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Published: June 22nd 2008
My most vivid memory from this day was the young mother, with daughter in tow, who boarded the train in Bebra. I was riding the regional trains in southern Germany with my end goal being Trier on the Luxembourg border. But here were these two strangers traveling seemingly anywhere, and it occurred to me that my fellow travelers, riding that day on a fast train, would be missing this experience. I sat and watched out the window at the passing scenery, yet as often as I could I witnessed this microcosm of German family life. The little girl would talk, or her mother would feed her or read to her, or she would strike up a game in the passageway playing with whatever she could find.
I was resorting to an old standby in the German budget traveler’s arsenal - the Schones Wochenende or Good Weekend Pass. It allows for unlimited travel for up to five people on the train system for one day on either Saturday or Sunday for a pittance. Though I was traveling alone it was still well worth the price because of the long distance that I was traveling. But for any deal as great as this there is always a catch. This pass could be used only on the regional trains, the subsystem of the Deutsche Bahn network, those trains that stopped at every small town between points A and B. But as my experience on the train was developing, this long journey was becoming a benefit and not a drawback.
I had been traveling through Germany after the end of my summertime contract. I originally had very ambitious plans to go from Berlin to Prague and then on through Poland to Lithuania. But after reaching Prague I decided that such a fast tempo journey was not what I was after. I was more interested in relaxing, especially after unknowningly checking into a party hostel in Prague, where alcohol consumption was most people’s priority, as opposed to mine which was exploring the city. So after two sleepless nights I stood in the train station in Prague and decided that instead of Eastern Europe I would retreat to Germany.
Two years previous during my first long journey to Europe, as I planned my route through Germany, I had noticed a succession of small yet historically significant towns in the state of Thuringia. Yet as my ever-changing plan didn’t accommodate such forward thinking, this route never came to pass. And so now I would finally beat this path, though backwards from the way I had originally planned. As well tiny Luxembourg was one of the few remaining Western European countries that I hadn’t visited and I was keen to visit this small country. I knew with this train pass that I stood a good chance to make it there in one day.
The following three days were split between three Thuringian towns: Leipzig, the onetime home to Bach and Schumann; Erfurt, a well preserved Medieval town; and Eisenach, whose Wartburg Castle served as Martin Luther’s hiding place from the angry church hierarchy. My journey to Trier was therefore to start from Eisenach’s tiny little train station. A trip to the ticketing office the previous night resulted in a detailed schedule of my journey, though the list was mostly populated by place names that neither I nor my guidebook had any knowledge of. So I set off to such places as Wetzlar, Kattenes and Salmtal, passing along the way some amazing scenery. First was the mighty Thuringian Forest, which eventually gave way to the meandering Lahn Valley. Soon after, some forgettable industrial towns paved the way to the Rhine. The last leg of the journey was up a different River valley, the Moselle, as the train passed barges lazing their way up or down river.
As for the mother and daughter, as we passed further and further along in our journey it seemed almost as though fate had brought the three of us together. We passed through Fulda and Koblenz, hubs forgotten by the faster trains, but vital to the regional ones. Each time the three of us debarked from the train and then walked to the next train platform, almost in unison. As we finally arrived in Trier, I passed the family on the platform, three like-minded travelers soon to part. I gave a nod and a quick smile to the mother in recognition and thanks for the unknown favour she had done me. My day had been a magical one, a unique experience though not better than any other, still without compare. And so as quickly as a moment can pass, my wayward journeyers were gone, disappeared almost as easily as they materialized, yet never to be forgotten.
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