Locations: Southend, Amsterdam, Berlin, Wolstyn, Poznan, Berlin, Hamburg, Amsterdam, Southend.
Music: New Season (Luke Leighfield), Best of the Lighthouse Family (Lighthouse Family), ill Manors (Plan B)
Accomodation: Lalo Calado, Wolsztyn train house, IndustriePalast (Berlin), Hotel Budapesterhof (Hamburg).
So this summer my father and I bought some interrail passes and set off for Europe. The aim was to get to Wolszytn, Poland where we had booked a steam-train experience for Dad and to see some cities and museums for me. We did well at achieving both these aims.
We used our local airport, London Southend, an anachronism as its in neither London or Southend, which was really helpful seeing as the flight was early and it was the end of the Olympics. The flight was speedy and soon we arrived in Amsterdam and grabbed some much needed caffeine next to a sex museum which offered to ‘tell you the history of sex throughout all time’ for the small some of 4 euros, needless to say we declined.
(Even Mona gets thirsty!)
A long rail journey to Berlin followed, our first brush with the slower pace of interrail travel, feeling we stopped at every hamlet between Amsterdam and Berlin, but appreciating the countryside nonetheless. After a brief mix up, we got off the train at ZooGarten instead of Hauptbahnhof, we met the lovely Lalo Calado who had made us hand-drawn maps and found us some metro maps. A very gracious host had prepared a spacious room, complete with German flat-mate to await us. We had a swift Italian near his house and I ordered all the food in German, colour me smug!
The next day after an incident that I can only call miraculous, Dad and I did a quick swoop of Berlin before heading for Poland. Dad stood by the Brandenburg Gate looking at the site of the Berlin wall for a full five minutes just saying, ‘wow’. My Dad was 12 when the Berlin wall was constructed and it was still standing when I was born; he felt the full weight of ‘history as current affairs’.
The train to Wolsztyn was a definite upgrade on the day before, only an hour and a half and in compartments. Acknowledging Leighfield’s truth, ‘you are quiet but you are there, you are whispering through the world’ (Whispering) I really enjoyed our trip into the unknown. Poland struck us immediately with its flat immenseness. A land very much under-construction, but still featuring tractors on the highways. We were picked up by a slightly dubious chauffeur, who knew you could text and drive at the same time (!), and driven to the village.
Dad was in heaven, surrounded by Prussian steam engines and free to roam the engine shed. We enjoyed getting to know the little town of Wolsztyn with its cheap eateries, newlyweds taking their wedding photos infront of engines and complimentary wifi (in the middle of the lake – something makes me think they were trying to get rid of the teenagers!). We made the most of the Goulash soup (cue, ‘its never Goulash day!) and the local beverages.
(One of three couples I saw posing near the hulking beasts!)
The next day, having had our original steam plans thwarted by a ‘fault’, we got the modern train to the local city of Poznan. On the train we were travelling through ‘Great Escape’ territory and it struck me that you would have to have run a long way before you were safe in that flat, agricultural land. It was also on the train we heard about Claire’s A level results and Dad noticed, with much nostalgic sadness, that the stations were in disrepair.
Poznan is a city on the move, it is expanding all the time. It has got a very pretty town centre dating back centuries and including a picturesque town hall (16th century), the main feature of which is a pair of rams which butt-heads at 12 noon. We enjoyed some pretty looking coffees in a garden cafe but I got bitten to shreds. We visited two museums in Poznan, the first was a traditional town museum at the Town Hall, think Cologne or Dusseldorf Statt Museum but less interactive. The second museum blew our minds. It was hidden in the base of the new cultural centre at Poznan and concerned the Poznan Uprisings particularly, 1956 when many people lost their lives in the protest. There were two things that struck me about the exhibition, the first was that neither me nor Dad knew anything about it, and the second was how effective the museum was; it featured a variety of media from propaganda museums to mock-up cells and original artefacts. All of the audio was available in four languages including German and English and the layout was imaginative making use of old tram cars and hiding speakers in blocks of concrete. Made the single use of my ‘Polish’ app in order to ask the lady where the toilet was and took a rather emotional father back to the railway station. Poland is not England, heath and safety does not exist, so when we needed to change platform to board our train the only thing to do was jump off the platform, cross the tracks and climb the other one, quite a feat when you’re wearing a dress! Returning to more depressing news about the ‘train fault’ I wondered whether we’d been fooled into a con; we made conversation with our host who had lived in Great Wakering, this would not be our last brush with Essex in Poland.
(Poznan Town Hall)
Despite the initial problems Dad did get to drive his steam engine in Poland but not until Friday afternoon; impatient to meet Berlin in more detail I went on ahead. On the platform I was nervously waiting for the train in the Polish lady, making conversation with the lady (phew!) who had driven me to the station. A hopeful, tired man and his bike rolled towards us asking, ‘Do you speak English?’. This man turned out to be Mel, he’s a teacher in Southend who was cycling from Southend to St Petersburg who’d had a bad run of luck. We spent most of the trip to Berlin praying we were on the right train (the station commander only spoke Polish) and marvelling at the small size of the world; even the train had gone through Sopot (twinned with Southend!).
Tune in on Monday for Part II. Berlin.