Sunday, August 01, 2010

Transport Show in Cologne Part 1

On July 28 we visited the RDA Workshop in Cologne, Germany. We travelled by train and had the first interest of the day as we waited in Mannheim for our Intercity northwards. A long train en route for Basel drew in across the platform and the last two carriages had strikingly different liveries. They turned out to be the Minsk-Basel and Moscow-Basel sleepers. Although in summer we would not have expected bits of snow encrusted here and there, we later heard reports of searing temperatures and forest fires among Russia’s forests so perhaps there had been a few whiffs of singed paint work. From one of the carriages a party clearly wearing Eastern European fashions, stepped out, then shook hands with a large jolly blonde woman, as we tried in vain to catch a glimpse of a samovar within. Mannheim railway station, a prosaic workaday place disappeared as Anna Karenina, steppe and taiga seeped from films and books into our mind’s eye. Then the doors slammed, Minsk and Mocba disappeared down the track towards Basel and Switzerland.
Our journey to Cologne was protracted by technical problems, the wrong sort of rain or a landslide or two so after a cup of dreadful DB coffee we returned to thinking of Russian trains. It had always been possible to get to Russia by train from hereabouts, even with the Iron Curtain still in place. Commuting daily from Weinheim to Frankfurt in the early nineteen nineties Neil had occasionally observed dark green, very old-fashioned rolling stock three times a week, which linked Berne with Moscow. It was an interesting, though not a particularly enticing, thought at the time, with the hostile wastelands of East Germany and Poland to cross. To us island born Cold War children it also hinted at romance and impossible distances. Imagine an Edinburgh to Istanbul Express stopping at Wigan North West!
You could easily get a couple of Bromptons in those wagons we thought, even if carriage of bicycles is officially forbidden. One of our minor forms of what some cyclists call ‘soft anarchy’ is to quietly travel with a bike in a bag on some of Europe’s more exclusive trains. Does one still need a visa for Moscow or Minsk, and where on earth exactly IS Minsk? (Capital of Belarus, some distance west of Moscow itself.) Research has revealed that just boarding the train and hoping to set off in either place for the other by bike isn’t that easy since many travel restrictions still exist and individual journeys by cyclists are regarded by the authorities as dangerously eccentric at the least.
However we were on our way to a Workshop, aka Trade Fair about bus and group travel but with increasing interest in cyclists. Who knew what ideas and information, what routes and fantasies, we would have by the late afternoon?

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