A train ride to the Czech Republic | DW Documentary

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A train ride to the Czech Republic | DW Documentary

Trains, and the Elbe Valley A blend of history and nature await passengers here When the Sun is rising and the sandstone is being lit up. It’s really special to ride through this narrow valley There are lovely landscapes here, and the tunnels still have neo gothic arches dating back to when they were first built The railway routes are very romantic They wind their way through long valleys and you get these gorgeous views of nature They’re one of a kind this icy hearty We began our trip to Bohemia, in the main railway station of Dresden in eastern Germany Up until the end of the 19th century, the station was called Bohmischen Bahnhof or Bohemian Station, and the line was the Saxon-Bohemian State Railway Today, the electrified main line between Dresden and Decin (?) in the Czech Republic is called the Elbe Valley Railway Industrialization and burgeoning tourism saw the amount of traffic increased so rapidly that an expansion of the railway station became essential In 1898, the Bohemian Railway Station was renamed to Dresden Hauptbahnhof or Central Station, which remains to this day The local railway service taking passengers to the border with the Czech Republic runs about every 15 minutes, and connects Dresden with the Saxon and Bohemian Switzerland regions It’s a popular railway route, not just due to the charmingly diverse natural landscape by the river Elbe, it’s frequent and fast connection to the sandstone mountains make it a truly convenient alternative to the car The first stage of our journey took us from Dresden to Bad Schandau near the Czech border We then switched to a railway that runs on non mainline tracks and connects to adjacent national parks Saxon Switzerland on the German side, and Bohemian Switzerland on the Czech side Our final destination was Decin in the Czech Republic, located just a 20 minute train journey from the German border Gabriela Kalinova works as a tour guide, and has spent years studying the history of Bohemia, including its railway heritage She’s acquired expert knowledge on the military, geopolitical and economic developments that were key to the construction and operation of the train line which runs through the Elbe Valley Interestingly, the first railways here were built to transport salt, this then subsided and over time the coal trade grew to be more significant Bohemia was a world power when it came to deposits of both lignite and bituminous coal Coal mining saw the start of an economic boom for the entire region, one that also had an impact on its railway infrastructure Bad Schandau in Saxony, just a few kilometers from the border to what is now the Czech Republic is one of many towns and villages in the region that flourished thanks to their location on the Elbe Railway route and continue to do so With the railway connection, the small spa town Bad Schandau is also a popular base for hiking trips through the Elbe sandstone mountains Half a million visitors used the station here every year, which after extensive investments, was officially designated a National Park Station in 2012 Two years later, a cross-border National Park Railway was set up, a joint venture operated by the national rail companies of the Czech Republic and Germany It runs every two hours,

connecting the respective national parks and shortening the journey to an array of panoramic vantage points and hiking trails From Bad Schandau, the railway takes passengers across the border and into the Czech part of Bohemian Switzerland We change trains in the town of Rumburk, and set off on the next leg of our journey, following the picturesque route all the way to Decin When the cross-border national park railway project was inaugurated in 2014, it saved the then partially discontinued line here from complete closure These tracks were originally laid primarily to transport raw materials, but most of the small mines and factories lining the routes were not able to survive after the communist regimes in East Germany and in Czechoslovakia ended in 1989 They fell victim to free market forces and competition with big energy corporations These days, it’s cross-border tourism that the region and the railway companies are pinning their hopes The majestic infrastructure of the railway line along the border between Germany and what was then the Austrian Empire shows how important the route was in the early 20th century For example, this 190 meter long viaduct in Vilemov completed in 1904 Sitting on stone pillars fashioned from Bohemian granite, the solid steel bridge towers 34 meters above the Vilemovsky Potok or Sebnitz river At first glance, northern Bohemia appears inconspicuous low-key, perhaps even behind the times, but this is a region with a fascinating history Prosperity and abundant natural resources, war and devastation, persecution and displacement, as well as political and economic rebirths, all belong to the story of this region As does its nature, and the lasting impression it made on artists who came here German Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich drew inspiration for many of his melancholic paintings from his hikes through the rocky gorges of Saxony and Bohemia For national park manager Tomas Salov, the Kamnitz Gorge alongside the Kamenice Stream is more labor of love than professional duty Visitors to the bizarre sandstone formations might daydream about Bohemian folklore and legends But Salov struggles against real adversaries, environmental destruction and ignorance Since the Bohemian Switzerland National Park was opened, we’ve seen the return of a number of species There’s the peregrine falcon and also a reintroduction program for the atlantic salmon in the Kamenice river More recently wolves have been returning and we have lynxes So this place is more than something for tourists to see It’s an interesting section of nature This is also part of Bohemia The railway line along the enchanting sandstone cliffs of the Elbe Valley is among the busiest transit routes in Europe, and an increasing source of irritation for residents Freight trains running through here on the route between Eastern Europe and the major ports of Northern Germany are particularly loud and have repeatedly prompted protests A new high-speed rail link away from the Elbe Valley is set to relieve the noise pollution The route passes through a 27 kilometer long tunnel through the (?)

The plans and visit increasing capacity for international freight traffic along the new line Furthermore, the journey time for passenger trains between Dresden and Prague would be cut from the present two hours and 15 minutes to under one hour But that would come at a price Passengers would see much less of the stunning natural scenery of Bohemian Switzerland on the route The Belvedere vantage point is located in the village of Labska Stran, in the heart of the national park The small stone theatre stage on the plateau was created in the 18th century, and was initially only open to the aristocracy Today, the view from a height of 130 meters can be enjoyed by all the hikers and other visitors from around the world Some say it reminds them of their childhood model railway The National Park railway is a convenient link between the various natural attractions, and as an environmentally friendly form of transportation, it helps to preserve the local flora and fauna at home in the 80 square kilometer National Park The National Park Railway has one big advantage, Instead of having to do a round trip, hikers can take the train to a particular location and then make only the return journey on foot or with other means of transportation But anyone who wants to get a closer look at the bizarre and beautiful rock formations that adorn Bohemian Switzerland has to go on foot Only those who master the seven kilometer long hike to the top, get to take in this scenery These sandstone cliffs have served as a backdrop for fantasy movies like The Chronicles of Narnia Even the view from halfway up makes the strenuous trek worthwhile But the actual destination for most hikers is what has become the stone symbol of Bohemian Switzerland, the Pravcicka brana Measuring 16 meters high and over 26 meters wide, It’s the largest natural sandstone arch in Europe, making it one of the most memorable natural monuments of the Elbe sandstone mountain range The restaurant right next to the arch was opened in 1826 and is a popular attraction in its own right, especially for those keen to recharge their batteries with hearty local cooking and the famous Bohemian beer Visitors have to make sure they leave enough time for the 316 meter descent before sundown Once back down in the valley of course, the National Park Railway provides a relaxing homeward journey Rumburk, a small town in the Ustecky region of northern Bohemia The local station is served by both the National Park railway and trains from other regional networks The latter are mostly used by commuters on their way to and from Decin 50 kilometers away Some of the trains running here are practically vintage models like Ivanka, a reconstructed diesel locomotive dating from 1969 now powered by a modern engine The region around Rumburk has a long industrial heritage Both coal mining and textile production were key to the growing economy in the 19th century, joined later by glass blowers, cutlery makers, Industrial spice mills and engine makers

all of them dependent on the railway for transporting their products By the mid 19th century, trains had become part of the landscape in northern Bohemia Originally run by an Austrian railway, the roots were taken over by the newly founded Czechoslovakian State Railway in 1918, following the creation of the country after World War One This singletrack non-electrified line runs through the Bohemian part of the cross-border Lusatia region Our next stop is the remote station of Jedlova The tiny station is surrounded by forests and seemingly in the middle of nowhere It was built in 1869 as a junction connecting two major regional railway lines leading to Vansdorf and Decin As the Ivanka continued her journey, we stayed behind to take a look around this unusual station at the foot of the Jedlova, the mountain that gave the stop its name Time and history have clearly taken their toll on the station building, but nobody here seems bothered by such superficial considerations The station is a convenient starting point for walking tours of the surrounding area and as a meeting place for local hunters Some passengers even come specially to savor the hearty traditional food served up here We mainly get campers and tourists, but people from the surrounding villages also make the terrain journey here because of our food We’ve served guests coming from as far away as lead to emergency, Prague and even Moravia So they get homestyle fare roast duck, dumplings filled with meat, roast pork, wild game, all freshly prepared in the station restaurant It’s hard to imagine anyone rushing through a meal here at Jedlova station, where time seems to pass at a slower pace Originally, there was just a solitary foresters house in the entire region around the Jedlova Mountain, eventually joined by a handful of hamlets In the early 20th century, people from the cities began discovering the region as a welcome retreat Since then, the tiny station has served as a culinary insider’s tip for a brief stopover and as a base for hiking tracks and an oasis of tranquility before returning to the hustle and bustle of life in the city We next headed southwest, traveling around 20 kilometers through the Decin district In addition to tourists, the regional railway also conveys schoolchildren and commuters to towns in the area Among them is the town of Decin, an important industrial and administrative center Rural Bohemia, meanwhile is suffering from the impact of young people leaving to try their luck in the cities The exodus has left behind dying villages and a shrinking infrastructure Both sides of the border are intensifying cooperation to improve prospects across rural Bohemia, and at least slow down the drain of talent Decin – a town known for its economic stability and its history dating back over 1,000 years

Standing over the confluence of the Elbe and Ploucnice rivers is the famous palace, serving first as a residence for Bohemian royalty, then as a military fortress and today as a museum Boasting an inland harbour by the Elbe, a highway connection and several stations along the Dresden to Prague line, Decin is a major transportation hub The railway is one of the most important in Europe We arrived at Decin Central Station Czech State Railways or CD is to this day, one of the biggest employers in the town with its 50,000 plus residents Tourism is another pillar of the local economy The palace with its cliff top location the floodplains lining the banks of the Elbe and the sandstone cliffs make the area a popular destination for visitors, Including many from just across the border to Germany Decin’s railway heritage also attracts its fair share of tourists The Pastyrska stena, enveloping a 279 metre long railway tunnel, has always been a much-loved photo motif Its name means Shepherd’s Rock, from the German Schaferwand, Itself a mispronunciation of schiefe wand, or crooked wall In the 19th century, it was a popular vantage point But when the Elbe Valley line opened in 1851, only the wealthy could afford to take the train People back then didn’t take trains on a regular basis at that time. No one would have dreamed of taking the train every day Doing it, once or twice a year was an option for people from rural areas as well or at least for the wealthier ones And a lot of people were very curious at the beginning. This led to a boom in train travel, which then subsided somewhat In Decin, the importance of the railway grew year by year It played a particularly decisive role for armies during the various military conflicts that beset the region including during the Second World War Bohemia had been incorporated into the German Empire shortly before hand This signal box next to the town’s main station dates from that time It’s now a museum headed by Petr Ocenasek Most of the old equipment has been preserved and the former signalman explains how it worked This is signal box number 15, which coordinated railway traffic in Decin on the northern part of the train station There would be a dispatcher working him as well as a signal month and someone keeping a record of all the train journeys in a register The dispatcher organized train traffic There was another signal tower just like this one on the south side of the station, for trains headed to Usti nad Labem The towers worked in (?) and together they directed the entire Decin railway junction In addition to the historical interlocking technology, the museum also includes a range of original documents Small collection of historical telecommunications equipment, and ther features such as a reinforced door installed to protect staff from air raids The technology is from 1942 when they set up these electric fail safe facilities And because it was during the war you can also see these reinforced doors, was to protect strategically important facilities such as railway stations The tower was then gradually modernized The light signal, the shutting signals and here in the middle where you once had the mechanical signalling center, they built a relay station with an electrical control panel The control panel was very modern and was therefore soon removed for use elsewhere What we see here today in the signalling center heritage site, is actually how it looked in 1942

Our journey through Bohemian Switzerland ended in Decin, But the story of the Bohemian railway continues, thanks also to new ideas on cross border transportation strategies for an environmentally friendly future, including a new EU funded joint project by the German and Czech authorities aimed at promoting sustainable tourism in this treasured corner of Central Europe