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A few days after I got back from London, I was off again - this time heading east, on a bit of a loop through Germany and Denmark.
For the first leg of my journey, I took one of the sleek ICE3 trains bound for Frankfurt. The ICE3s are the fastest in the Deutsche Bahn fleet, and this one would reach up to 320km/h later in the Koln-Frankfurt section of the journey, but within the Netherlands they travel at relatively sedate speeds - 160km/h between Amsterdam and Utrecht, just 140km/h to Arnhem, then back up to 160 from Arnhem to the border. Nonetheless, about two hours after I left Amsterdam Centraal, I'd arrived in Duisburg, Germany.
Duisburg is part of the huge Rhine-Ruhr conurbation of about 10 million people, that curves around from Dortmund to Essen, Dusseldorf, Koln and Bonn. Duisburg itself has about 500,000 people, and has the world's largest inland port, being at the confluence of the Rhine and Ruhr rivers. From what I've read since, it apparently has quite a comprehensive local public transport network, with its own tramway and light rail within the city, and the conurbation-wide S-Bahn which serves Duisburg among other cities - but I only had a short stop so I just had a quick wander around the city centre on foot.
Duisburg Hauptbahnhof is quite an important interchange station, being the place where a bunch of local and long-distance lines meet. The main station building looks quite plain, but the platform area has some quite unique heritage architecture, with an industrial-feeling ironwork canopy over the platforms. However, this part of the station feels a bit old and shabby, and could clearly do with a bit of restoration.
From Duisburg I boarded my train to Hamburg, which was an older loco-hauled train, and which seemed to be a bit of a weird milk run that zigzagged back and forth collecting people from a lot of places to deliver them all to Hamburg. After stopping at Essen and Munster, it took a big diversion to Rheine, where it sat idle for quite a while, before the train reversed direction and took off again. When we reached Osnabruck, much the same thing - we paused for ages and the conductors had a leisurely dart on the platform outside my window, before the train reversed direction again. So my forward-facing seat had become rear-facing and then forward-facing again. This was all a little unusual, but no skin off my nose - I had nowhere in particular to be, and was very happy to while away the day watching the German cities and countryside go past my window. Munster, in particular, struck me as very pretty, though I didn't manage to get any photos as we passed through.
Hamburg is Germany's second-biggest city, and another important port (technically on the river Elbe, but considered a sea port because it's in the wide and deep final stretch that seagoing vessels can navigate). It has an incredibly long and rich history, much of which is still very present today, with huge imposing cathedrals and the Rathaus (City Hall) dotted around the city centre, but also neighbourhoods like St Pauli, which has strong connections to the Beatles' formative years and the German punk rock scene.
It's also home to the biggest model railway in the world, Miniatur Wunderland, in a revamped old industrial building by the docks. It's pretty incredible, with thousands of trains, cars, planes, buildings and figurines spread over detailed facsimiles of a number of countries. (I won't spend too much time on it, but there's about a billion hours of footage on YouTube if you want to take a look).
Hamburg shows clear signs of a very car-dependent city that is trying to shift the balance. Safe cycling infrastructure is present, but often a bit narrow; at intersections, cyclists and pedestrians often have to wait a long time for the lights, as cars still very much have priority. On the public transport front, in addition to a bus network that seemed quite busy, it has a metro system called the U-Bahn and a nominally-regional system called the S-Bahn (which has similar coverage and performs a pretty similar function). I only had a brief ride on the S-Bahn and it was very clean and I had a very short wait for the next train, but for whatever reason it was a bit dead when I rode it - hardly anyone else around.
Hamburg Hauptbahnhof is the busiest station in Germany, and the second-busiest in Europe - not only because of the importance of Hamburg itself, but because it is again a key interchange for a number of long-distance trains. It's certainly an impressive structure, though perhaps more imposing than beautiful - the broadly Neo-Renaissance stone parts and the steel arch structure of the train shed both look fine individually but to me they seem to make an odd combination.
Stay tuned for Part 2, in which I head north to Denmark.
This article first appeared on the-iron-road.blogspot.com
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