As I noted at the time this was an ‘emergency’ visit to cover the IRE25 Magdeburg-Berlin service which was being withdrawn in December 2012 and did one of my few remaining Aussenring curves. To attempt to justify going all the way over there for so little track I managed to contrive a trip which included the (fairly new as far as I was concerned) Hamburg Airport branch and more importantly the Mansfelder Bergwerksbahn. This was a line I’d first noted on 20.8.92 without realising what it was but had been niggling me ever since the penny eventually dropped several years later. It was running on a day when I was able to get Avios tickets. So far, simple. It turned out not to be quite so simple.
An ‘emergency' trip to Germany occasioned by the upcoming withdrawal of the Magdeburg-Berlin IRE25 and consequent passenger closure of Genshagener Heide west to north curve [ and indeed Werder (Havel) to Saarmund, but I'd done that ]. A non-rail start, by car to Purple Parking at Southall and minibus therefrom to T5 for BA's Airbus to Hamburg. Despite having to have bags removed (passenger decided not to fly, we were told. Ho, hum.) we were only a few minutes late away and a minute or two late at Hamburg. A very short bus ride (one stop) and an even shorter walk got us to MeinHotel – nothing out of the ordinary but up to the usual good standard. Research had revealed a suitable pub within 5 minutes' walk so we retired there for food and beer (Paulaner being the best bet as far as I was concerned, out of 8 available featuring such ‘delights' as Jever and Duckstein).
Planes don't fly from HAM until around 06:30 it seems, so despite being only a few tens of metres below the flight path we had a peaceful night. Standard breakfast was preceded by a shower and followed by a short walk back to the airport to await new track on the 09:03 S1 to Hamburg Hbf, which rather surprisingly was gripped en route. Less surprisingly, we discovered at Ohlsdorf that units from the airport and Poppenbüttel are combined there (and split in the other direction), which makes perfect sense given the frequency of the services.
Hamburg Hbf seemed exceptionally busy, as was 09:53 Metronom to Uelzen which was full and standing by Lüneburg. It didn't live up to its name, being 5 late at Uelzen for a 7 minute connection and on the wrong platform, necessitating a hasty move to P302 on the other side of the station. To be fair, they did hold the Magdeburg train for the stragglers, so it left a couple of minutes late.
Completely uneventful [with hindsight, pauses for wry smile] to Magdeburg Neustadt, other than to note that DB station standardisation hasn't reached some of the intermediate stations. There was no trace of the Calbe branch at Hohenwülsch. Stendal depot is a shadow of its former self, containing only a couple of karts. The half roundhouse looked disused, or close to it.
The stop at Magdeburg Neustadt was to visit the brewpub attached to the former Diamant brewery. Good meals were had, and the Magdeburger Pilsener was as good an example of its type as I've had – if anything slightly more like a Kölsch, to an uneducated Brit. After the short trip in on the train to Magdeburg Hbf there followed some sightseeing of Magdeburg's two cathedrals, both of which I found plainer than I'd expected, and very striking.
Back at the station the Polizei seemed to be everywhere (we'd seen a lot in the streets too). It got to such a level – at least a van full per platform, split between the top and bottom of the staircases – that I felt bound to ask what was going on. ‘Facebook party' was the reply. [Further investigation when we got home revealed that once again some unfortunate had advertised a party on Facebook with insufficient privacy settings, and the inevitable had happened. Seemingly the Polizei had had enough of this after recent incidents in Berlin and in the Netherlands, and weren't going to put up with it. The report I read said, if I understood it correctly, that the police presence included 100 each borrowed from neighbouring Sachsen and Niedersachsen as well as several hundred of Sachsen-Anhalt's, and that 500 would be revellers were stopped en route.]
IRE4277 did the business, turning right at Werder and going via the Aussenring and Genshagener Heide W-N as required. Arrival at Berlin Hbf was 7 late but in sufficient time for a mayo-free baguette from Upper Crust, bless ‘em.
18:22 came and went, then there was an announcement saying we were late ... Eventually we went 12 late which if added to the 7 we'd lost in transit on the way in, didn't augur well for a 17 minute leap at Magdeburg. All was well though and in fact 5 minutes were regained. Down to Halle in good order on the last Dostos of an all-Dosto day.
I'd hoped to visit both Halle brewpubs but it wasn't to be. Having been to the Hotel Atlas to check in and dump a rucksack, we made our way up to Schad. From leaving the station the whole process took a good hour. By the time we'd had a pils (unfiltered, [ beer pseud alert ] with quite a bitter finish) we just managed to miss a tram and have 20 minutes to wait. By then it was getting so late we thought sleep was the better option so went straight back to the Atlas, missing out the Hallesches Brauhaus.
Breakfast at 07:00 (starts 06:30 M-Sa, 08:00 Su) was a better offering than MeinHotel's. Staff are very cheery, hotel is recently modernised and all in all it's a ‘would stay again'.
Tram 10 to the station for 08:12 HEX (Harz-Elbe, not Heathrow) 2-car Alstom ALFA to Sandersleben, and thence a DB ditto to Klostermansfeld, a.k.a Benndorf. The Mansfelder Bergwerksbahn train was waiting with 0-8-0 no 20 hauling, tender first unfortunately.
Quite sparse support for the MBB, mostly concentrated in the buffet car. Our ‘course tutor' (as it turned out) came and delivered a lengthy discourse on the line's history before departure, which was consequently 5 minutes or so late. We proceeded as far as Bochstal, the first halt, where the MBB crosses the main line immediately before a short branch runs back down into Benndorf on the east side of the main line. Here we were recommended to detrain and our guide delivered another lengthy address about the station. We were then led on to the bridge over the DB main line where the rebuilding of the bridge was explained with the aid of photos of the old (bowstring) and new (plate) bridges.
By this time we were running significantly late even on the advertised timing of 1 hr 30 m for the 10.9 km to Hettstedt. We continued a short distance to the next level crossing which was the one which so confused me on 20.8.92. Here there was a further talk following which we were led down ‘track of old railway' to a point at the bottom of a huge [ it looks huge from the bottom anyway; the only information I can find suggests it's 40 metres/130 feet high and covers ‘several' hectares.The mine was called the Zirkelschacht. ] mining spoil heap which as far as I could gather had both ‘goods' (ore loading) and passenger facilities (for the mine workers). At this point I'd had ‘kupfer' said to me enough times to realise, finally, that this was a former copper mine. Nothing daunted, our guide then marched us up a steep path to the top of the spoil heap which is high enough to have views for miles over flat countryside, and a telecoms relay station on top. It was while we were making our way back down that the penny finally dropped about the the ‘i' symbol in the timetable next to this train and the equivalent ones at the start of the season and on Ascension Day. Basically, they're ‘guided tour' trains.
Things moved a little more rapidly then although with stops of ten minutes or so at Siersleben, where the triangular junction was with the line towards Eisleben, and at the bridge where the main line is crossed again just south of Hettstedt. At Siersleben only a stub of a couple of hundred metres remains beyond the triangle. At the bridge over the main line the MBB has been realigned to cross a new bridge 50-100 metres north of the original. Eventual arrival at Hettstedt was 30 minutes or so late. [ My grumbles about the delays earlier on in the journey are, in retrospect, not at all appropriate. The ‘information' train is in my view an excellent idea which would no doubt be stamped upon straight away in the UK on health & safety grounds, given all the climbing on and off the trains at platformless locations. My command of the language is minimal unfortunately but it was clear that our guide was both very knowledgeable and a very good presenter. We learnt quite a lot even though able to pick out only a few words. Full marks to MBB. ]
We returned to Magdeburg on a wedged 2x2 kart. Onwards then to ... well, it was going to be Charlottenburg, with a view to visiting a museum I'd been wanting to see then having a bite to eat at the former Luisenbräu on the way to Tegel for our flight back to Heathrow. It was not to be.
We left Werder (Havel) on time, turned on to the curve up to the Aussenring, and were still there two hours later when it was announced that they were going to take us back to Werder. In the mean time no information was given. After a few more minutes the train ran back down to Werder and was promptly caped. The only feasible move seemed to be an ‘Ersatzzug' in P4 (supposedly a Potsdam service extended to Wannsee) which was supposed to go at 17:20. We sat on that until 17:35 when an RE1 swanned in, supposedly going into Berlin. Many people dived on to it – I made the stupidest decision of my life and we joined them, whereupon the Ersatzzug promptly set off to Wannsee and the RE1 went nowhere. Eventually it too was caped, by which time I'd gone into meltdown and the long suffering Mrs Gricer was having to put up with a major tantrum. [I'm very grateful to her for doing so, very calmly].
A bit of a problem was shaping up as we'd been unable to find an Internet café so hadn't been able to check in for our 20:05 flight. Given the shambles that there had been at Tegel a few weeks ago, and given the next Wannsee working was billed as 18:20, it wasn't looking good. We tried to persuade a couple of cabbies to take us to Potsdam Hbf but they both suddenly found something more interesting to do [I think their Control collared them for other jobs in fact, so you couldn't really complain]. Eventually some DB staff showed their faces and announced that there would be a Wannsee train in P3 in two minutes. Seeing a train already in P3 we tore over, to find it was a Magdeburg-bound RE. Eventually the Wannsee service did turn up however, made its way by all stations to Potsdam Hbf and then on to Wannsee, where by dint of some Japanese commuter style tactics, a lot of people were managing to get on to a newly arrived S7. We also managed to get on it, and thus to Charlottenburg where for peace of mind we threw the towel in and got a taxi to Tegel. There were no queues at the BA checkin. There were no queues for security (despite the plane being fully booked). There were no queues for passport control. Then when we reached the gate area, they announced the plane was 25 minutes late. You couldn't make it up.
[The real pain about all of this was the total failure of DB to provide information, either on the stranded train or at Werder. By the time we got back there they'd had well over two hours to get some sort of act together. The cause of the problem turned out to have been ‘tree on line' and our taxi driver told us that it had been on the radio every few minutes all afternoon. It would have been nice if they'd told the people who were affected by it, as well as the ones who weren't. However, in the end all it cost us was a taxi fare and a missed supper which would have cost more than the taxi fare did! ]
BA did rather better, and the flight was indeed 25 minutes late as they'd told us it would be. Despite a headwind, and helped by a ‘no queue' departure from Tegel and a ‘no stacking' approach to Heathrow it arrived more or less on time at 21:15. Then they couldn't get the air bridge to work. It took 25 minutes for us to get off the aircraft. Then we discovered we were at some remote T5 outpost which required ‘transit' to get us to Arrivals (via the B gates, so presumably we were at a C gate). Despite not having any baggage to collect, and there being virtually no queue at immigration, it took 45 minutes from the aircraft coming to a stand, to us getting to the bus stop to wait for Purple Parking. Their performance was probably the best of the day – their minibus turned up after only a couple of minutes having been alerted when we left the aircraft, and we finally hit the road home just after 22:30, arriving home at 01:15.
So much for 'leave it for BBI to open'! Nevertheless the track-bashing objectives were achieved, and if that's what the trip's for, then anything else is a bonus. Also in fairness to DB, anyone who's read this far will know that this is the 20th year of my travels with them, I've done a good few thousand miles, and it's been very rare (that's from memory - could even be unique) that I've had a full scale fiasco. So I'm not bearing grudges and if and when the BBI lines do open, I'll be back to do them. Unfortunately (or perhaps not) the bits I particularly want to do now are spread all over Germany so I might have to be a bit selective. The next two planned expeditions are normals trips to Poperinge and Nice - but you never know, I might manage the CFP ...
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