2007 in Sweden, and a group of young heritage and museum railway workers and volunteers from across Europe meet for the first time. They have a week and a bit of visiting railway museums, working and travelling. A year later, another group meet up in Latvia for the same reason. So Fedecrail (the European Federation for Museum and Tourist Railways) decided to run these camps every year, with each year being in a different country. I have had the privilege of doing 5 of these camps so far, half of the total number. Starting in England in 2012, to Austria in 2013, The Netherlands in 2014, Hungary in 2015 and now Germany in 2016. We spent the week working for VDMT: The German Heritage Railway Association, and based at the Deutsche Dampflok Museum (DDM) in Neuenmarkt in Bavaria (about an hour’s train journey from Nuremberg). We had a mixed week of working, visiting railways and some general tourism.
Friday was a long day. I woke up at 3AM to catch the early morning train from Bedford. I had decided to travel all the way by train. I arrived at Bedford Midland station at 04:30AM for the 04:45 train to London. This was the only train that was running that morning due to staffing problems, and I needed that train to be able to connect with the first Eurostar of the day.
I arrived at London St Pancras International station bang on time and ready for the 06:50 Eurostar to Brussels Midi. I had about an hour to kill before my train left so I paid my respects to the statue of Sir John Betjeman as rubbing his belly is a sign of good luck for travellers. Security at St Pancras was tight and the queue was longer than usual, which in light of current circumstances is understandable. The Eurostar left on time and while on board I got chatting to a fellow passenger who turned out to be a physicist in the construction industry on his way to see a client in Essen.
Arrival in Brussels was also on time, with the whole Eurostar journey being uneventful. I quickly made the 17-minute connection to my ICE to Frankfurt am Main with time to spare. This train was busy, and was delayed by about 10 minutes for unknown reasons by the time we got to Frankfurt. My next ICE to Nuremburg was delayed in leaving by 5 minutes, but was 10 minutes late into Nuremberg.
While on the ICE I was contacted by some of the other participants who were waiting for me at Nuremburg. There was a train to Neuenmarkt-Wirsberg that was due to leave as my ICE was arriving. I knew it was going to be tight, but thankfully they were willing to hold the connection for me. I arrived at Neuenmarkt-Wirsberg almost exactly 13 hours after setting off, and was ready for a shower and a bed.
On Saturday we started one of the two main work activities we were to undertake while we were there. This was not just a holiday, but a working trip as well. Our task was to refurbish a bogie goods van at the DDM, which meant stripping off the old, rotten wooden body work, grinding the rust off the chassis and repainting it, and preparing and rebuilding the wagon using new wood. On Saturday we spent the morning stripping the body work off, priming the replacement wood ready for painting and starting to grind down the steel chassis.
Sunday was a day where we went travelling. We visited the Dampfbahn Fränkische Schweiz which is a standard gauge line running between Ebermannstadt and Gößweinstein in the Franconian Switzerland part of northern Bavaria, running through the beautiful Wiesent valley. The railway runs every Sunday between the 1st of May and the 31st of October with a variety of rolling stock. The railway owns three steam locomotives, four diesel locomotives, two railcars and a fleet of vintage passenger coaches from various parts of Europe and Germany.
When we arrived we were treated to a tour of the workshops at Ebermannstadt, where we got to see behind the scenes at this railway, including all of their steam locomotives, three out of four of the diesel locomotives, and one of the railcars jacked up for maintenance. After the tour we walked into town to have lunch at the fantastic Brauereigasthof Schwanenbräu Ebermannstadt, which consisted of a joint of pork, potato cakes and sauerkraut. A truly massive meal for one person alone. After such a heavy meal we would have been happy to just sit there for the rest of the day and just drink Weißbier, but there was a train to catch.
Our train for the day was comprised of V 36 123 and 4 coaches. The locomotive dates back to the 1930s, originally built for the German Wehrmacht. It was modified in the 1950s with the addition of a pod on the roof to permit one man operation. It arrived at the DFS in the 1990s, first on loan from the DB museum in Nuremberg, but has since come under the ownership of the railway. We travelled in the traditional way of cramming ourselves onto the rear verandah of the rear coach to get the best possible views of this beautiful railway.
In the evening after a light dinner we had a campfire, which we used to get further aquainted with each other. We had music from a loaned stereo, plenty of beer and were toasting marshmallows and bread dough for snacks.
On Monday we travelled to Kulmbach to the VDMT headquarters to start on the other work activity. We were working on part of a project by VDMT to digitise their archives of engineering drawings, in a similar style to the Search engine used by the National Railway Museum in the UK. We were given somewhere in the region of 1000 technical drawings to scan in during the time we would spend in the camp. On this day alone we scanned over 900 of them. Far more than was expected. This meant that most of us wouldn’t actually be needed to finish this task and we could all concentrate on getting the wagon completed on time.
Tuesday was another working day. Most of us were working on the wagon, and a few went off to finish scanning the documents and start processing them. The wagon group were split into two, one group with power tools to continue stripping the rust of the chassis, the rest were painting the new planks for the bodywork. The completed wagon was to be in a traditional and rather attractive reddish brown colour. The group doing the grinding had almost finished by the end of the day and the painters had blitzed through in almost record time (thanks to some fantastic organisation by the Ukrainian participants). The grinding hadn’t quite been completed, but that was more down to lack of grinding tools than anything else.
On Wednesday we took a day trip into Nuremberg to visit the world famous DB Technical Museum, the German equivalent of the National Railway Museum. The museum is highly recommended and well worth a visit, with exhibits laid out to show the entire history of the German rail system. There are two real parts to the museum – the main building, which has a similar atmosphere to the science museum in London, and a yard across the road which feels like a more normal railway museum.
The whole site is filled with interactive exhibits, with a working signal box in the yard area, various items of uniform to try on and a whole floor dedicated to an interactive children’s museum area with an indoor miniature railway, a locomotive simulator, and several items of play equipment.
After visiting the museum, we travelled along Nuremburg’s driverless metro and tram systems to the Historisches Straßenbahndepot St. Peter. This is a museum for the historic trams of Nuremberg, with trams from all ages showcasing the entire history of the Nuremberg tram network. Starting with some horse trams from the late 19th century, right up to more modern trams dating from the 1960s, which in some parts of Europe are still in full daily service.
After the tram museum we had an hour or so to kill before our train home. We took a vintage bus to the Hauptbahnhof and split into small groups to do our own thing. My group decided to have another go on the driverless metro, which unlike similar systems in the UK is completely unattended, so we rode up at the front and pretended to be drivers, like most of us would. Our train home was delayed in true DB style due to engineering works further up the line causing a portion of the train to be half an hour late.
Thursday was another working day. We split into two groups as before, some went off to process the documents with the rest of us continuing on the wagon. Once again I was one of the team who was working on the wagon. We finished stripping off the old paintwork and rust on the chassis and then immediately started applying new paint to the chassis and metal frame. Once this was done and the paint was dry, we started constructing the new sides. The wooden planks were of the tongue and grove variety to make this easier for us. It still took a good few hours, some hammers and some rather colourful words in several different languages!
In the late afternoon we walked over to the local swimming pool to relax for a few hours. As it was quite hot that day we were glad of the cool water to help us relax.
On Friday we had planned to go hiking along the famous Schiefe Ebine railway line, but alas the weather was against us. So we finished off the wagon and the documents instead. On the wagon we were applying the fine details, such as the wagon numbers, the logos and various other small details that make it look complete. As we were going for precision rather than speed this took most of the day to complete, and even then there was a lot of details that needed applying.
After our evening meal we had a second campfire, which would have been the best way to round off the camp. As with the previous one we were making bread and toasting marshmallows over the fire, had music and local beers were flowing in good quantities.
Saturday, our last full day together, and thankfully the weather was nice so we went hiking along the Schiefe Ebine, which is a very steep section of railway line on the Bamburg-Hof section of the Ludwig-Süd-Nord-Bahn. It was built between 1843 and 1854 and named after King Ludwig 1 of Bavaria. This was the first railway line in the area as the King was working on a major canal connecting the Main, the Rhine and the Danube at the time, although the canal was never actually completed until as late as 1992! The line has an average gradient of 23% (or 1 in 43) over its 6.8km (4.2 mile) length. In steam days this was an incredible gradient and as such a roundhouse and depot had to be constructed at its base for banking engines to be stored. This depot was in the village of Neuenmarkt and later became the Deutsche Dampflok Museum.
When we got to Marktschorgast we stopped for lunch and got the train back where we had a tour of the DDM museum including the areas where the public are not normally allowed. After this some of us went back up to the hostel to change into our railway uniforms. I took my full guard’s outfit and it turned out that I was the only non-German to have brought a uniform! This was a good thing though as it showcased an example of another country’s style. When we got back to the DDM we were treated to a barbecue meal with speeches. Afterwards we said our official goodbyes and retired to the hostel for a good night’s rest, to be ready for the long day of travelling that was to follow.
The final day, and the trip home. I got up early to see off the others, three out of four of the other veterans left on the 07:30 train, I wanted to see them off in the morning because we are basically family with the amount of these trips we’ve done. We call ourselves the veterans because we’re the ones who’ve been going the longest. There are currently five of us, but the number changes every year.
Anyway, all too soon it was my turn to head to the station. So myself, one of the two other Brits, a Swedish guy and a Romanian girl travelled to Nuremburg HBF, with the other Brit and the Swedish guy going on to the airport, and the Romanian girl getting straight onto her next train we parted ways. My ICE left at 12.00, exactly one hour after arriving. At 11:55 the next train from Neuenmarkt-Wirsberg arrived, with the remaining participants on board. I looked over from my platform to see if I could see them, but my ICE pulled in behind me so I couldn’t wait.
I took the same route home as I took to get there, with an ICE from Nuremburg to Frankfurt, then another ICE to Brussels and a Eurostar from there. All of my trains arrived punctually and without incident. None of them were particularly busy, and despite an earlier mechanical failure the trains recovered and I still made it to London on time and without incident. Then Thameslink happened.
It was easiest for me to travel to and from London from Bedford. This meant travelling on Thameslink trains. On the way out Thameslink were experiencing staffing problems, possibly caused by the same issues that Southern Rail are having. They are the same company after all. Thankfully my train in the morning was the only one to run, otherwise I would have missed my Eurostar and I would have been stuffed for the whole journey. On the way back, I arrived in London, walked over to the Thameslink station, to find that a breakdown in Tulse Hill that morning meant that 90% of the trains were cancelled and the one train that was running was stopping at every station. If my Eurostar had been delayed or there were issues at UK customs I would have missed this and been stuck at St Pancras for an unknown length of time. All because Thameslink trains seemingly can’t deal with a breakdown, on a Sunday, while running a reduced timetable, on one of the less busy sections of their route.
On the whole this has been an absolutely fantastic camp, with everyone enjoying themselves. We worked hard, we rested, and we played. That is what these camps are about. Young people who have an interest in railway preservation coming together to share ideas, collaborate on projects and have fun in the down time.
This year was the 5th time I have been to these camps, half of the total number that have happened. I have seen parts of Europe I had never even imagined existed, met some fantastic people, made some strong connections that will last a lifetime but most importantly have really enjoyed myself while doing it.
For anyone who is thinking about going on a rail trip abroad or visiting and helping out other railways, abroad or at home, go! Do it now! You won’t regret it, you will have a fantastic time and meet some fantastic people while out there. Railway museums are always welcoming and always looking for extra people to help out. No matter how skilled or unskilled you are there will always be something for you to do. If you can’t do physical work, you could always do something like we did and help with the archiving of documents, a job which is essential to keeping railways going and means that everyone can get access to technical drawings for their own projects. So go and have a fantastic time.