the section between Riesa and Dresden-Neustadt Patrick rode on a new electrified spur line of which I was entirely unaware. It runs for 7.4 kms from Abzweig Leckwitz east of Riesa on the Leipzig main line to Abzweig Kottewitz near Böhla on the Berlin main line. It helps keep main line trains clear of S-Bahn trains starting out of Meissen and should ultimately help achieve a journey time of 45 minutes from Leipzig to Dresden for IC trains as against 72 minutes now. Another part of the same project to build a southern avoiding line around Riesa has been abandoned.

Patrick’s prime target was to ride over two of the frontiers between the German and Czech railway systems. Firstly he needed to reach Bad Schandau not far short of the Czech frontier on the main line towards Praha. While the S-Bahn service is nominally half-hourly to Bad Schandau, at this time single line working for trackworks between Pirna and Bad Schandau enforced a reduced service; after a 17 kms ride on train route S1 to Pirna Patrick had to use a substitute bus (articulated MAN) onwards to Bad Schandau. The route from Dresden Hbf. to Pirna was expensively re-quadrupled from 1996 to about 2004 following reduction after 1945 to double track and maybe less. His bus on from Pirna used a route over the hills before rejoining the Elbe river gorge and railway at Königstein. The station and track layout at Bad Schandau were extensively rebuilt from 2004 onwards and other than the shell of the station building nothing survives of the border station and facilities I met in c. 1977. There isn’t a trace of the dog kennels I remember. They were no doubt a vital border ‘facility’ to help prevent the DDR’s citizens escaping to the socialist paradise of Czechoslovakia!

At Bad Schandau Patrick caught a class 642 ‘Desiro’ 2-car articulated dmu to Rumburk in the Czech Republic on a service which has only run through across the border between Sebnitz in Germany and Dolni Poustevna  in the Czech Republic since 5 July 2014. While the line across the border between Germany and then Austria was opened in 1905, it was closed at the end of WW2 in 1945 after 40 years service. It then laid ‘fallow’ for nearly 70 years before its recent resurrection. The new service is a joint operation between DB Regio and CD with DB providing the train and the Czechs the train crew. Within the Czech Republic this train service is routed through the substantial town of Sluknow, once Schluttenau. On the 40 kms journey the train was well filled and the train crew accepted both Euros and Czech crowns for fares. Although refaced, Rumburk station building at the end of Patrick’s journey would certainly be recognised by the Austrian k.k. Staatsbahnen who operated it a century ago.

Patrick had intended to travel on to Decin within the Czech Republic on an internal Czech train but although the train was announced nothing appeared. Patrick cut his losses and returned on a similar train back to Bad Schandau and then all 40 kms on an S-Bahn train through to Dresden Hbf. He was now ahead of schedule and was able to visit the Verkehrsmuseum in the city centre. They were celebrating 175 years of the opening the first section of the Leipzig-Dresdner Eisenbahn-Compagnie (LDE) with two locos. One was a locally built replica of the first loco ‘Saxonia’ (British built) and the other the ex-Furness Railway ‘Coppernob’ on loan from the National Railway Museum in York UK. An exhibit in the museum showed the Reichsbahn’s work in 1933 – 34 opening out the former Oberau Tunnel on the LDE line between Niederau and Priestewitz.

Patrick’s return from Dresden Hbf. was on an IC train with a class 101 electric loco for traction. As his Leipzig to Dresden ICE had done that morning, Patrick’s train took the spur to the Berlin main line after Radebeul and then the further spur from Abzweig Kottewitz to Abzweig Leckwitz mentioned above to regain the Leipzig main line before Riesa.

Thursday 14 August: Personal Day Visit to Gera (and Patrick to Hof and myself to Erfurt)

Once again Patrick and myself had different needs and travelled separately although our first stop in both cases was to ride on the tramway system in Gera. Patrick had to buy a ticket to Gera on the Erfurter Bahn and a day ticket for his tram riding in Gera but his employee ‘FIP’ ticket covered the rest of his day. His train for the 73 kms to Gera Hbf was formed by a triple formation of class 650 RegioShuttle diesel single units. At Profen which serves a lignite works he saw former UK diesel loco 59 003 which returned to the UK shortly afterward.

Gera is the second largest town in the Land of Thüringen with a population of about 100,000, seemingly a reduction from 130,000 in DDR days. It now has a modern town centre but typical DDR style suburbs of high rise ‘Wohnsilo’ flats. Electric tram services started as early as 1892, but by the mid 1970s in DDR days the system shrank to just one route. It has expanded greatly since, and after abandonment of any connection in 1945, the out-of-centre Hbf. was reconnected to the tram network in 2007. While Gera in the former DDR and Lodz in Poland were both in communist states from the end of WW2 until 1989, there is now a vast contrast in the state of both their buildings and trams. Nevertheless Gera’s Stadtwerke which owns the transport company went into administration in early 2014, and services were to be reduced from 6 October 2014.

Patrick rode most of the tramway system but left route 3 at Berufsakadamie short of its terminus. Here he inspected provision for a junction for a route extension to Langenberg; we don’t know whether the entry of Gera’s Stadtwerke into administration will stop progress on this scheme. Most tram services are worked by a pair of Tatra KT4D articulated cars where one car has an added low-floor centre section. Gera also has some Alstom LHB low floor trams. Patrick’s rides included route 2 which only runs half-hourly and Monday to Friday daytime only. In contrast prime route 3 had a night time gap of only 90 minutes at the time of our visits.

After his tram riding Patrick set off from Gera Hbf. firstly for Glauchau then Zwickau and on to Hof in Bayern. Patrick’s train arrived in Gera Hbf. from Göttingen with 2 x class 612 tilting dmus, but one was immediately detached. For Patrick’s journey on to Gössnitz see my notes below for my travel later that day. He continued to Glauchau, 53 kms from Gera. Patrick then had a short 16 km ride with a class 143 electric loco and double deckers on a stopping RB train to Zwickau Hbf.

Patrick’s main purpose now was to ride with another class 143 and double deckers for the 96 kms to Hof. The southern 73 kms of the route between Reichenbach to Hof over the former DDR / BRD border were only electrified from December 2013 and the double deck rolling stock used on half the service is only temporary pending delivery of new emus. After Reichenbach where the electrification previously ended his train crossed the Göltzschtalbrücke which is 78m high and consumed 26m bricks. After Plauen ob. Bf. he passed the former DDR / BRD frontier station at Gutenfürst now largely dismantled. I first met this in 1985 on the sole daily ‘corridor’ train from Berlin to München that way when it was ‘operational.’ On ‘corridor’ trains, the main purpose was to drop the security staff who had boarded the train at Griebnitzsee just outside former West Berlin.

At Hof Patrick also noted that although electrification goes no further into Bayern at present, almost the entire track layout in the station area has been electrified. I believe that German reunification funds had helped pay for electrification over the former border but nothing for beyond which remains diesel at present. At Hof Patrick saw  SNCF electric loco 37025 which he had also seen earlier at Glauchau. Patrick’s return was fairly simple, with the same loco and stock to Zwickau Hbf. and then a pair of DB Regio class 1442 emus running half an hour late for the 89 kms to Leipzig Hbf. (tief).

My itinerary for the day was twice disrupted by engineering works, but fortunately I had found out about them in advance from the DB website I was again using the Sachsen day Länderticket. On my trip to Gera the Erfurter Bahn provided a pair of RegioShuttle diesel single units. Fortunately since I would travel on more later I found that unlike some operator’s RegioShuttles, these do have toilets. At Profen where Patrick saw 59 003  I saw a pair of ‘class 66’ diesel freight locos. At Zeitz I noted that the Burgenlandbahn still operates 4-wheel diesel cars. We would meet this type again in Brandenburg on Saturday.

I rode almost the entire tramway system in Gera but left out the new section above the Hbf. which I had ridden on a previous visit. A plate told me that car # 308 I rode on had been built in 1981 and rebuilt in 2011 but seemed in very decent condition. Gera tram seats were far better than the plastic pressings that Köln provide on their Stadtbahn B cars operating much longer journeys between Köln and Bonn.

From Gera Hbf. I took what is normally a through service over 67 kms to Saalfeld but was interrupted by a 6 kms long engineering line closure between Niederpöllnitz and Triptis which included at least a bridge replacement. The trains on both sides of the blockage were single Erfurter Bahn RegioShuttles. The conductress travelled through and the Citaro motor bus from a local independent operator that spanned the gap between trains was quite able to handle prams. Saalfeld station was quite unrecognisable from when I first met it nearly 40 years ago in DDR days. I am sure it is now much cleaner.

My train for the 47 kms from Saalfeld to Arnstadt comprised yet another pair of Erfurter Bahn RegioShuttles. At Rottenbach I was surprised to see a DB RegioNetz French style class 641 diesel single unit on the connecting Schwarzatalbahn train to Katzhütte. After Marlishausen we crossed under the future high speed line from Erfurt southwards towards Erlangen. There were catenary masts but as yet no catenary wire. The train terminated at Arnstadt and I needed to change into an articulated 2-car Erfurter Bahn ‘Itino’ dmu from Ilmenau. Its UIC number is # 615 701, a 2-car version of a RegioShuttle; few were built.

I wanted to buy a bar of chocolate at Erfurt Hbf. but was surprised that none of the many retail outlets at the rebuilt Hbf. seemed to sell it. Finally I found a bar from a vending machine. My train at 16 50 from Erfurt for the 138 kms to Altenburg comprised 3 x 2-car class 612 tilting dmus, two units for Altenburg, one unit detached at Gera for Greiz. Just out of Erfurt the new high speed line to Halle / Leipzig diverged with shiny rails but blocked off by ‘engineering possession’ boards. I met anticipated delays from Jena West. The double track section through Göschwitz was temporarily single, and the single section between Neue Schenke and Stadtroda is being doubled.

At Gera Süd I noted unusually large station buildings. Before 1920, this was the main station of the Sächsische Staatseisenbahnen whereas the Hbf. belonged to the KPEV (Prussian State Railways). The connection into the Wismut railway at Ronneburg was shiny. Unlike Patrick’s trip a few hours earlier my train later turned left for Altenburg rather than right for Gössnitz. We were still late on the revised schedule, and had just a 4-minute connection into an S-Bahn train starting at Altenburg. Upgrading work of the route to S-Bahn status is still underway from Altenburg northwards with poor track and semi-derelict stations. At Böhlen, I saw a class 228 (formerly 118) ex-Reichsbahn diesel loco of MEG (Mitteldeutsche Eisenbahn Gesellschaft). I left the train at Leipzig Hbf. (tief) after a 44 kms ride.

Friday 15 August: Leipzig to Berlin by Train

We needed to set out for Berlin for our couple of days travelling from there. My ‘tarification’ was more complex: an ordinary single ticket from Leipzig to Falkenberg which would place me in Brandenburg, and then a Berlin-Brandenburg Ticket onward pre-purchased from a DB ticket machine in Leipzig. We set off on the 08 00 from Leipzig Hbf. (tief) which was a through train from Geithin to Hoyerswerda which we caught as far as Ruhland (119 kms). This was worked by a DB Region 3-section class 1442 Talent II emu. Here we changed to a train from Dresden to Cottbus worked by a class 442 emu. Patrick left at Sedlitz Ost for a different route northwards while I continued for 47 kms to Cottbus.

With the peculiar station layout at Cottbus, changing trains and visiting the main station building took considerable walking time. For the 120 kms on to Berlin Ostbf., ODEG provided me with a new travel experience: one of their 4-car Stadler double deck emus on a through journey across Berlin to Wittenberge. Patrick rejoined at Königs Wusterhausen after using a DB Regio train in between. At Berlin Ostbf., we checked in at the InterCity Hotel which is part of the station building. This is much more convenient than the ibis nearby I have used several times, and InterCity hotels provide a local travel ticket for the duration of your stay.

Our travel in Berlin was quite extensive but constrained by the closure for this part of the summer of the S-Bahn tracks between Berlin Ostbf. and Berlin Zoo’. The gap was being covered by replacement bus services, extra stops at Alexanderplatz station by regional trains and extra shuttle trains between Ostbf. and Zoo’ worked by class 143 electric locos and double deck sets. Berlin local passengers were extending station dwell time delays because of unfamiliarity with regional trains. I won’t provide details of every local ride in Berlin.

Our first call was at the GVE shop at Berlin-Lichtenberg station for railway / tramway literature. The DDR rebuilt and extended the station in 1980 – 83 as the second main line station for the ‘Hauptstadt der DDR’ (‘capital of the DDR’), a claim of doubtful legality because of the 4-power agreements. Since the opening of the new Berlin Hbf. in 2006, it has become increasingly secondary; its inner suburban location was no more convenient to the DDR’s ‘Haupstadt’ than Finsbury Park is to central London. We then travelled out to Ostkreuz station on the S-Bahn. Ostkreuz station is the major East Berlin S-Bahn interchange point outside the city centre. The upper level has now been rebuilt as two large island platforms, but on the main lower level building works are very much still in progress. They extend all the way to Warschauer Strasse the next station towards the city. The new station when complete will differ in two further ways: (1) there will be platforms for regional as well as S-Bahn trains to call, and (2) tracks will be reorganised so that all S-Bahn trains towards the Stadtbahn in central Berlin will share an island platform.

Our next call was to view the present state of the terminal buildings of the former Tempelhof airport at which I first arrived in Berlin by plane nearly 40 years earlier. They are intact but not publicly accessible. Later a Polish built Solaris articulated single deck motor bus on route 41 helped take us to Berlin Hbf. station. On the way it used the long road tunnel under the Tiergarten constructed as part of the new north-south main line railway development. I could then make a short ride on the new U55 subway line. We also noted that the ‘Tränenpalast’ (Palace of Tears) former entry building to the west at Friedrichstrasse station is now a museum to the division of Berlin and Germany but we were too late to visit.

Saturday 16 August: Day Visit to Branch Railway Lines in MeckPomm

This was the first of two days visiting railway lines whose only service is primarily of excursion nature at summer weekends. On this day we needed to use a Schönes Wochenende Ticket since we would be travelling in MeckPomm as well as Berlin-Brandenburg and Patrick would be using non-DB trains.

Because of the limited service, we had to leave Berlin Ostbf. on a train at 06 53 for the 82 kms to Neustadt (Dosse) where we changed for Pritzwalk. The 06 53 was another ODEG class 445 4-car Stadler double deck emu on its way to Wismar. The InterCity Hotel managed to provide us with packed breakfasts, mine non-gluten! Some train services around Pritzwalk have changed hands since my last visit 5 years ago and are now in the hands of EGP = Eisenbahngesellschaft Potsdam. Their 4-wheel rail bus VT504 took us for 42 kms on the 08 46 from Neustadt to Pritzwalk itself. I had ridden on the same vehicle 5 years before from Pritzwalk to Meyenburg and back when PEG (Pritzwalker Eisenbahn Gesellschaft) ran that service. Neither this nor the next vehicle had any toilets.

For the 59 kms beyond to Meyenburg, Karow and Krakow am See, EGP provided double deck 4-wheel rail bus VT670.03 now a bit tatty. There is a Monday to Friday service within the normal Berlin-Brandenburg tariff structure from Pritzwalk as far as Meyenburg, but at weekends tariffs are EGP’s and publicity says that you pay on the train. However, the train was one person operated and the driver had no means or interest in collecting any fares at all! There is a major source of freight traffic on this section at Falkenhagen Gewerbepark, notably with oil traffic from a bio diesel plant. When I visited in 2009, Arriva had a vehicle dump at Meyenburg including both some heavily-graffitified class 403 ‘Donald Duck’ cars and no doubt more usefully other vehicles like middle-aged dmus from Denmark suitable for new train operating contracts. At that time Arriva was British owned; when it sold out later, the competition authorities required Arriva’s purchaser DB to sell off its German interests which were purchased by the Italian state railways and rebranded as Netinera. Arriva’s vehicles have gone, but in their place are some of the DDR’s Reichsbahn class 142 electric locos which were later used in Switzerland.

Beyond Meyenburg the line crosses into Mecklenburg-Vorpommern (referred to subsequently as MeckPomm). This boundary is traditional and up till 1920 the line beyond Meyenburg was owned by the Mecklenburg Staatsbahnen. Arguably the border led to the closure of this line to regular passenger traffic in September 2000 through two problems. Firstly crossing the border between two Länder creates issues of responsibility for a subsidy, and secondly all the school and college traffic flows are contained within each of the Länder.

The maximum speed on the normally freight line beyond Meyenburg was necessarily lower. Scenery was thinly populated rural. At Karow we crossed the cross country line from Waren to Parchim and beyond: see later comments. We found that Krakow am See is a small town and even has public toilets (chargeable). We could have caught a bus north to Güstrow but it didn’t fit the rest of our itinerary. A small platform has been built south of a level crossing and just short of the former station building to the north of the crossing. Rails beyond towards Güstrow were moderately shiny. We returned south for only 13 kms as far as the junction at Karow. The station here is now semi-derelict but photos show that it was still in respectable condition at the turn of the century.

While we now wanted to head east towards Waren and Neustrelitz, we would have had a long wait at a junction station with a large station building now derelict and devoid of facilities and with no significant visible habitation. Accordingly we caught an ODEG train for 21 kms west as far as Lübz where the station serves a small town. The ODEG train was running through from Neustrelitz to Hagenow and comprised a single RegioShuttle dsu. This line is still known locally as the Mecklenburgische Südbahn and is under threat of closure between Parchim and Malchow; at Lübz, the anti-closure protesters had set up stalls for a protest. Our short walk around the pleasant town showed that all commerce had ‘died’ by Saturday lunchtime. However, we found a lock on the Müritz-Elde Wasserstrasse; this is part of the extensive system of waterways we would meet again at Rheinsberg on the following day. Using the Mittellandkanal, Germany has a waterway system extending all the way from the Rhein to the Oder. This includes the massive boat lift at Niederfinow on the Oder-Havel-Kanal built between the wars to provide strategic access to the port of Stettin (now Szczecin).

From Lübz we returned on another ODEG RegioShuttle through Karow and went on to Malchow and Waren and along the Rostock – Berlin main line to Neustrelitz, 92 kms in total. The section of this line from Karow to Malchow was closed and the track removed in 1945 as reparations to the Soviets and only reinstated in September 1968. When we last travelled from Waren to Neustrelitz in 2013 the main line was reduced to a single track and heavy reconstruction was in progress. This has now been completed and the line is now presumably fit for 160 k/h. The line had been closed in sections over several years for the upgrade work. In a similar manner to the section from Karow to Malchow we had ridden earlier in the journey, this route was also closed in 1945 and the track lifted under Soviet direction. As part of DDR plans to upgrade the port at Rostock to replace Stettin which had become Szczecin in Poland, it was re-opened on 28 May 1961 as a Nebenbahn and as a Hauptbahn 3 years later largely without grade crossings. The southern approaches to Waren were realigned in 1977 to remove several remaining grade crossings in an urban area.

The rebuilt line was originally single track but doubled by the time electrification took place in 1984 / 85. However, since the Soviet military had built on part of the former alignment, the reinstated route is 1.8 kms longer than the original between Katzeburg and Neustrelitz; this deviation isn’t shown even on the 2014 Schweers +Wall railway atlas. On the way at Katzeburg we had to cross over the northbound track to call at the station since the platform is only on a northbound-side loop. This reminded me of Mosney on the GN (I) Dublin to Belfast main line. My notes on my visit in 2009 commented on the dumped class 403 ‘Donald Duck’ emu vehicles on the then Arriva works at Neustrelitz. The DDR’s Reichsbahn had built the works as a prime diesel loco maintenance facility in 1969 – 73. The dumped vehicles had gone in 2013 after trenitalia-owned Netinera had taken over, but this time we found that half a dozen of the ‘Donald Duck’ vehicles are back. Netinera must treat the works as a separate profit centre.

We now rode on another marginal service from Neustrelitz to Mirow and back with EGP again, this time with dsu VT120 = 626 120 previously with SWEG in Baden-Wurttemberg. Judging by staff advertising we saw, we guessed that the conductress was a ‘temp’ off school for the summer holidays or a student. On the way there is a private siding to a tank farm, and the passenger traffic was what you might expect on a summer Saturday to a holiday area for camping and the like. Even a century ago, this was the most sparsely populated part of Germany which was much larger then.

For a journey of only 21 kms each way, the history is rather complex, partly because when built as in recent times the route beyond Mirow crosses a boundary between then Preussen now Brandenburg in the west and Mecklenburg now MeckPomm (Mecklenburg-Vorpommern) in the east. By the 20th century the western part of the line was owned by the Prignitzer Eisenbahn-Gesellschaft and the eastern by the Mecklenburgische-Friedrich-Wilhelm-Gesellschaft (MFWE), not the same undertaking at the Staatsbahnen whose lines we had already met. This duo continued to operate the line till 1 January 1941 when they were nationalised as a strategic route for supplies to the future WW2 Eastern Front. The line over the border between the Länder between Mirow and Wittstock closed in May 1998. In Neustrelitz, the line traditionally used a separate station at Neustrelitz Süd since it continued east to Strasburg and to Feldberg. The line to Feldberg closed in May 2000 and at some time between 2003 and 2006 trains to Mirow have run into the main station at Neustrelitz.

Although we didn’t ride the line since it has been long closed, there was an 11 kms branch on from Mirow to Rechlin on Müritzsee with a curious history. It seems to have been opened in 1917 to serve a military airfield, and was used in the 1930s at least as the Luftwaffe’s prime research establishment. Some time later it acquired a public passenger service. This continued at least till the late 1960s, by then reduced more or less to a works service. Soviet forces used the military installations till 1993.

We returned from Neustrelitz for 97 kms as far as Berlin-Gesundbrunnen with a train of 4 double deckers with traction by a DB Regio class 112 electric loco. While these locos can reach 160 k/h, schedules are no faster than before. South of Oranienburg, our train used the ‘long curve’ dating from May 1962 between Birkenwerder and Bergfelde to join the Aussenring, as is usual for trains towards Berlin. The Aussenring between Bergfelde and the junctions at Karower Kreuz was opened in November 1952. After the construction of the Berlin Wall the tracks were hastily electrified for the S-Bahn on its 3rd rail system. Since the 3rd rails were located on the outside of the tracks to provide clearance for main line trains, the S-Bahn service had a mid-morning gap in service so that the tracks could be patrolled safely. In September 1984, the S-Bahn was able to migrate to dedicated new tracks.

I am still impressed by the conceptual design of the Aussenring which provides Berlin with a railway version of London’s M25. While it was designed and built in the early 1950s as an emergency highly political project to circumnavigate West Berlin and used the DDR’s very scarce resources, the design has served well. It was also one of the very few main lines built at this period. After a meal in the city centre, we used the S-Bahn bus replacement for the last stage of our travel back to the hotel in Berlin. This was provided by single deckers by a range of independent operators.

Sunday 17 August: Day Visit to Branch Railway Lines in north Brandenburg

This was the second day sampling the complexities of rural railways north of Berlin for an 82 kms ride using a Berlin-Brandenburg Ticket this time. After a short S-Bahn ride to Berlin-Lichtenberg, we set off on DB Regio’s hourly service to Templin Stadt at 09 37 on 2-car # 646.028 which is a Stadler GTW low-floor dmu. The train took the Aussenring to Oranienburg, where it sat for a connection from Berlin Hbf. The first part of the journey on the Aussenring between Biesdorfer Kreuz Nord and Karower Kreuz is complex. This section was first opened as the single track freight GAR (Güteraussenring) in October 1941, dismantled in 1947, reinstated in 1950 and doubled and substantially realigned in 1957. It is now accompanied by S-Bahn tracks which reached the present terminus at Wartenberg in December 1985 to serve East German ‘Wohnsilo’ blocks of flats. Provisional trackbed beyond has never been used and post reunification housing is low rise.

From Oranienburg, we then continued northbound on the main line to Rostock we had used the previous evening as far as Löwenberg where we turned off east on to the single track rural branch line to Templin Stadt. Line condition seemed distinctly ‘branch line.’ 2.4 kms before Templin Stadt we called at the former main station at Templin which has a vast array of derelict railway buildings and installations. The line had continued on to Prenzlau until May 2000. Even in the 1990s, Templin had been the centre of 4 radiating lines and was where future Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel grew up. However, the population of this thinly populated area has been shrinking continuously since German reunification and there simply wasn’t the traffic to support the previous railway network. We returned from Templin for 35 kms as far as the main line junction station at Löwenberg. From December 2015 the Niederbarnimer Eisenbahn will operate both this service and the next.

At Löwenburg we caught a 2-car DB Regio class 628 dmu on the weekend seasonal service to Rheinsberg 38 kms away. Rheinsberg is on a sub branch which diverges at Herzberg from a through line from Löwenburg to Neuruppin. However, at some date probably in 2005 – 2006 both the through line west to Neuruppin and the sub-branch to Rheinsberg lost their all-year service and the Herzberg – Neuruppin section its entire passenger service. However as a complication, the seasonal service to Rheinsberg ran out of Neuruppin rather than Löwenberg when the service from Berlin to Löwenberg was interrupted by the line upgrade described earlier completed in December 2013. On our trip line speed was slow and reflected a freight line without all year passenger service. On the approaches to Rheinsberg we noted the former branch trailing in on the right from the now closed nuclear power station at Rheinsberg Stechlinsee. This used Soviet technology and operated from 1966 until it was closed for safety reasons in 1990. Parts cannot be finally demolished till about 2069. We were unable to call at the railway museum at Rheinsberg since it is only open on Tuesdays.

We had 2 hours in Rheinsberg during which we found unexpected lunch at a Chinese restaurant and walked around the grounds of the castle (Schloss). Rheinsberg is a major centre of local tourism with its Schloss on the banks of the Rheinsberger See. Local shipping operator Reederei Halbeck whose 3 largest craft have a capacity of 150+ operate excursions over large area which includes 70 interconnected lakes. The Schloss in its present form dates mainly from the 18th century when it was extended for Frederick the Great and his Hohenzollern family. It is now managed by an agency of Land Brandenburg together with the Sans Souci palace and Cecilienhof in Potsdam amongst others.

For a change on the way back, we used a local bus from Rheinsberg to Neuruppin: they do have local buses on Sundays! Ours was a Mercedes Citaro operated by a local independent. At Neuruppin Rheinsberger Tor station we took the 16 31 DB Regio train to Spandau running about 15 minutes late. It comprised a pair of Stadler class 646 GTW dmus and was rather full and clogged up with cycles as common in Germany on a late Sunday afternoon. Until 1949, the section from Neuruppin to Kremmen was owned and operated by the Ruppiner Eisenbahn which ran from Meyenburg to Wittstock, Neuruppin and Kremmen. Their trains in conjunction with the Reichsbahn ran through to Berlin Stettiner Bf. into the 1940s. After a 45 km ride we left the train at Hennigsdorf and changed into an S-Bahn train more directly as far as Berlin-Friedrichstrasse.

This line is or was known as the Kremmener Bahn after the most important town on its route and has a complex modern history. The section north of Velten (6 kms north of key point Hennigsdorf) to Kremmen and Neuruppin is single track and has never been electrified. Velten to Neuruppin was closed for reconstruction in December 1995 and only reopened to Kremmen in May 1998 and to Neuruppin in May 2000. A part of the upgrading, the line was reclassified as a Hauptbahn rather than a Nebenbahn; this raised the speed limit from 80 k/h to 120 k/h. but level crossings now needed lifting barriers. The Berlin end of the line was electrified from the Berlin terminus at Stettiner Vorortbf. to Velten as the 3rd rail S-Bahn in May 1927 (although this date is disputed). At the city end trains were progressively diverted from July 1936 into the Nord-Südbahn tunnels under central Berlin and later to points beyond.

After WW2, the line continued to be operated by the now East German (DDR) Deutsche Reichsbahn within all parts of Berlin and the comparative countryside beyond in what became the DDR. In 1952 the division of Berlin to four sectors made its first impact with imposition of border control at Hennigsdorf between the section at the southern city end under the control of the West and the outer section controlled by the DDR. In June 1954 the DDR opened a new border control station closer to West Berlin at Hennigsdorf Süd which became a public station in November 1958 and was renamed Stolpe Süd in October 1959.

In August 1961, the DDR authorities erected the Berlin Wall and severed services between Heiligensee, the last station in West Berlin, and Hennigsdorf. The Reichsbahn continued to operate the 6 kms section between Hennigsdorf and Velten as a detached 3rd rail shuttle till September 1983. The rest of the line in West Berlin closed in January 1984 when the Reichsbahn have up its S-Bahn operations in West Berlin. While the West Berlin Senate set about reviving other parts of the former Reichsbahn system in West Berlin under their own control, they showed no interest in reviving the line to Heiligensee since their U6 underground line had reached Tegel within West Berlin in 1958 and sharply reduced traffic within the West Berlin part of the line.

In autumn 1989 the Berlin Wall came down and interest grew in reviving the line, but under control of the national railway system again which from 1994 became Deutsche Bahn (= DB). The line as part of the S-Bahn reopened out to Tegel in May 1995 and after construction of a major new river bridge over the river Havel reopened north to Hennigsdorf in December 1998. The section from Hennigsdorf to Velten remains diesel operated as part of the Kremmener Bahn service to Kremmen, Neuruppin and beyond. Alongside the running line on the west side from Velten to Hennigsdorf we saw the test track used by Bombardier for its works at Hennigsdorf; this track is electrified with both 3rd rail and at 15 kV overhead catenary. As revived, the S-Bahn section south of Hennigsdorf can still only handle 6-car trains (3 x quarter-trains). Changing at Hennigsdorf is at the same platform but the trains are end to end. Our S-Bahn train took us about 23 kms to Berlin-Friedrichstrasse.

We did a little tram riding in the evening: 3-section low floor Adtranz / Bombardier car # 1080 of the mid 1990s, modernised high-floor KT4D Tatra cars # 6147 + 6057 of a series built between 1976 and 1987 but well modernised and more modern 5-section double-ended low floor Bombardier car # 4032. Having just visited Warszawa, I was struck how similar the parts of former East Berlin redeveloped in DDR days were to parts of Warszawa. I am sure this wasn’t a coincidence.

Monday 18 August: Personal easyJet flight Berlin Schönefeld to Manchester

I left the hotel for the 07 58 DB Regio from Berlin Ostbf. to Wünsdorf which I used for 19 kms as far as Berlin-Schönefeld Flughafen. This comprised 2 x class 442 Talent emus, a 5-section unit going on to Wünsdorf and a 3-section detached at Schönefeld. The station was first opened for non-passenger operational purposes in July 1951 and became a control point for entry to Berlin in 1952. It became a public station in February 1962 and new buildings opened in June 1984. I noted that one of the island platforms has fallen out of use. There is now a covered walkway from the station to the airport buildings. Although the new Berlin-Brandenburg airport buildings on the other side of the runways should have replaced the old largely DDR vintage buildings 2 years ago, the old buildings do seem to have more substantial retail facilities than I recall previously .

EasyJet provided an Airbus 320 which was completely full. My seat had been pre-assigned when I checked in at home a month before. I prefer their fixed seats which prevent anti-social passengers cramping me unduly. During the flight I bought a coffee at a high but non-extortionate price. The main difficulty was the erratic functioning of the baggage carousel at Manchester Airport which significantly delayed collecting my bag.

Observations on Germany

I can understand better why much of the German public rates their satisfaction with their train services at way below British levels. The operation of InterCity trains (which do have on-board staff) is erratic, with poor timekeeping, coaches missing in loco hauled trains and inferior trains substituting. Operation of Regional trains is generally better.

I found curious distinctions between the staffing levels I had seen in June in NRW and those in the former DDR. In NRW passengers seldom have any contact with railway staff. Tickets can’t readily be purchased from ticket offices and so have to be purchased from machines, which some people find difficult. Since the driver is the only staff member on regional trains, the only time passengers meet staff are in occasional ticket checks by revenue protection inspectors. British Train Operating Companies (TOCs) may not be faultless, but according to EU surveys, the British public rate them much higher than Germans for their equivalents. However in NRW at least regional trains do provide a comprehensive network 7 days per week and there is little need to use InterCity trains.

The former DDR is different in 2 ways. The network is ‘thinner’ with lower frequencies partly reflecting lower population densities. There are gaps in Regional services where you can’t really avoid the use of InterCity trains for some medium distance journeys. Conversely routes north of Berlin in particular have minimal coverage by InterCity trains. Nevertheless ticket offices seem more plentiful and outside the Berlin S-Bahn almost all trains including the Dresden and Leipzig S-Bahn services seem to have on-board train conductors / conductresses. It feels very much more human!

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