Further Adventures in Germany

Posted by Mason Allen Buskirk on July 24, 2016 in Study Abroad |

After my escapades in the greater part of Europe, ending with the easternmost land I visited, Hungary, some time had passed, during which I stayed in my books and German lessons in Wuppertal.

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The greater part of my resuorces for traveling, particularly my railway pass, had become past its effectiveness, but fortunately that didn’t spell the remainder of my time in Europe to be spent in the doldrums, not by a long way. As I only then recently discovered in my guide to Europe, there were many objects of historical and cultural interest right within acces of North Rheine Westphalia, and others, that I shall relate later, that I would’ve flocked to first as soon as I had arrived in Germany, had I known simply just how close they were.

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I was surprised to learn such, and did not pass the chance. Making use of the student ticket I was provided with, I made a journey, never mind because I could, and simply could not stand stying in one place too long after my cross continental journeys aforementioned, to Munster, a small town in North Rheine Westphalia, home of many a significant church, and a very lovely garden as well.

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However, the train I had stepped on to, was heading for Hanover, and it became a happy coincidence, as it was a further distance from Wuppertal, and had more I could capture with my camera in an evening, and I could turn back before nightfall. Hanover is the capital of Lower Saxony, and from 1714 to 1837, it had shared a succession of rulers with Great Britain. The city was heavily bombed during the Second World War, but has largely been restored.

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Near the large railway station, which I stepped out of upon my arrival, is the grand Opera House, built in Neoclassical style between 1845 and 1857. Perhaps the most distinguished architectural splendor in the town was the Neues Rathaus, or Town Hall, dating from 1901 to 1913.

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In the old town, the are many lovely, restored 15th century, half-timbered houses, which is the architecture I believe many first think of when conjuring up thoughts about Deutchland. Many of these houses I would love to live in myself.

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Nearby was the church of St. Georg and St. Jacobus, with a statue commermorating Martin Luther, who initiated the Reformation of the Catholic Church in Europe. After enjoying a leisurly evening meal, and receiving word from the waiter that he believed my German was quite good, I finally ended my visit west of teh city center in the Herrenhauser Gärten, one of the most beautiful Baroque gardens in Germany.

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Another day, with equally fine weather, and for the frivolous purpose of simply traveling while I could, I went to Münster, the greater portion of whose sights are located in the Altstadt, which is German for the old town.

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There, and a bit of a longer walk from the station, one can find the Town Hall, carefully mended follwing the Second World War, which dates from the 12th century. It was in 1648 the Treaty of Westphalia was signed here, and the Thirty Years’ War ended. There were a comparatively generous quantity of churches for a somewhat small town like Münster, and perhaps the greates in the town was Dom St. Paulus, built between 1225 and 1265, and home to an stronomical clock of 1540.

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The most pleasant sight of all was the garden of Münster’s university, overlooked by a splendid Baroque palace built between 1767 and 1787.

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As usual, I obtained a few postcards from each town I set foot in, and deposited them into a post box, of which there are many in Germany, while walking back to the station to take a train home.

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A few weeks passed, and I carried on with the grind of writing for my classes, and learning my German, and well as preparing for my next semester I shall attend in Japan. Then, I discovered something in Germany that made my mouth gape and my eyes light up.

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Easily well within a day’s journey by train, located in former East Germany, was the Hazer Schmalspurbahnen, known in English as the Harz Narrow Gauge Railways. This is a 3′ 3 3/8” or meter gauge railway running through what I consider to be the most beautiful and German forests and mountains, and it serves the principal towns of Wernigerode, Nordhausen and Quedlinburg, each of which are quaint, half-timered villages like from out of a story book.

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The railway is filled with steep climbs, and runs along the mountains offering fantastic views of the valleys. I discovered that the railway, which uses vintage steam locomotives, allows visitors to ride in the cab of the engine if so desired, and at that moment, and now as well, I could not think of any experience that would make my memories of Germany more rapturous. There simply is no occupation I’ve ever desried more in my life than to be an Engine Driver, working in the cab of a steam locomotive, taking passengers where they want and need to go. I immediately wrote to the railway, and obtained a reservation to travel in the cab with the crew of the locomotive, and eagerly reserved a ticket to take me to Wernigerode, the principal town where my journey would begin. Upon my arrival in Wernigerode, a town filled with beautiful half-timbered architecture, I observed the yards where the engines and coaches were being serviced, and it was simply a hive of activitiy, far more interesting to witness than any modern railway should one ever ask me.

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The town in question was also home to an incredible castle, that I took the time to see before nightfall, and was blessed with a beautiful view of the town and surrounding mountains.

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After the night I spent in an extravagent hotel, and an equally enjoyable breakfast, I walked back to the railway station of the Harzer Schmalspurbahn, and introduced myself to the drivers and firemen of the railway, in German, and they were surprised to learn my original whereabouts were in America.

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I was to ride in the cab of the engine taking the first train of the day out of Wernigerode, and I was well dressed for the situation. In fact, I looked just like the crew members of the locomotive, on account I wore a black shirt in case it should come in contact with coal dust and oil, and wore a grease top hat I received for Christmas, a cap worn by engine drivers during the days railways used steam traction.

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Soon after I had climbed up on the footplate, we were away, slowly pulling out of the station, whistling and gliding through level crossings, and towards the thick forests and tall mountains.

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The ride was smoother and more wonderful than I had imagined, though the engine swayed and lurched with every exhaust from the chimney, and I felt as warm as toast behind the firebox, as the fireman shoveled on more coals to build up steam as we climbed higher towards the Brocken, the summit of the highest mountain in Northern Germany.

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The views out of the cab window grew more and more spectacular the farther into the forests we steamed, and I had never felt so joyful and in my element, for this gave me much reason to believe I was where I belonged.

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At the station just before the climb to the Brocken, I had to say goodbye to the crew, who were very kind and appreciated my enthusiasm and respect for their job, and with my German I had no trouble understanding their instructions. It had truly been a grand day out, and a journey of many a railway journey I’ve made in Europe that I’ll remember most fondly.

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It is not so much the world’s railways that have declined since they had fallen from the most important form of transport, and the start of many a civilized land and ease of travel, into mere co-existence with the automobile, trucks, and aircraft, as it was their abandoment of the faithful, beloved steam locomotive that my aspiration to drive one of them for a living is but a dream. However, I was blessed to have had a sample of the trade, and could not have felt more at home there in the cab, racing along through the countryside, than anywhere else…There’s just nothing quite like it!

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Tschüss! 

 

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