Friday, 22 August 2008

20 Years On - Part 1 of Account of Travelling by Train Around West Germany and Austria

I have always been envious of people whose blogs cover their wonderful adventures travelling to places and are filled with great photographs of where they have visited. In my adult life there have been very few years when I have been on holiday, as any one who has read this blog this year will know, almost invariably, something goes wrong with my holidays. Of the two I tried this year, one ended after two days because my two companions could not cope with it and for the second for the whole trip (nowhere exotic, just to Bath in western England) I had the worst diahorrea I have ever had and spent large portions of the night on the toilet. A holiday to Corfu in 2003 led to me losing some hours of my life and my girlfriend dumping me immediately on our return. However, knowing that I had some interesting photographs of my trips of the past and because I have kept a diary since the start of 1978, I realised that in the place of being able to post my current exploits (with redundancy only three months away there is no chance of a holiday in 2009) I would dig up some of the trips of my younger years. In doing so, however, I have found that actually those holidays were blighted too. I have never had problems with 'little adventures' as I term them, when something out of the ordinary happens, but too often something more serious brings the holiday to a premature end. I am getting ahead of myself.

Today is the 20th anniversary of me embarking on my only ever Inter-rail holiday. Inter-rail tickets were a wonderful invention. Once you bought one you were free to travel over all of Europe by simply writing on the card where you were travelling from and to. They were available for all ages of people, though those for people under the age of 26 which was defined as the European student age (though in Britain at the time most people finished at 21, but our degrees were only 3 years compared to the 7 of many West German students and we did not have military service like many states), it was incredibly popular with young people. Most would leap across the continent and I met a number of people at Ostend (a Belgian port) whose next two stops were Munich (in southern West Germany) and then Istanbul (in Turkey). In 1988 I was studying History at university as an undergraduate and as part of the course I had to take a foreign language (very unusual for non-language degrees in those days) and preferring German history I opted for German a language I had only studied for one year at the age of 13. It was a mistake of course because I found it very hard and got only a 3rd for that minor, which brought down my overall degree mark. Anyway, that was in the future.

In the Summer of 1988, having worked in a frozen food warehouse and earnt some good money (I remember I got paid £3.90 per hour, compared to £1.50 per hour as a petrol pump attendant working in 1987), I bought my Inter-rail ticket with the intention of practising my German and visiting some of the places that I had studied in History at 'O' Level, 'A' Level and my degree of which I had completed the first year, so rather than hareing across Europe I decided to keep to West Germany and Austria. Of course, while the Cold War was coming to an end in 1988 it was not finished and I had been advised that if you wanted a career in the civil service as I was expecting to end up with, it was best not to go to Eastern Bloc countries, so I stayed away from East Germany. The other historical aspect to note was the West German currency of the time was the DM, the Deutschmark, which when I went was worth about 2.40DM:£1. I have no recollection of what the Austrian Schilling was worth, but I guess it was something like 18-22Sch.: £1, perhaps someone with a better memory can write in and correct me if I have got that wrong.

So, on this day 20 years ago I embarked on my first steps as an Inter-Railer to see what the open track and the cities of West Germany and Austria could offer. The ride into Aachen seemed to live up to my expectations and passing through a tunnel into West Germany I felt as if I was straight out of 'The Lady Vanishes' (1938 and 1979) or 'Night Train to Munich' (1940). Not mentioned in the diary entry below was, that walking the distance of about 3.5 Km from the station to the youth hostel on the edge of Aachen I glanced into an alley and saw two men dragging a struggling man away. Fearful that they had seen me I ran off and then encountered an elderly couple who offered me a lift to the youth hostel. I had been determined not to do something so dangerous as that, but was fearful of the two men and accepted it. Fortunately the couple who spoke perfect English proved to be as good as their word and dropped me at the youth hostel. However, I had no food and was loath to walk back into the town. Ian, mentioned in the account below gave me plain bread and I drank water from the sink. I kept his address for many years, as mentioned in a short story I wrote three years later, '15.51' which I must put on here sometime. I will leave the rest of the story to what I wrote in my diary at the time. Note, I started off badly going to the wrong docks at Dover so not getting the crossing I wanted delaying my trip from the start, though having an 'open' ticket I could go on the slower ferry but it meant I arrived in Aachen three hours later than intended.

I have made it so that when you click through the photos for these postings appear the same size as they are in my photo album as putting them up to the scale which is common with digital cameras these days makes them very grainy. However, do this I have come to realise that I was a far worse photographer than I realised.

Monday 22nd August 1988

I woke up early and Dad took me to Dover. I went to the Eastern Docks which meant I was unable to catch the Jetfoil. However, the ferry went alright, I slept most of the way. [At Ostend] I picked up the 17.02 train and was in Aachen by 20.10. I walked towards the youth hostel and got a lift the rest of the way. I unpacked and talked with Ian an Englishman at St. Peter's, Oxford, studying German, looking for accommodation in Aachen. I had a shower then slept. The youth hostel is basic and quaint, typically German, the reception people's attitude is terse, possibly becase British are not the top people in Germany at the moment.

Weather: Dull, some sun, mild.

Aachen Youth Hostel, August 1988

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