Monday, April 30, 2012

Train to Berlin


In the railway station at Koln (Cologne, Germany), waiting to catch a train to Berlin, the spires of the magnificent Koln cathedral visible through gratings of windows above the tracks and platforms.  The arch covering the platforms forms an echo chamber. Announcements, and the rumblings and hissing and grinding of trains coming and going, blend into a cacophony that waxes and wanes in intensity, drowning out the intermittent conversation of passing passengers and the queries of a couple of people who approached me – one asking for money, her hand held out (I responded in French:  Je n’en ai”), the other, I’m not sure what he was asking for, but I heard “Fahrkarte,” and I waved my hands, shook my head and said “Ich weiss nicht.”
I’m finding that my German seems to be as good as French these days.  I spoke French with a Belgian woman on the train from Brussels to Koln yesterday, but it felt more awkward than the conversation last evening in German with the clerk at the Ibis Hotel.  In fact, when I was filling out the registration info, I asked if he needed my passport number and he said no, but when he saw I was from the U.S., he said yes, he did need it. He must have thought I was German!  I was surprised and told him I had spent a year in Germany a few years back.  It all came very naturally in that language.
I woke up late this morning – about quarter to ten, and almost missed the Fruhstuch (breakfast) that I had paid for the night before. I’ve activated the Eurail pass, so this is the first of my potential six days of pre-paid train travel.  As soon as I am settled on the train, I will call my daughter in Berlin. 

It looks like a Turkish family next to me here on the quay – three boys and two girls with their parents – the father chain-smoking, the children mostly dark-haired and round-faced, although one of the girls has brownish hair.
As we departed, the train passed in front of the marvelous Koln cathedral, once brilliant white, now graying with soot and grit.  Scaffolding formed a web-work on the tower; perhaps it is being cleaned. The last time I was in Koln, the cathedral as I remember it was quite white, or at least a light stone-gray.  I climbed the tower then and looked at the surrounding countryside through the tower’s stone lacework.  I remember seeing a spider in its web, high up in the tower, and wondering how it came to be there, feeling amazed at its courage and tenacity in the winds that blow through the tower.
That was the beginning of a trip by boat down the Rhine to Basel, I believe.  I don’t remember if I did that after a Histochemical Society meeting in Antwerp or prior to the beginning of the sabbatical year in Switzerland.  Were they both the same year?  I probably had a Eurail pass then, too – one that allowed travel on Rhine ships as well.  I remember the feeling of joy then, in Koln. 

The sight of the cathedral last night, next to the railway station and hotel, gave me another jolt of joy, although when I saw her initially, she was a dark, grimy, towering presence, huge and overwhelming, almost forbidding, like an other-worldly presence against the light-gray background clouds of late dusk.

New morning:
The sun is now out; the countryside is very green; little Dorfs (villages) line the railroad tracks at 5 – 10 minute intervals.  The houses, single, double, triple, their roofs forming a saw-tooth pattern against the sky, seem to have gardens lining the railroad tracks, as I used to see in Russia.  I'm amazed at how much graffiti there is here in Germany – covering the sides of commercial buildings and splashed along the struts of railway overpasses.


  1. Awesome, Jo Anne! Thanks for sharing your travel experiences. It allows us to travel along, at least in our imagination.

    1. Thanks, Gustavo. I don't post as often as most of our facebook bloggers do, but if you "follow" the blog, you'll get updates whenever I do post. This series is from a trip in the summer of 2010. That was when I essentially finished off my travel-abroad bucket list!