Saturday, 23 May 2020

Back in the DDR: Trainspotting by Car

Yesterday saw us in the Golden Lion in Meiẞen, blagging an extra beer at closing time....

Monday, 15th April 1985

We still had the Lada, but before setting off for a day chasing trains we had a look around the town.  Meiẞen did not have the rundown and neglected air of most of the small towns in the DDR that we visited, being somewhat of a tourist centre in itself, situated on the River Elbe and the home of a well-known Porcelain and China manufactory.  We didn't have a huge interest in porcelain, but the commercial barge traffic on the Elbe took my interest at least.
Meiẞen Cathedral overlooks the River Elbe and its barge traffic. This one appears to be from Czechoslovakia (as was)
Tourist centre or not, the town did share some features with others in the DDR, namely queues.
A Queue, but we never did find out what for.
Back in the Lada, our first port of call was Jöhstadt, terminus of the narrow-gauge line from Wolkenstein. This was another freight-only line, although unlike that at Műgeln it did run through some rather attractive river valley scenery

The freight wagons were standard-gauge and worked through from the main line, being mounted onto narrow-gauge transporters for their journey to Jöhstadt and dwarfing the locos as they did so.  We were only just in time to see this line working as it closed the following year.

The area we were now in was very close to the border with what was then Czechoslovakia. In contrast to the DDR's border with the west, that to Czechoslovakia was, at least in this area, somewhat nominal as we found out at our next destination.

The line from Cranzhal to Kurort Oberwiesenthal was very much a passenger railway, with the Kurort (or Spa) being a popular destination for visitors.  Yet again we were linesiding rather than travelling, which did at least give us the opportunity for photographs. Despite the obvious attraction of lines such as these, railway enthusiasts were not very common and local people just took the railway for granted.  But near Cranzhal we did come across some people showing an interest in the railway.  From the car they were travelling in they appeared to be West Germans and although they were photographing the trains they were trying hard not to make it look obvious that they were doing so.  We thought they seemed rather surprised at how openly we were taking our own photos, but then we realised that as we were travelling in a local hire car they probably assumed we were locals too.
Cranzhal station
Cranzhal, where the branch to Kurort Oberwiesenthal makes a junction with the main line, was a fairly typical East German narrow-gauge station with the tracks separated from the station buildings by a road with none of the fences, bridges or subways that would be considered necessary in the UK

The weather deteriorated as we drove south, although there were plenty of people out and about at Niederschlag.
For the final few kilometres on the way to Kurort Oberwiesenthal the line runs alongside a stream that forms the border with Czechoslovakia. Nowadays we are used to open borders in Europe with the U.K. being one of the few that still maintains checks at the frontier, but in 1985 border posts and controls were the norm, especially in the East, so the idea of just being able to jump across a stream into another country seemed strange to us.
Nearing Kurort Oberwiesenthal with Czechoslovakia just over the stream.
We had one more railway to visit today, but this was a standard-gauge line. The branch from Schlettau to Crottendorf was entirely worked by steam locomotives, one of the few standard-gauge lines where a steam loco could be guaranteed.
Despite being standard-gauge, with much larger locos and coaching stock, this line had all the informality of the narrow-gauge and very little, if any, separation from roads or houses past which it ran.

From Crottendorf we drove back to Leipzig to return the hire car to the Hotel Merkur. We arrived at 19.00hrs that evening, so having booked a 24-hour hire we were charged for an extra 4 hours. It seems we did 487km driving in those 28 hours, including the time we spent in Meiẞen, so perhaps it was just as well that we had a Lada rather than a Trabant!

Then, it was time to board to overnight express to Poland....

1 comment:

nb Carmel said...

Seeing your photo of the Walkenstein branch reminds me that (as a lapsed model railway enthusiast) being fascinated in my early teens by the concept of Rollböcke having seen them at a model exhibition somewhere. They were definitely available as an off the shelf model by Marklin or Fleichman (or similar). Never actually saw real ones in operation, but the model was the full Rollwagon type, not the single bogie type that Rollböcke actually describe.