Germany 17-20 April 2015 <  >

The first outing to Germany this year, the target being the Dresdner Dampfloktreffen, an annual event which had been on the ‘really ought to go one year' list for a while. With Sebnitz-Dolni Poustevna reopened at last and a competitively priced main line steam trip from Cottbus to Dresden on offer, this was ticking year.

Friday 17-4-15

Up at crack of dawn for 06:45 taxi which arrived sufficiently early for me to get the 06:53 ATW to BHM. As this had a few empty seats I abandoned plans to phot the Voyager at 07:00 in favour of comfort. No problem getting to BHM, then the fun started, with my camera falling out of my rucksack and being given back to me by a kindly fellow passenger. It remains to be seen if anything else has gone missing [ luckily, nothing had ].

Meanwhile, 08:10 EUS was booked off P3, preceded by 08:04 Bournemouth, P2 being obstructed by molework. I repaired to P3 to be greeted by a platform change for Bournemouth to P5. Next up was 07:50 EUS which surprised me by being a pair of 221s, rapidly followed by a flood of its pax, replatformed from elsewhere. It eventually left 10 late and packed to the doors. Next was a terminating VT Voyager whose termination seemed to surprise some pax. By the time they were all off and the Voyager got the road it was 08:10 and the 08:10 pax were being directed to P1 where a short formed Bendyleano was just arriving. Once everybody was wedged in it left 8 late. Conductor then announced cancellation of 08:30 and xx:30 due to track circuit problems at Tring and said 08:30 pax were welcome to travel with us. As we'd left BHM some minutes ago, this was baffling. Hot foot to EUS then, arriving on time at 09:34 or thereabouts.

A ramble through the pedestrian moleworks at Euston , then Victoria Line to Tottenham Hale where the two sets of barriers let me think I could nip off to the nearby Gregg's for a sensibly priced sarnie. Wrong - the NR barrier wouldn't let me back in but after checking my ticket the platform staff did.

10:07 Stansted Express then, with free WiFi. Which didn't work, but didn't matter - nice ride on some sort of Desiro with a power point to charge the phone. Then 3 hours at STN. Only 10 minutes for security then another 10 waiting for my jacket, belt, wallet, passport and Uncle Tom Cobley to emerge from the scanner. Retail Hell follows as you are forced to meander through endless glitzy shops before arriving in the old scruffy bit with the seats. New 'Spoon's was OK with reasonable Broadside at a 'bargain' £3.50 (!).

Ryanair left the stand a few minutes late but apparently there's a tailwind and we should land around 16:20. Certainly at 15:50 we've just started descent. And just when I thought they weren't going to do the big sell...

Landed, rather firmly, at 16:22 with accompanying applause from the feebleminded. We had to have the new and even worse fanfare, with more applause - did they think it was a live band?

Quickly through officialdom and on my way to the station by 16:41, just too late for the 16:41 train. Didn't matter though, huge queues for ticket machines. Having got to the front the machine wasn't taking my card or even cash for some reason and by the time I'd queued again for a different machine and successfully got a ticket, the 17:04 had gone and I had to await the 17:41 Königs Wusterhausen thus losing any advantage from the early arrival. Schönefeld's in a very run down state - two roads out of use as noted on the previous visit, no ticket office, no shop, graffiti everywhere and a general air of imminent closure. Some hope, as it requires BBI open! [ The projected 2011 opening date has at the time of writing in April 2015, slipped to the second half of 2017 ].

The new connections to BBI were noted between Grünau and Königs Wusterhausen; the southbound one showing signs of recent light use. I didn't see the rails on the northbound one.

Arrival at Königs Wusterhausen brought mixed news - the Spar shop sold Hasserode and the 18:10 RE to Cottbus is 15 late! It's an ODEG double deck EMU, all very smart and very wedged with Friday evening traffic. It does seem a very long time since breakfast now with the long trudge to Stansted, the three hour wait, the ticket farce and the late running. Roll on Cottbus, now only 12 minutes away and requiring careful attention to route! Large numbers of people with enormous suitcases on the train, for inexplicable reasons. Bilingual station signs on this stretch though whether Polish or Sorb I'm not sure.

Into Cottbus by the northern route (back of the shed). Having determined the walking route for tomorrow I went in search of a local tageskarte; luckily the only machine I could find was at the tram stop which is also the stop for the 16 bus to the hotel. Brief alarm at the hotel which appeared to be shut but a wander round the back found a door and a receptionist. A quick wash and brush up then on search of a tram rather than the 16 bus into town. Luck was in with a no. 3 requiring only 4 minutes wait. Trams are metre gauge, Cold War era and none the worse for that.

Off the tram at Stadthalle and a brief search for Stadtwächter - thank goodness for homework and OpenStreetMap. Stadtwächter is a very pleasant half timbered establishment 'upstairs' in part of the old city wall. Resident beers are Veltin's and Feldsclösschen, of which the less said the better in my view, but fortunately there was Franziskaner to save the day. The schnitzel was ginormous and very nice. I then discovered the difference between 3 and 3N, which is that the former is a tram and the latter a bus! It got me back to the hotel anyway, for a reasonably early night. The tageskarte got me three rides for €3.10 which seemed wholly reasonable, and the pub was €14.80, around £11 at today's slightly more benevolent rates.

Saturday 18-4-2015

Cottbus tram 143 approaching the Hauptbahnhof stop.The water tower behind the tram was built in 1914 to supply steam locos and is now a listed building.

Woken by the alarm after a solid night's kip. Last night's receptionist had offered me a change of room to the back 'because of the noise'. What noise? Restaurant smart, breakfast a bit unexceptional for the €10 but I hadn't been given the choice when I booked, and enjoyed it anyway. Early to the station in case the time had been changed. It had - later. Nice photos of the 07:40 tram anyway [ 143 – a Tatra KTNF6 originally built in 1987 ], and the ECS had arrived as I was walking into the station. 35 1019 arrived while I was away tram-photting; no sign of the promised 23, which is not mentioned on the 'Zuginformation' leaflet. No matter, a 2-6-2 should work hard with load 10. Nice ex-DR open second, reupholstered with cloth and remarkably comfortable. I have a 'back' seat but no sign of the 'facing' occupant with two minutes to go...

35 1019 waits at Cottbus with the LDC sonderzug to Dresden Hbf on 18-4-15
35 1019 coasts round the curve connecting the Ruhland-Falkenberg and Berlin-Dresden lines at Elsterwerda

1 late at Drebkau/Drjowk. Still very little of the usual railtour crowd, mercifully. No Brits spotted so far! Neighbours have now arrived, but it turned out they were pay on the day and when gripped at Sentftenberg they paid up and moved to another coach. Right time at S/berg, with a maximum speed of 94 kph according to GPS.

4 late at Ruhland due to a signal stop a mile or so from S/berg. Then an interminable TSR ending at Lauchhammer but it looks as if timings may have allowed for that. Steam heating has now been turned off and even a window opened - can this really be Germany? Timings did allow - just 1 min late from Elsterwerda.

The LDC sonderzug after arrival at Dresden Hbf

Stunned by Landskron Kellerbier from the buffet car. 5.2% golden ale would be our nearest equivalent. Bottled, but excellent. Max The Mole struck again and we're a minute or three late approaching Dresden. Western (Cossebaude) route into Dresden, then a signal stop outside Hbf. Eventually 12 late, not that it mattered. Loco was handily placed for a phot with a bit of effort, which most seemed unwilling to make. The tram stop ticket machine wouldn't sell me an all zones senior VVO tageskarte, not surprisingly, but the nice lady in the ticket office did, so that was fine.

Before continuing to Děčín, 35 1019 gets some attention at Dresden-Altstadt museum depot

If you ignore the crowds, there's quite an old-time steam shed atmosphere at Dresden-Altstadt

Tram 3 to Nürnbergplatz then 61 bus to Zwickauerstraße was all very straightforward. The queue for the dampflokfest was horrifying; fortunately I'd had a moment of unusual common sense and bought a wristband from the LDC man on the kettlex. This may have been one of the most sensible things I've ever done as it enabled me to go to the front of the queue, check with Bert that I was valid, and march in. The fest itself was quite impressive, with a feast of 01s for those as likes them. There was also the 35 off our tour train (temporarily as it was working to Decin and back later), a 52 giving €4 cab rides with a very long queue, and assorted non-working machines. Photography was, as usual, well nigh impossible.

Photography at the depot was very difficult, as this shot of 01 202 from the nearby public road bridge demonstrates

By the time I'd seen what there was to see it started raining so I decided to tick off one of the evening's brewpubs. Bus 61 and trams 3 and 8 got me to Neustädter Market for the Watzke brew pub which seems to have a variety of names. Service was mega slow - no fault of the hard working waitress but more of sub-optimal staffing levels. The April Monatsbier grew on me, I must admit. Somewhere between ambrée and golden, unfiltered though you wouldn't know to look at it, and sweetish. Suited me quite well! Back to Hbf on tram 8 for purchase of Länder tickets for tomorrow, just scraping on to 13:59 to Bad Schandau.

Passed double headed 01s at Pirna on what looked like the LDC stock - not sure what that was about but I hope I get a shot at Bad Schandau.

01 1066 doesn't seem to be getting much help from 01 0509 as it takes 18 coaches out of Bad Schandau...
... but then you see the rear of the train and realise it isn't needed

It wasn't the LDC stock! Two Pacifics, load an unbelievable 18 until you saw 118 770 on the back. Still, they made an impressive sight. After that the DB kart to Dolni Poustevna was a bit of a letdown. Track done though, with a good part parallel to the Neustadt line. The alleged station buffet at Dolni P appeared terminally shut ... but had chalk boards outside. I went round to the front where there was at least a door. It appeared shut. I tried it: it was open. I went inside. It seemed derelict, but had a paper notice with opening hours. I then heard voices, not in my head but behind a door. I tried the door, and found myself in a typical Czech four-ale bar. Better than that, all four were Svijany. The guv'nor, a friendly bloke, spoke no English but we managed to negotiate beer (‘not black') and currency (€1). Very nice the Svijany was, too. Nine customers, sitting at one table in an impenetrable cloud of smoke. They seemed completely unmoved by the arrival of a Martian in their midst.

The hitherto elusive station bar at Dolní Poustevna

Back on 16:12 to Bad Schandau with a cheery Czech gripper who also spoke no English but relieved me of 40 cents for a single to Sebnitz, the border station for my VVO tageskarte. 5 minute connection for the S1 but it was delayed a little by a late running (25 minutes) 371-hauled EC. Loads of photters out (high risk for a northbound train on this busy line with sun in the west) so presumably one of the kettlexes is just behind us.

On arrival at Dresden I decided not to wait for the hypothetical steam train, fortunately as it turned out, and was able to step on a tram straight to Tharandter Straße whence it was about 10 minutes' walk to Bonhoefferplatz. The student at 'reception' (a scruffy office) greeted me with the news that the credit card machine wasn't working and I'd have to pay cash. If I hadn't enough (I had, but was a bit irritated - wasn't this their problem not mine?) I'd have to find a cash machine. This was followed up by the notice on the door saying it was locked at 23:00, end of. I tried my key in the outside door - it didn't work. Up to the room for a wash and brush up then away ASAP for a revised evening's brewpub ticking. With Watzke already ticked and the hotel curfew the plan was scrap so I walked up to Tharandter Straße and got the next tram to a suitable venue which was Albertplatz for a short walk to Zum Bautzener Tor. In fact one more tram stop would have been suitable but I hadn't yet twigged that the routes and timings downloaded earlier from the DVB website bore little resemblance to reality. ZBT had a full seating area and a scruffy bar. Bar person was amiable however and I passed up Lenin's Hemp Beer in favour of their standard unfiltered pilsener which was superb.

Round the corner to the tram stop where a tram to Waldshlösschen appeared almost immediately. The eponymous pub is at the eastern end of the tram stop. It's a large room occupying one floor at the front of a mock Schloss. Very smart, and a seat at the bar got me quick service and a sharp exit for the next but one tram back. The bar and waiting staff were working absolutely flat out, as at Watzke earlier.

Back at Anton-/Leipziger Straße I was getting concerned about the curfew and the half hour tram ride each way to/from the last pub and when the display showed tram 4 running 5 minutes late I decided to cut my losses and settle for an early night. I got back to find the Internet did work and the bedside light didn't. Having tracked this down to a defective wall socket I decided there was no hope of repair so went down to pay my bill and make sure I could get out in the morning. I was assured I could.

Sunday 19-4-15

Up with the lark for a cold shower. It only showed any warmth just as I was finishing. I was glad to leave and did indeed find someone to let me out at 05:45. Walked up to Tharandter Straße and got another tram which didn't take the route I expected. I retrieved the situation by walking back to Dresden Mitte and getting a train to Hbf. McDs was closed so no McMuffin but the Wiener Feinbäcker provided a roll and coffee. 03 001 was parked in one of the low level bays, not in steam.

And so to Zittau on a Trilex kart. Completely uneventful. We used the north side of the island (second track from north) at Wilthen, which may (or not) fill in a physical connection. [It didn't – this was done on 8.4.99 ]. Jiríkov station was noted with track, signs etc. in place.

99 787 waits to run round after arrival at Kurort Oybin on 19-4-15

The narrow gauge hadn't changed much since my last ride in 1992 though the station's better kept. 99 787 was the haulage for 09:00 departure; 99 1757 is on static display with freight vehicles including standard gauge transporters, all in DR livery. Centre road at Bertsdorf where they still do the simultaneous departures but with diesel 199 018 on the Jonsdorf train that's pretty underwhelming. There do seem to be some simultaneous steam departures May-October. The attitude of the staff hasn't changed much either. Guard and buffet person pretty offhand though the lady gripper was very pleasant.

Bergquell Pilsner looked like a beastly East German style lager but fortunately tasted quite a lot better! I thought €3.10 a bit steep. Easternmost road back into Bertsdorf - does this complete the track? Tenterhooks until I can get some Internet to check previous records! [The jury's still out. On my previous trip in 1993 I did both branches and Zittau, all from/to Bertsdorf. This time the Oybin train went out through the middle platform and back via the easternmost. So all three through platforms are done but not necessarily the connection from the Oybin line to the westernmost platform!]

Passed 99 749 at Zittau Vorstadt on the way back. It's booked as steam from May so perhaps May's early this year! No ticket machines at Zittau - luckily as it turned out because when I showed the ODEG lady my Sachsen- and BB-Tickets she assured me I was valid between the two (Schleife-Spremberg). Not my understanding, but who am I to argue - particularly when it saves me €2.40! Beer (Landskron Pilsner from the bothy at Zittau) was taken at Krzewina Zgorzelecka, by way of amusement.

A new (and seemingly very ill, poor thing) lady gripper joined at Görlitz, where all the border defences have disappeared, as they should. I presented my two Ländertickets without comment this time and after suitable scrutiny they were accepted again. I'll probably never know!

At Schleife there were signs to the Sorbish Cultural Centre. Presumably that answers Friday's language query. Safely into BB-Ticket-Land, the cross platform connection at Cottbus made easily but appears to be going to Lichtenberg. Best to grin and bear it I think, and head for Vagabund via Ostkreuz, Wedding and Seestraße.

Change of plan after looking at the map as it made sense to bale out at Warschauer Straße (a.k.a building site) and get U1 (a.k.a U12, it's as bad as Dresden) to Wittenbergplatz and walk round to the hotel, which I did. All very civilised and organised there, thank goodness. Couldn't persuade BVG website or app to route me on the 106 bus so I got to Vagabund by 100 bus to Zoo, U9 to Leopoldplatz and U6 to Seestraße. All to no avail as it was 16:15 and Vagabund opens at 17:00. After some debate I went for a ride on U6, arriving back at 17:03 to find it open. Craft beer only but they had a very nice overpriced Belgian style dubbel (7%). In deference to brain and pocket I had 0.3l.

U6 to Wedding, S41 to Schönhauser Allee and U2 seemed a better idea than bus, S, U and so it proved, saving 10 minutes or so. Pfefferbräu was a little tricky to find but was a perfectly good standard brewpub (in a former brewery which has been through many incarnations including destruction by fire) with a workmanlike Berlin priced unfiltered pils. They also have a dunkel and the seasonal beer was an altbier, not my favourite style.


Back to the U2 to Alexanderplatz to the new(ish) Marcus-Bräu, bigger (and emptier, it being 19:00 Sunday) than the old one but still with most of the atmosphere. Good effort, you'd have to say. Music on the radio includes Stones, Creedence Clearwater, 10 cc and Harry Manifold. Never mind. The pils was as good as before, the Märzen superb even allowing for impaired judgement! The schweinhaxe was good too, even if too much for a normal human to eat. The visit wouldn't be complete without mention of the busker in Alexanderplatz U-Bahn, playing Vivaldi's Four Seasons. On a squeeze box. Aaarggghh!!! Customers flocking in now. They've heard that Dave's here. Expecting autograph requests momentarily ...

A lot of people were trying for this sunset shot as an S-bahn train approaches Warschauer Straße from - obviously - the west on 19-4-15

Last port of call, via S-Bahn to Warschauer Straße and U12 again, was Hopfenreich.This is a craft beer establishment with prices for some of the more exotic items (mostly Brewdog) verging on ludicrous. That said, I had 0.3 of Heidenpeter's pale ale which was a real hop beast and pleasant enough. Staff (owners?) were very pleasant, as I suspected it's not really my sort of place but they're making a very good job of it. Back to Wittenbergplatz on the U12, and that's that for another trip, all being well.

Monday 20-4-15

Not quite! A lovely morning so a walk round to Wittenbergplatz at 07:00 to get the U-Bahn to Zoo. Plenty of time to get mayo-free breakfast before 07:41 RE to Zossen which was a couple of minutes late. Tip up seats available and a proper one was free after all the commuters were gone. Arrived at Schönefeld OK, about 90 minutes before departure and fortunately my usual paranoia about missing my flight made me go through what proved to be the first bag scan, unusually placed before check - in. Check-in area was wedged with what proved to be a huge queue waiting for security. This took so long that quite serious worry set in. Rigorous body scanning was adding to the fun. By the time I got to what passes for the departure lounge my flight was listed as boarding so I set off for gate 62, only to find another lengthy queue going at a snail's pace down several flights of stairs. To cut a long story short, this turned out to be the queue to gate 59 and once word got round the gate 62 pax were able to get there. I and many others arrived at the gate well after official closing time but it didn't matter as boarding hadn't started! Just as well as I managed to lose my passport in the few metres between the Grenzpolizei passport check and the Ryanair one, and it gave me time to find it again.

A last twist of fate had Ryanair using someone else's aircraft so when we walked out to the stand we were greeted by the sight of an Air Europe 737. Once aboard the crew were Ryanair so all was well, finally. A slightly late departure, but Stansted arrival was quite early and not being a Ryanair aircraft, it didn't have the dreaded fanfare. Stansted was the epitome of uncluttered efficiency compared with Schönefeld and I was soon on the station platform, missing the 10:45 train by seconds from a scheduled 10:55 flight arrival. This time the Stansted Express's free WiFi worked, but once again the ticket barrier at Tottenham Hale wouldn't let me through. The Underground one did, however, both at Tottenham Hale and Euston.

Being on a wretched advance ticket because of the exorbitant cost of an anytime return Telford-Stansted (that'll be £164.35 sir, with your railcard) I had to wait for the 14:23 EUS-TFC (that'll be £42 sir, with your railcard). This was no great hardship, with the Metropolitan having a special offer of the day, a steak for £4.99. Very nice it was too, the Moorhouse's Farm House slightly less so through no fault of the beer – just not particularly to my taste. The 14:23 turned out to be a 221, definitely not to my taste, and a very odd choice for an electrified route. Perhaps they're short of Bendyleanos. It must be said that the thing went very quickly once under way, averaging 98.4 mph to Rugby including a stop at Watford Junction, and around 96 to the stop at Coventry. Not so good thereafter, as the 221 caught up a late running LM 350 semi-fast at Hampton in Arden. With a 20 minute connection on to a Shrewsbury stopper there was no problem and I was home by 17:45.

There are still reopenings occurring at regular intervals in Germany - at least one that I've not got round to yet, and several more imminent, so I won't be giving up on Germany any time soon. I've still got quite a bit to do in Slovakia, and Poland and Switzerland are very much on the agenda. No firm plans at the moment, but 'something will turn up' !

















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