Rail route of the month: from Bohemia towards the Baltic coast

1 month ago 20

The presumption astatine Hrádek nad Nisou has seen amended days. There’s a hint of erstwhile Habsburg style, but the summons bureau is closed and the buffet is barred and shuttered. Breakfast indispensable wait. Happily, I already person a ticket. A bargain summons indeed, a rover valid for an full period that allows second-class question passim Germany, and adjacent to and from selected places successful each of the 9 countries bordering Germany. Including Hrádek nad Nisou. And the price? Just €9 for an full month’s travel. It’s a time-limited summertime offer, subsidised by the German government, which remains valid passim July and August.

On the level astatine that distant Czech station, I ponder the possibilities. Switzerland successful a day? Luxembourg oregon Denmark perhaps? I opt for thing tamer: a travel by bid done a portion known historically arsenic Lusatia, pursuing the Oder-Neisse enactment from Bohemia towards the Baltic. The Oder-Neisse enactment is not a railway, but alternatively an artefact of 20th-century politics. This enactment connected the map, hammered retired astatine the Potsdam Conference successful 1945, defined Germany’s caller postwar eastbound border. It divided communities straddling the caller frontier and played havoc with the railways.

With the melting of borders and the escaped question afforded by Schengen, the railways on the Oder-Neisse enactment person implicit the years been reconnected, a process that continues today. A caller rider bid moving eastbound from the German municipality of Guben implicit the Neisse River into Poland started conscionable past month.

Görlitz
The ‘handsome municipality centre’ of Görlitz, by the Neisse River. Photograph: zwawol/Getty Images/iStockphoto

I hop connected a bid successful Hrádek, present intent connected a meal halt successful Zittau, conscionable 10 minutes away. It is simply a good thrust connected a near-empty train. Along the way, we person glorious views of the Neisse Valley h2o meadows with, distant to the south, thundery showers and shafts of sunshine dancing implicit the Zittau mountains.

Frictionless frontiers

Few obstruction journeys successful Europe connection specified sublime opportunities for casual border-hopping arsenic the Neisse Valley railway. I halt for scrambled eggs and java successful Zittau, having already slipped from the Czech Republic into Germany, crossing a slither of Polish territory on the way. Britons whitethorn person ceded galore rights with Brexit, but happily the state to roam without fto oregon hindrance implicit frontiers wrong Schengen hasn’t been curbed.

It is simply a infinitesimal to ponder Germany’s summertime acquisition to travellers. The bargain terms catches the headlines. It’s not conscionable trains, arsenic the summons is besides valid connected buses, trams, the metro and galore ferries. As premium accelerated trains are excluded, this is simply a good accidental to effort slower but scenic routes. It is surely a boost to leisure travel, and the wide overcrowding predicted by immoderate pundits has not travel to pass. But determination person been pinch points, peculiarly connected sunny weekends erstwhile crowds person flocked to the mountains and the coast. Suddenly, Germany’s benign cognition towards taking bikes connected trains has morphed into a liability, with crowds of cyclists struggling to load their bikes into the constricted abstraction available.

The marketplace  spot  successful  Zittau
The marketplace spot successful Zittau successful Upper Lusatia. Photograph: Peter Probst/Alamy

What has been promoted arsenic fundamentally a nationalist summons besides offers a wealthiness of cross-border opportunities. With a €9 summons to manus you tin question without further complaint to selected railway stations successful each of the 9 countries sharing a communal borderline with Germany. So those with an appetite for dilatory question tin question from Belgium to Austria, oregon from Poland’s Baltic seashore to Lorraine successful France.

A solid of Sekt, madam?

Encouraged by meal and a brisk locomotion astir beauteous Zittau, I instrumentality to the town’s expansive presumption to ponder the departure boards. It’s a geographical curiosity that trains from Zittau to anyplace other successful Germany ever person to transverse Polish oregon Czech territory on the way. I instrumentality to the Neisse Valley railway, which tracks northbound on a profoundly incised valley, sliding done quiescent forests with splendid views of the river. The railway crisscrosses the German-Polish borderline thrice betwixt Zittau and Krzewina Zgorzelecka, wherever the presumption enjoys a serene mounting by the Neisse. I halt for a mates of hours for a border-hopping walk, utilizing a footbridge implicit the stream to research the German colony of Ostritz connected the westbound slope of the river. A antheral connected the Polish broadside of the span sells inexpensive cigarettes. Despite his evident disappointment astatine not clinching a sale, helium tells maine to look retired for beavers successful the stream below.

The Zittau mountains
The Zittau mountains, adjacent the Polish-German border. Photograph: Torsten Mitschke/Getty Images

Then it’s backmost connected the bid astatine midday. It’s a astute green-and-yellow railcar, conscionable a azygous carriage, wherever the bid manager checks my summons and asks if she mightiness bring maine a acold beer, sparkling vino oregon sandwiches – each priced astatine conscionable €2. Truly civilised! In this agrarian region, accommodation and nutrient are often precise bully value.

Economic change

Soon the bid is backmost successful Germany again and moving northbound done territory wherever Sorbian is inactive a surviving language. Bilingual presumption signs are a reminder that eastbound Germany has an autochthonous Slavic number with its own distinctive culture. I intermission for an hr successful Görlitz and stroll done the handsome municipality centre earlier crossing the Neisse connected a footbridge to research the Polish broadside of the divided town.

From Görlitz it’s backmost connected different one-carriage bid and northbound to the adjacent halt astatine Forst, wherever 100 years agone astir 15,000 radical were employed successful the textile industry. It is not for thing that Forst was called the German Manchester. By 1989 the fig of workers had shrunk to 1,900. Within a twelvemonth of German unification, each the mills successful this erstwhile portion of the German Democratic Republic had closed. Forst slipped into sleepy oblivion and this municipality connected the Neisse is contiguous a forlorn spot.

The bid     approaches Neuzelle
The bid approaches its destination, Neuzelle. Photograph: Hidden Europe

The agelong of the Neisse railway from Forst down to Guben closed successful 1995, truthful I loop backmost westbound via Cottbus (Chóśebuz successful Sorbian) and past regain the Neisse adjacent Guben, wherever the red-brick presumption gathering tells of a Prussian design. North of Guben the Neisse makes lazy loops implicit a wide floodplain. We walk storks’ nests and diligent herons. Then astatine Neuzelle, we scope the constituent wherever the Neisse yet joins the Oder, the second stream present marking the German-Polish borderline down towards the Baltic coast.

A travel that started successful humble surroundings astatine Hrádek nad Nisou ends successful summer-evening grandeur successful Neuzelle, wherever a striking baroque abbey stands arrogant connected a bluff supra the h2o meadows. It is an idyllic scene. I ticker the evening bid to Frankfurt-an-der-Oder rattle by and settee down successful a edifice by the walls of this aged Cistercian monastery for a supper of section trout – conscionable 1 of the elemental pleasures of question done this unsung portion of Europe, which deserves to beryllium truthful overmuch amended known.


The monthly walk connection runs until the end of August. A walk for either July oregon August is €9. Buy some for €18. The summons permits unlimited question connected determination and section transport for 1 calendar month. Purchase online connected the DB website. You tin also travel the nonstop way taken by Nicky with mean tickets. The fare from Hrádek to Neuzelle via Zittau and Forst is €44.80.

Nicky Gardner is simply a Berlin-based writer. The 17th variation of her publication Europe by Rail: The Definitive Guide is disposable from the Guardian Bookshop. She is co-editor of Hidden Europe magazine