Germany 1-5 August 2013 <  >

Although waiting patiently for Dolni Poustevna-Sebnitz to repopen, and rather less so for Alsdorf-Stolberg and particularly the Berlin-Brandenburg airport lines (will these ever open? there is talk of abandoning the project now) I had a number of odds and ends scattered quite widely around Germany which seemed to lend themselves to a 3 day one-country Interrail, so off I went.

Thursday 1.8.13

A civilised start for once, with my Eurostar at 14:04 and the 08:51 from Telford the earliest weekday service for a Chiltern Cheapy. 5 minute connection at Galton Bridge for which Arriva were 3 late - charged upstairs to find LM were 6 late so no problem. 09:55 Chiltern didn't arrive until 09:53, several minutes late, but turned round smartly and was away at 09:59. The deficit such as it was, was recovered and arrival at Marylebone was 90 seconds early at 11:32:30.

Luncheon was taken at the Metropolitan, where Moorhouse's Blond Witch came at a very reasonable £1.65 with the Deli Deal and a fairly reasonable £2.75 with a CAMRA discount. Hazy, but perfectly acceptable.

3105 waiting to leave St Pancras International, 1.8.13

Away on the 205 to St P I, arriving in plenty of time for the wedged 14:04 Brussels, which was worked by 3105 and left a minute early. Down fast at Ebbsfleet duly done. Wish the air con could cope. Absolutely sweltering all the way to Lille and Brussel Zuid, reached on time. A fairly quick visit to Carrefour (the two people in front of me were the only ones to have wedged their weekly shop into a basket, inevitably) was rewarded by St Feuillien Blonde and some water to offset the heat. Westmalle Dubbel and a Rochefort were noted, among others.

17:24 to Gouvy via Liège left on time and with working, if struggling, aircon. It was stopped for a minute at the next signal but is now bowling happily along to Leuven. Would be nice to make the connection at Liège, unlike last time. Non stop through Leuven to my surprise - at considerable speed, but through the station. It still managed to be 10 late at Ans and Liège, but that didn't matter. From the poor selection at Bar TGV, Duvel was taken to while away the time until the 19:33 Aachen, the usual appalling old vinyl seat Belgian kart.

Far too hot to walk up, so the 21 bus to Aachen Bushof which turned out to be only 50 metres from the Ibis Budget, or Étap as we doctors call them. Once washed and brushed up, away in search of the Albrecht Dürer Stube near the Dom. I could go on about Corneliusbräu Sanctus, a Belgian style 7.7% tripel, for days. Fabulous, and brewed in Aachen too. Price not quite as scary as I feared - 37.5 cl bottle is €4.20.

Back to the Ibis where a shower and working aircon provided quite a comfortable night, at least until the alarm went at 04:00...

Friday 2.8.13

Proper integrated transport at Pfungstadt, 2,8.13

Intending to get the 04:56 bus I got to the stop early and foolishly decided to walk. It was 25 degrees. Mistake. The 05:18 had air con of sorts and I'd cooled down by Köln. Outside K-Hbf an ICE pulled up alongside and I noticed it was going to Frankfurt Flughaven. It turned out to be a 1 minute cross platform connection so I grabbed the opportunity for a more comfortable connection at FFM. On arriving there I noticed a 1 minute connection on to a stopper to Mainz. I missed it of course but now understand just how far it is between FFM Regionalbf and Fernbf... So on to Mainz on the intended ICE which was held for a while in the old tunnel. Very limited observation suggested that westbound trains use the old tunnel and eastbound the new. I pondered the 08:50 Darmstadt to get myself an extra hour, decided against because if it failed I'd miss my planned 08:52 Mannheim. Then they announced 10 minutes delay on 08:50 so I went back to plan A with the added option of baling at Römanische Theater on to the Darmstadt if it was successful. It was - but by the time the 08:50 arrived it was 17 late for an 18 minute connection at Darmstadt. Nothing I could do, and on arrival at Darmstadt I just made the Pfungstadt kart by a few seconds.This got me an hour ahead of schedule which may well be helpful later on. The trip to Pfungstadt is mostly main line with physical connection north of Darmstadt-Eberstadt and geographical separation to the south. Pfungstadt is a model of integration with its platform right beside the bus station and large shops nearby.

It's a short branch and I was back in Darmstadt in time for 10:24 IC to Warnemünde, advised 'a few' minutes late but in fact only 2. I was able to get ICE 770, Stuttgart - Hamburg, at 10:58 from Frankfurt Hbf. This was afflicted with numerous normals apparently of intellect inversely proportional to the gigantic suitcases they were trying to drag through the aisles. The train was very crowded and pedestrian gridlock ensued. However I did eventually get a seat albeit rear facing and currently (betwixt Göttingen and Hannover) the temperature's perfect and we're on time. There has however been an announcement I didn't catch. Watch this space!

I should have known. We've now been stuck at Hannover for 20 minutes and there seems no prospect of movement. As far as I could understand we have no driver.

Don't know if that was the case, but a quality farce ensued with eventual arrival at Hamburg Hbf at 15:25, mega-late. S-Bahn was in chaos with routes/destinations wrong on the display and eastbound trains all appearing to be caped. So off to Landungsbrücke on S3 and into Blockbräu for weizen (expensive at €4.60) and gulaschsuppen to compensate!

One photo couldn't begin to do it justice. Miniatur Wunderland 2.8.13

Arrived at Miniatur Wunderland on the dot of 17:00 and had the mind suitably boggled, too much to take in on one visit really. Not purist railway modelling but technically superb. Maybe a revisit when it's cooler...

More sweltering on the seriously hot U-bahn to get to Altes Mädchen, the Ratsherrn tap. The dreaded words 'craft beer' alerted me and the overpriced, rather average pilsner and self-conscious trendiness came as no great surprise. Nice staff, though.

Out to Nettelnburg on S21 to find my quiet room on the sunny side, sans Internet and aircon and overlooking a busy road, the S-Bahn and the Hannover main line. Temperature was 30°C. Oh, and no early breakfast at weekends. Ho hum.

Saturday 3.8.13

Slept through it all, barring a couple of minor interruptions. Breakfast was in full swing at 07:25 so I was able to grab a hasty plateful and still make 07:50 S-Bahn with comparative ease.

I correctly guessed that 08:35 Puttgarden on a fine summer Saturday would be a bucket-and-spade nightmare, so made my way to P5 straight away to wait for it. Managed a seat but as usual my Hamburg geography let me down and it was on the wrong side. I seized the opportunity for a swap to let two normals sit together and ended up rear facing but at least out of the sun.

Haulage was a 218/3 Rabbit - forgot the number in the scrum. [ 333 it was ]. I wonder where we're going to put the Ahrensburg pax...

218 333 at Puttgarden, 3.8.13 To the right is the DSB diesel ICE set waiting to go forward on to the ferry

Luckily there weren't many. Slight worries at Lübeck about being in the wrong portion, offset by the train announcement but then compounded by a long wait during which the platform display changed from Puttgarden to Kiel. Nothing for it but to sit tight by then, so I did, and I was in the right portion. Normals detrained at the various 'beach' stops starting with Timmendorfer Strand, and some at Oldenburg, making it much more comfortable for the diehards going to Puttgarden. The reopened branch to Fehmarn-Burg and its triangle were duly done, with the 12 minute deficit reduced to 5 by then. No sign of nearby refreshments at Puttgarden so I confined myself to photting the diesel ICE (a.k.a. IC) which followed us in on its way to København. Puttgarden itself is a wasteland of disused sidings and platforms - being ill-informed I wonder where the traffic went. Infrastructure changes presumably.

Large crowds at Fehman-Burg on the return, to my surprise, so I thought it best not to leap out for a quick shot. They were as nothing compared to those at Oldenburg however, and the level of stupidity almost matched that on ICE770 yesterday. But we press on, under gathering clouds which make even me feel sorry for the bucket and spade brigade. Train's packed now and we haven't done the 'beach' stations yet. There didn't seem to be many at the beach stations and we didn't lose time over and above the 6 minutes lost at Fehmarn-Burg, until Lübeck. It looked as if we'd leave there only a few minutes down but it was about 9 after some sort of minor farce. However the driver and his Rabbit were having none of this and by Ahrensburg we were only about 3 down. Hamburg Proof House then struck but even so my 13 minute connection on to a Kiel-Frankfurt IC was at no risk. Huge crowds on the platform betokened problems. Of course just as I got into the coach with all the Frankfurt-Hamburg res on ICE770 yesterday, so I picked the one with all the Hamburg-Köln ones this time. However the res signs went off in due course and I got to Bremen in comparative comfort.

Bremen-Farge, 3.8.13

Thence to the reopened Bremen-Farge. Of the ticketing problems, I'll just say that a benevolent gripper explained to me that you have to fold them to composte them. It says so on the ticket but I didn't understand it!

A Hasseröde purchased earlier was consumed with great pleasure at Bremen-Farge, quite a pleasant spot with a preserved water-crane and, unfortunately, two stabling sidings beyond the platform. A local kindly harangued me for putting my empty beer bottle in the litter bin but my German wasn't up to explaining the finer points of carting an 8 cent bottle to Düsseldorf on the off chance that there would be branch of the same shop open at 21:00 on a Saturday. On the return the display at Vegesack is showing Bremen-Burg not B-Hbf or Verden (Aller). The on train display has the expected Verden (Aller) so I'll not worry. Yet.

The platform display was wrong, so no problem. A hasty pre-emptive McD's was taken at Bremen just in case, then on to IC2315, 10 minutes down. The trip was enlivened by an emergency stop in a cloud of smoke. A bit of a flap ensued, which in my case amounted to closing my rucksack, then we started moving slowly and fairly soon were back to 200 kph. Who knows. This got us to -13 at Osnabrück, which remained the case all the way to Düsseldorf where I baled out to go to the Hotel Central which wasn't where I remembered. The day concluded with a visit to 'old' Schumacher's, every bit as admirable as usual and much enjoyed.

Sunday 4.8.13

In a fit of insanity I'd decided to forego breakfast which would have been a mad rush (again) and wasn't paid for, and get ICE23 at 05:27. The hope was that I'd avoid the crowds to some extent. As I left the hotel at 05:10 an all-female group was just returning from their night out. The theme continued to the station, with two be-dressing-gowned young gentlemen trying to get into a taxi, another group trying to stand their ground against an oncoming tram, polizei much in evidence. I purchased a bottle of water from an open offie and continued on my way.

ICE23 (Dortmund-Wien) was on time and had plenty of seats to put between me and the lederhosen/beer crate and football-chant crews. Also on time at Köln making the 5 minute cross-platform leap a leisurely process. That said, I'd thought the connection was long enough to grab breakfast. It's going to be a long morning.

2 minutes late at Mannheim, making the connection 11 minutes. Tried for breakfast anyway but only McD's didn't have a long queue and why not - because they weren't doing breakfast. Queued as long as I could at one of the mayo peddlers but I had to go empty handed and was in ICE 5 with two minutes to spare. Sigh. Still, the point of the stupid o'clock start was to travel in reasonable comfort and I've managed that at least for the southbound half. If it's intolerable coming back I've got time to find alternatives. My record of being travel-surveyed nearly every time I leave the UK was reinforced shortly after leaving Mannheim.

A Siemens Dispolok at Basel Bad Bahnhof on 4.8.13, before the rains came

The new deviation was problem-free though with a slight anxiety as we slowed down approaching the north end. It was only to let a northbound RB or RE off the old line before we crossed over. I'd forgotten the minimal facilities at Basel Bad but did manage a coffee and a bag of crisps. Breakfast was on offer, but €7 for a croissant and coffee seemed a bit steep. Unable to check at the moment but I suspect €1.10 to CHF1.00 favours the Swiss franc just a tad.

Meanwhile, back on to a busy but not wedged ICE to Mannheim, the availability of a seat reserved Mannheim-Berlin being useful to one alighting at Mannheim. A spectacular storm arrived from France as we left Basel, and cloud is still lingering north of Freiburg.

A fair state of wedge is apparent after Freiburg and the number of reservations from Offenburg and Karlsruhe suggests it'll be pretty full from now on. If any of them turn up, of course.

It was. On time at Mannheim, nonetheless. The delay to ICE 610 onwards was useful, allowing the purchase of mayofast this time, but 39 minutes was a bit unnecessary. Virtue rewarded in the ensuing scrum - having been an English gent (for once) and let two ladies go first, the last unreserved seat was mine.

Ah ... no it wasn't. Neither unreserved nor mine. Not virtuous enough obviously. Eyed up a Mannheim-Köln res instead, hope it's a no-show. The a/c works better in this one, too. Fortune favoured the terminally stupid for the umpteenth time and the res lights went off seconds before the gripper reached me. Hopefully I'll get to Köln peacefully, but you never know.

I did. To be fair to DB, the original coach out of which I was slung did have a notice about non-functioning air con. 39 late into Köln and still an hour earlier than the IC to Emden via Mainz which I watched go from Mannheim. What on earth does it do for all that time? Furthermore it had fresh air stock!

I now had most of an afternoon to spare, having taken the unusual step of not planning every minute of the trip, in case of unforeseen problems. When I say unplanned, it had crossed my mind that if I had nothing better to do, there were a number of brewery taps requiring attention in Köln...

On foot, scuttling from shade to shade, to the Pfaffen 'tap', or is it show pub, in Heumarkt. Passed up the Kölsch in favour of the hefe weizen, tourist priced as you'd expect in the Altstadt. Workmanlike weizen which I'd have liked colder even if it wasn't a stinking hot day, which it is! Nice little beer garden at the back if you read the notice, which I did. As for selling your customers beer then charging them €0.50 to - well, recycle it - I think not. And the waiter short changed me. Of course it wasn't deliberate, good heavens no, perish the thought, but if it was, hard luck. I always check my change even in my fiendly local T*sc*, and after some debate my €1 was returned! Underwhelming. And while we're on the subject, yes I do give back any excess. Old fashioned, huh? Guilty as charged.

On to Sünner am Walfisch in Salzgasse, just along the street. Nice little mini beerhall with amiable waitress. Something in my memory concerns Sünner and Dom. I can believe it. No. Had a second to be sure but no, that hint of tin cans is still there.

And so next door to Päffgen. No doubt the pub was rebuilt after the unpleasantness, but what a fine job they made of it. Top grade beer hall and a much better than presentable Kölsch. No way can I claim any expertise but as the saying goes, I know what I like and I liked that...

Lastly, pro tem., Peter's Brauhaus. How do I miss these places? Well, sometimes because they're shut on Mondays! Not the case for this one though, just incompetence. Tourist trap again of course but again a great beerhall. For me Päffgen just has the edge for the pub, Peter's for beer. But A++ for both and to judge, you need someone what knows more 'n what I do. Just time for another before the 17:47 Aachen - it'd be rude...

On today's evidence a summer Sunday afternoon is a good time for visiting Köln pubs. Grockles are all outside, pubs are all open, generally pretty good. The down side is the wedged 17:47 Aachen but it will no doubt become less wedged eventually and I did manage to see through the bag-on-seat strategy and get said seat!

Things did improve immensely at Düren where I was able to move from my sunny side punishment cell to the shady side where I could feel the air-con and indeed charge my phone if I so wished, something lacking on the ICEs. In fairness, in the 1990s how could they have known. This was a new 442 - traditionalists (you know who you are) would be appalled but for me they provide what's required.

A contemplative moment awaiting my meal at the Albrecht Dürer Stube in Aachen on 4.8.13

Back to the Ibis Budget to book in for a second night, thence to the Aachener Brauhaus whose restaurant area seems to be out of action currently. Consequently I went straight to the Albrecht Dürer Stube for a schnitzel, naturally accompanied by Corneliusbräu Sanctus. A very pleasant way to finish off the day.

Monday 5.8.13

Creative parking in Aachen, 5.8.13

Lazy day by recent standards, with a 10:35 start. I wandered off to the Dom first - still awesome if difficult to phot! A conservative guess at the height of the windows in the east end worked out around 65 ft/20m.

Thence to Nobis on Peterstrasse, whose mayo-free roll and coffee offer made a very acceptable breakfast. Finally the no. 11 bus to the station where at the time of writing (10:25) the Belgian kart has just arrived.

A short stop at the DB/SNCB border was followed by the appearance of a Belgian gripper, a charming young lady who was removing cash from ticketless pax with great efficiency! I began to suspect I was the only one who'd actually bothered to buy a cross border ticket. She made sure to grip both tickets although we'd just stopped at Hergenrath. She was followed up by ... you've guessed it, the travel survey man. He gave me a Belgian Rail pen which will be one of my most treasured possessions. Think I'm kidding ? Wrong!

After these little diversions we were soon at Angleur and I decamped to 'enjoy' the long hot plod along to Vaudrée I which has changed beyond recognition. Still plenty of choice though, including Watney's (think I'll give that a miss for old time's sake - though if of Belgian origin it might well be great). I settled for Quintaine, a very agreeable 8% blonde in a stemmed pottery cup (proper name unknown - no, enquiry reveals 'chopa').

On then to Curtius, a blonde from a Liège brewery. Can't say I was dramatically impressed. It looked like a pudding, possibly too cold, and I couldn"t really get to grips with it. On a scale where Foster's is 1 and Banks's Bitter is 5 I wouldn't put it higher than 7000.

1841 leads a procession of locos therough Liège Guillemins on 5.8.13. The rearmost loco is 2139

A rare outbreak of sense made me pass up the third despite missing the 12:37, my revised plan (originally 13:38 - what would I have been like!) I settled for 13:22 after just the two, thus staying in good order. My reward was a half hour fester at Liège for 14:00 to Brussel Zuid. Would have gone to Expo Golden Sixties - but not for €11. I was there, dammit! The 14:00 turned up on time, as well it might, having come from Eupen and departed likewise, with fully functioning air con except when it wasn't - so far, just after Ans and just before Leuven. After some delays outside Leuven, left there at 14:38, just a minute late.

Very slow thereafter, with arrival at Nord 4 minutes late and Centraal 5 late. This being 15:05 my 17:15 checkin was far away so I thought Le Coq might be an interesting one to try. I wended my way down there only to find a notice on the door saying that due to hols they'd open at 16:00. Fool that I am, I decided to wait so went and prowled around for a while. Just to prove my 'fortune favours' maxim, it did open at 16:00 (this was Belgium, remember). A very fair brown bar, how genuine I know not but it looks it, with very fair prices when you compare it with Cirio 100 metres or so away (I enjoy a good laugh and had stopped to look at their joke, sorry, price list on the way). Actually very fair for Belgium generally. I've seen better, and worse, beer lists but that's not what they're about. On the revisit list without doubt.

Long hot walk down to Midi and a long hot farce to get to E*. Train's just been called, muppets in full cry. I'll give it a few minutes, hoping I remembered to book an aisle seat!

I did. Wrong end/side though. Now who's a muppet... Apparently it's raining in .uk though, and they've done passports so hopefully it won't be too hot and a wander down to the front after Ebbsfleet will suffice for a sharp exit.

It did, and I was out of St P and waiting for a 205 in a few minutes. 19:32 by the time I ordered my food in the Metropolitan – on being told it would be 10-15 minutes ‘maybe a bit more' I pointed out I needed to leave at 20:00 and was told ‘You've left it a bit late'. Of course by this time I'd paid so was pretty well stuck with the situation. This was disgraceful ‘service' even by the standards of the Metropolitan and to add injury to insult there was a very poor choice of beers, of which I was forced into Brains SA Gold. This turned out to be horrible, for which I don't blame the Metropolitan since it seemed to be in good condition. Returning (eventually) to the food saga, it finally materialized at 19:57 allowing me only to eat half before decamping to get the 20:15 Marylebone-Kidderminster. Not even half a mark for J.D. Wetherspoon who I know for a fact, as a regular customer, can do a lot better. [ Postscript: on return home I immediately sent in a fairly forthright, though not offensive, report through their feedback system. At the time of writing, nearly six weeks later, I have had no response. Sadly, they appear to be from the … well, you know which airline I mean … school of customer care ].

My troubles hadn't ended, for on arrival at Marylebone my (completely valid) ticket wouldn't open the barrier. The attendant lent me hers, assuring me it would work, but it didn't. She eventually found a way to let me through and I took my seat on the 20:15 a little after 20:14. Thereafter things progressed comfortably with plenty of time to wander across to Half Of New Street for the LM train to Shifnal which arrived an impressive two seconds early! A lift home had me in the house just before 23:25.

This was a very hectic few days but nevertheless very enjoyable. All of the new track I did had been added (or restored) to the network fairly recently and hadn't necessarily lent themselves to inclusion in my plans which of late have tended to centre round one area. The same went for Miniatur Wunderland which, along with Bremen-Farge, had been scrubbed from an earlier plan due to The Great Hamburg Salad Scare of 2011! Preparing this page in mid-2014 I'm behind again, with the Leipzig north to south line open and Sebnitz to Dolní Poustevna coming up very soon, among others.








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