The Netherlands was the Motherland; Germany is the Fatherland. It was time to visit where my Grandparents came from and check out Berlin and the Rhine at the same time. The trip had started from Venlo in Holland and, after a single change at Viersen, ended at Bochum Hauptbahnhof.
Being located in the North-Rhine area, Bochum is right in the mix of the Ruhr area known for it's large industrial complexes. From the train, this was immediately obvious; we passed freight train after freight train heading in and we also saw a lot of freight yard infrastructure. I was more than impressed with what I saw and was even happier to find a large freight yard in the middle of Bochum.
Checking in to the Ibis Bochum City was painless and the view was straight onto the train tracks... Unfortunately, due to 'non-smoking rooms' the window was sealed to prevent air-con wastage. I therefore headed straight out for a lap of the station to see what was going down. It turns out there is a good view of the platforms in the afternoon light from the south-west of the station... there also happens to be a carpark with minimal fencing that you can take some good shots from.
Proceeding onto the station platforms produced some better results. Due to the multitude of private operators involved, it seems that tickets are all checked on-board trains rather than having gated platforms. This meant that there was easy access to all platforms.
It turns out that the DB loves the loco-hauled end-cab-control system as well. The whole concept is that the motive power is all in the locomotive at one end, but the train can be controlled from the far-end passenger car as well. This would never happen in Australia as we have very strict operating rules; I also wouldn't want to be in an accident where you have an extremely heavy (not to mention powerful) locomotive pushing tin-foil cars in to eachother. Then again, having the loco hit something first means the passenger cars have free will to fly around... I suppose the point is not to be in an accident at all!?
From the station I continued on-foot around the yard to the north-east. There is a branch from this yard further north-east, but it looked pretty abandoned. Google maps shows that there are cars and relatively new-looking infrastructure... I didn't follow the line to confirm this.
Instead I continued around to a road-bridge over the east-end of the yard. Here came fun! After a few passengers services at the south end of the bridge..
I then heard a diesel pulling in to the yard. Here I saw a V90? diesel shunter pulling a small consist into a loop. It then proceeded to run around, getting ready to pull the consist back in the direction it came. In the meantime though, 3 other trains came through; two continued on, but the third dropped more load for the shunter to pick up and continue on with.
I'd spent a good few hours on the bridge and decided to return to the hotel... Fortunately there's good visibility of the rail all the way back.
The rest of the time in Bochum was spent checking out the city. It's quite old and, I suppose cold? It's hard to explain, but it was the underlying theme to the rest Germany as I was to find out. There wasn't much graffiti around and the buildings were quite clean, but the architecture was all very similar and there was a lot of concrete. Fortunately the people were very friendly and accepted our very limited knowledge of the German language. There also happened to be a festival on in the middle of town which went on well in to the night.
A 24-hour trip to Berlin [aka 'The Comedy of Errors']
This was always going to be one of the highlights of the time spent in Germany. The goal was simple; start from Bochum, get as far down the Rhine as possible and then intercept the overnight train and travel to Berlin. What happened in the end was nothing short of disastrous but, in the end, was a great trip and a good story to tell. We boarded a train south from Bochum and started our journey. There was meant to be an initial stop in Cologne, but a late start saw us skip this and head straight for the Rhine.
As the train was snaking through Wuppertal I noticed a large amount of infrastructure looking something like a monorail track. It wasn't until I saw the vehicle hanging from it that I wished I'd stopped. Unfortunately, Wuppertal hadn't been on my radar for a visit, but if I'd known that monorail existed, then I'd have definitely checked it out!
It turns out it's called the 'Wuppertal Schwebebahn' or 'Wuppertal Floating Tram'. It was built over a century ago and, although it's had a lot of 'modernisation' work, still carries 25 million passengers a year! Wuppertal was built through the valleys alongside the Wupper river of which actual monorail was built suspended above.
After switching to VIAS GmbH at Koblenz, we proceeded across the Rhine in the direction of Frankfurt. The goal was to stop at a river-side station somewhere down the line to eat and check out the scenery. This railway has an interesting mid-way 'terminal' style station at Wiesbaden. The trains then reverse and head on to Frankfurt where they then turn around and bounce back to Koblenz.
I still don't remember why I chose St Goarshausen as a location for lunch and freighters, but it did pay off in the end... unfortunately it was also the place of initiation for the proceeding comedy-of-errors. We got off the train in a hurry, which vaguely reminds me that the location was chosen quite randomly, and made it down to the Rhine. Here we ate lunch and saw the tour buses and boats proceeding up and down the roads and river. All was swell until I got up to walk back to the station. It was time to see what ran on the line and it wasn't until I went to pick up my two bags that I realised I only had one! At that point I remembered that I'd thrown my 'carry on' bag on the rack above us in the train and had not remembered to take it back down as we were getting off.
It occurred to me that there was not much I could do after a few deep breaths... We paid for lunch and headed back to the station. Unfortunately it was well-abandoned and all the numbers to call weren't working from my Dutch Lebara sim card. The next VIAS train wasn't for an hour... so... I took photos of freighters as I had the camera around my neck.
The next service came and we boarded, waiting for the conductor. After checking our Eurail pass, we asked her what we should do. It was Saturday and her answer was to call Lost&Found on Monday. She was also finishing shift at the next stop and a new conductor coming on might be able to help. Unfortunately he spoke less english, asking if we spoke french.
We ended up at the terminal in Wiesbaden where we were meant to switch to DB and head on through to Freiburg. Unfortunately, without my bag (containing train tickets for the overnight train), we weren't going anywhere fast. The goal at Wiesbaden was then to find a station office and determine what the best plan of attack was. 5 minutes before arriving we decided that we might also continue on VIAS to Frankfurt, as the train we were originally on should have been cleaned prior to turning around?
We chose to alight at Wiesbaden and headed to the ticket counter to find an office. We expected that they could call Frankfurt to check the train we'd been on... I'd taken a photo of the train and knew the actual loco number. As we approached the end of the platform I noticed another VIAS train (amongst all the DB stock) was hanging in platform one. It had already bounced back from Frankfurt and was about to head off for Koblenz! I passed my luggage to my friend and bolted for it... I still feel sorry for the passengers waiting to depart as I stormed through the carriage looking for the shelf that I'd left my bag on. Unfortunately, it wasn't there.
Meanwhile, my friend had intercepted the conductor who was just finishing his shift and wandering down the platform. The language barrier had prevented him from getting the message through, but I rocked up and just used sign language to describe my bag. He all of a sudden realised what we meant and took me back to the drivers compartment. It turns out he'd seen it on the shelf at Frankfurt and put it in with the driver, expecting to return it to Koblenz and store it there. I could not believe my luck when he returned my bag back to me with my laptop, camera lenses, phone charger, train tickets, travel documents, etc... etc... in it.
Not Freiburg you say? Not Worms either? I still can't give you the correct answer as to how we got here. We printed the 'travel advice' from the DB machine showing the connections... we went to the right platform... we got on the train that we thought was to take us in the correct direction and we ended up in Stuttgart. Now that I look at the map I realise that we headed south-east instead of due south.
It was getting to late afternoon and this foul-up meant that we wouldn't make the night-train intercept at Freiburg! I went to the station office and told the attendant my dilemma. I suggested Karlsruhe as an alternate intercept point and she indicated this would be fine... I also then assumed the train conductor would be informed. We then caught the next train to Karlsruhe after a snack.
We got here in good time for the intercept... I decided to practise night-time photography and tinkered with my camera.
We had a full meal at the station and, before we knew it, the night train was approaching.
We boarded the train and attempted to enter our cabin... it was locked. I let out a yelp, but then tracked down the conductor. He looked at my ticket and grunted... disappearing somewhere in the wrong direction. Before long he returned and proceeded to give me an ear-full about being late and informed me of their policy on re-selling rooms if the original passenger no-shows more than 2 stations beyond there original joining point. It turns out that, now when I look at a map, we should've continued further south to Offenburg... although I can't remember if that would've been possible. I think the lady at Stuttgart would've recommended that if it had been the case?
Either way, he pulled out his keys stating that he thought our cabin was no longer available... whilst still walking us towards it. He unlocked the room and we all saw that it wasn't occupied. He then continued the rant that we should have gotten on earlier and that we were making his job difficult. I explained the story and he stated that the DB station staff had no ability to contact train conductors if/when there are issues. We thanked him for his help and he went on his 'merry' way.
After 3 fails, we finally had somewhere to sleep and were on the way to Berlin.
So... 0700 hours... off the train to Berlin Hauptbahnhof. Amazing station! How the hell do we get to Rosa-Luxemborg-Platz? It's amazing how dependent you get on technology... specifically data connections on mobile phones and google maps. We navigated the maps and jumped on a train to Alexanderplatz. This turned out to be another great station. We then transferred to the U-Bahn and ended up at the correct station. It was now 0800 and we dropped our bags... it's Sunday... turns out nothing is open!? So...
This city needs to be re-visited... there's a lot more to check out!
This city needs to be re-visited... there's a lot more to check out!