Train Travel In Germany

short stories

Doug Alt

 

Train Travel During Army Duty in Germany


I was stationed in Eschborn, Germany from May 1969 to June 1970. Eschborn is a suburb of Frankfurt, about 5 miles from the main train station in the center of Frankfurt.

The Kronberg/Eschborn/Frankfurt Line

Although the train that ran from Kronberg through Eschborn and then on into Frankfurt is today a high-speed modern commuter train, in 1969 the passenger trains were still also vital mail and light freight conveyances.

The trains still had Postal cars and Baggage cars. Sometimes one car would serve both purposes, with the Post Office occupying one end of the car and baggage the other end. The train stations all had big 4-wheeled hand-wagons, with big steel wheels, to move this stuff around the train platforms. The trains stopped for at least two or three minutes at each little station in order to transfer baggage, freight and mail on and off the trains.

The train to Frankfurt made about 6 stops on the way into the city. Several of the stations had either a complete restaurant or a “schnell imbiss” (fast food, German style). If I was hungry, or if I was just a bit bored and was looking for amusement, I could hop off the train when it stopped and run into the station and buy a quick bratwurst and beer while the mail and baggage were being transferred on/off the train. Two minutes later, I’d be back on the train before it started rolling again. My favorite station for this was Rödelheim.

Longer Distance Trains

Most of the trains still had the classic baggage car right behind the engine.

When you bought a train ticket you could opt to check in any baggage for just 1 mark (25¢) per piece. Upon arrival at your destination station, your bags would be inside the station waiting for you at the baggage window. Very civilized!

It also cost only 1 mark to ship a bicycle. To do this, you would just wheel your bike down the platform to the big open door of the baggage car, whereupon  you would show the baggage clerk your train ticket, pay him the 1 mark, and the bike would be lifted on board, where it received a tag that would ensure that it would be unloaded at your destination station. This was a great way to travel.

I would roll up an Army sleeping bag and pup tent and fasten it to the rack on the back of my bike. Packed inside the roll would be a weekend’s supply of canned Army rations. (I actually liked these, and one could get all one wanted, free, from the Army supply store.) With this setup I could go off for a couple of days to some interesting destination at very little expense, since the train tickets themselves were quite reasonably priced.

Weekend Train/Bike trips

Nurburgring

This was a “big deal” trip.

Formula One racing, world’s top drivers and a scenic destination.

The Train Route: local train from Eschborn to Frankfurt; then a fast Inter-City train down the Rhein for about an hour to Remagen; then switch to a really local train for another hour or so to Adenau.

(The last leg of this train trip is not completely possible today, as the line only goes from Remagen about 2/3rds of the way, stopping now at Ahrbrück. The rest of the rail line from Ahrbrüch to Adenau has been abandoned.)

A 6-mile bike ride then got me to Mullenbach, the little town nearest to the Start/Finish area of the ‘Ring.

I camped out overnight in a woods on a hillside at the edge of town.

The “big adventure” of the camping episode was removing my new contact lenses for the night and getting them into their case - in the TOTAL DARKNESS of the woods. The lenses were a VERY expensive item for me at that time, and I hadn’t thought of bringing a flashlight in case I dropped a lense into the leaves and dirt. I also had brazenly decided not to carry my eyeglasses along  as backup in case of emergency…

Race day dawned with great weather.

I did not have any money for buying a ticket to get into the bleachers at the race, but, since the course wanders for 17 miles around the countryside, many people just find a convenient slope somewhere along the route to spread a blanket, have a picnic and watch the racers go by. I had originally intended to use this strategy myself.

Upon wandering around the Start/Finish end of the track I realized that this was a much better place to watch the race… but this was premium, fenced-in territory, so, what to do about the price of admission?

Enter at this point the Beer-Bottle-Deposit Stategy!

The main reason the concept of charging deposits on beverage bottles exists is that there is economic value in carrying the empties to a cash-in point rather than leaving them littered on the ground somewhere. This applies particularly well to all the beer bottles dropped along the road and on “tailgating” areas near the track by the affluent, overstuffed, inebriated Germans who were too “above it all” to bother picking up their own trash. It quickly became clear to me that there was a major source of cash just lying all over the ground. About an hour’s worth of picking up bottles and lugging them to the cash-in point generated enough money to buy a general admission ticket, and, to have enough money still left over for several expensive track-side bratwursts and beers for myself.

The General Admission ticket did not entitle me to a seat anywhere. Seats required extra money. However, I noticed a scorers’ building that was situated above one of the main grandstands. It had a fairly flat roof, and, there was a way to climb up the back of the grandstands and the scoring structure to get up on to its roof. A big billboard extended up about ten feet above the front edge of the roof, but there was about an 18-inch gap between the roof and the bottom edge of the billboard – perfect for lying on the roof on my stomach and gazing through the gap onto the race track. This turned out to be the absolute BEST SEAT IN THE HOUSE, as it was situated right at the Start/Finish line itself, and, due to being the highest structure at the whole facility, I could see much more of the race track as it wandered off over hills and fields from the Starting Point than could those spectators who had paid the Big Bucks for grandstand seats down BELOW me!

There were some enterprising individuals who did manage to obtain a somewhat higher vantage point than mine – there were some very tall trees located around the outside of the perimeter of the fenced-in portion of the race track facility, and a number of hardy souls had staked claims to the highest branches. It could not have been very comfortable to be perched with one foot jammed into the fork of two branches for several hours, but they had their beer bottles with them and they were celebrating their FREE spectating locations.

Several of the highest tree-sitters were not to hold onto their spots for very long, however. As part of the Opening Ceremonies, one of the U.S. precision-flying jet teams performed an exhibition. At one point during the air show, one of the pilots must have decided to have some fun – he made a very low-level pass through the top branches of two of the trees containing tree-perchers. The perchers were situated about 15 feet below the top-most leaves of the trees, where the branches still had enough strength to hold them; the airman used his wing to slice about two feet off the top of the two trees while flying by at about 200 miles per hour.

The grandstand crowd let out a great roar of amusement as a large number tree-sitters slithered and dropped down and abandoned their positions at the fastest speed possible!

The race was a lot of fun, but I don’t recall very much about the trip back “home” to Eschborn. My new-found riches had enabled me to partake substantially of the local German beer throughout the day. And, there was beer and food available at each of the train-transfer stations while waiting for train connections…


Grassbahnrennen

(Motorcycle Racing on Grass)

As I write at this moment, I can’t recall the name of the “Kuhdorf” (“cow hamlet”) where this was held, but everything about it was rustic.

The race course was roughly an oval shape that was laid out on a relatively flat pasture, using stakes and ropes to mark off the inner and outer boundaries of the “track”.

At the beginning of the racing day the grass was quite smooth and slick, which provided for lots of sideways sliding. However, as the day progressed, the motorcycles started chewing up the grass, with divots being tossed out frequently into the audience. This progressed quickly to a point where the track “surface” consisted of huge ruts and potholes, with lots of dirt and mud flying everywhere.

Audience safety was a non-issue. The only thing separating the flying machines from the crowd was the stake-and-clothesline boundary marking the perimeter. Several times wayward machines went off the course, through the ropes, mowing down a number of spectators. This appeared to be an expected part of the “sport”.

An interesting variation was side-car motorcycle racing. A passenger was required to ride in the sidecar, and the athleticism, contortions and coordination that both the driver and the passenger exhibited in order to shift their weight for maximum cornering power were really amazing. It was a combination gymnastics-and-racing event!