30 April 2009

Let the train take the strain

Arriving at Leipzig main railway station by InterCity train you realise the changes that have taken place in this city in the past 20 years since the collapse of communism and German unification. Getting off the train you have to look twice as to whether you have arrived at a station or a shopping mall. The station - Germany's biggest - has been transformed into a three-storey shopping centre (which has the added benefit that it can trade on Sunday since technically these are station shops) with all manner of food outlets, clothes shops, and, yes, even a bookshop. (Unfortunately amid all this progress the old station restaurant - a magnificent Arts and Crafts style hall - has been swept away and turned into a fashion store. In East German times, it was the one place in Leipzig to get a stylish meal and, if you, were lucky, a bottle of more-than-decent Romanian Pinot Noir.) But it's easy to be misled by the new glitter and sparkle. To get a feel for eastern Germany you need to foresake the InterCity trains and go for the regional trains instead. Taking the slow train from Magdeburg to Erfurt, from the flat plains of northern Germany to the rolling countryside of Erfurt offers a different perspective. One of the stations at which the regional train stopped looked as if it had not been touched in years. Weeds had taken over the platform; on platform 1, a station building, except for the broken windows, showing no signs of attention at all. Yet amid the general dilapidation, the German Railways have put up brand new station signs, smart blue plaques with white letters proudly indicating where to take a bus or a taxi. So, two images of unity, 20 years after the peaceful revolution - the new utopia of commercialisation and commercialism in Leipzig, and the superficial attempt to put a new gloss on an old run-down station.


Jane said...

I knew you would write about the Pinot noir!

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