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Sunday, 3 January 2021

Book IV ~ Chapter 7 ~ Coastal Connections


Another morning, another departure. With our time here on Rügen being already over, we pack up, and after a satisfying breakfast walk the roads of Rambin one last time on our route to the station.

Of all the stations we should use on our journey, this little rural train stop without a vending machine is by now clearly the one we frequented most: Once arriving from Görlitz, twice going to and coming from Stralsund, twice again on our day trip to Sassnitz, and now one last time departing for good.

As usual, I drag Robert to the station with ample time to spare, and so we have to wait for about half an hour before the train finally arrives. This should be our final ride with one of the modern trains of the ODEG.

Our ultimate destination for today is Sylt, and our journey there today should be possibly the longest and quite definitely the most convoluted of our entire trip. Stretching over a total of seven legs and about 480km in total, we should travel all the way from the east of the Ostsee ("East Sea") to the north of the Nordsee ("North Sea"). And the only reason why it should not also be the longest journey in terms of time taken is that the DB should mess up on one of our trips yet to come. Even so, it comes close. Our journey today takes us first to Rostock ("Raw Stick"), then to Bad Kleinen ("Bath Small Ones") and Lübeck ("Lovely Corner"), followed by Kiel ("Keel") and Schleswig ("Tench Bay"), then Husum ("Houses at the Meadow"), and finally our destination for today, Westerland ("Western Land"). During that entire trip, we should never travel further than 40km from the nearest coast, and should spend the majority of the ride within 20km of the coast.

The first leg of today's journey takes us not only off the island of Rügen, but also a good deal further already. After all, it's...

A Ride to Rostock

Ride Duration: 1:13
Approximate Distance: 85km

Once again, we head out west, and also a bit south since even though our final destination for today is about 70km to the north, a substantial body of water known as the Mecklenburger Bucht ("Criticize Castle Bay") is blocking the direct route. Okay, so it's only about 30m deep, but I'm afraid the seaworthiness of our ride abruptly terminates at about 30cm or so, which puts us two orders of magnitude short. Along the way, we pass through Stralsund - this time without having to change over here, what with us having taken one of the bi-hourly connections going there directly and all - as well as through a number of other interesting places such as Buchenhorst ("Beech Eyrie") and Gelbensande ("Yellow Sands") on our way to Rostock. I would also like to point out a place to the north of Rostock that we do not pass through, but which has the really indecisive name of Groß-Klein ("Big-Little").

Once again, the train is comfortably empty, so sufficient distance between passengers is ensured. All in all, I estimate that only every 4th seat is taken. Also a little thing worth noting: While I purchased another Quer-Durchs-Land Ticket for Robert and myself, for this trip the cheaper Schleswig-Holstein Ticket (31,00€ instead of 48,50€)would have sufficed, since for some strange reason that ticket is also valid for all of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. Oh well. Let's consider it compensation for us failing to pay the fare from Rambin to Sassnitz on account of there having been no conductor or ticket vending machines to actually pay it at.

Our ride from Rambin to Rostock leads us first across the Strelasund again, and that's pretty much all the ocean we see for the entire duration of the ride, as the train's route takes it mostly through open fields with a bit of forest in between. However, something else that we do get to see are more windmills than must exist in all of Bavaria together, on this leg alone. Talk about this being a progressive country!

We arrive in Rostock without any complications. There, we only have 12 minutes to change, but since the train is right on time, and our connecting train is just on the other side of the platform, this connection should be no problem at all. However, from here on out we're travelling with trains of the DB again, so things could get possibly more... exciting.

For now, we're good however, and this next leg should take us through...

A Landscape of Lakes

Ride Duration: 0:47
Approximate Distance: 71km

This second leg should lead us to the southernmost point of today‘s ride, a little crossover town by the name of Bad Kleinen. The way there should lead us roughly along the course of the river Warnow ("Crow River") for the most part, and through a landscape littered with lakes. Like, really, really many lakes. Even if I only count the bigger ones within a kilometre of the line, that‘s still, like, over a dozen lakes or so, and if I include the smaller lakes the count easily exceeds threescore or more. My personal favourite, though, is a really small lake - more of a pond really - near Sildemow ("Late River") to the south of Rostock, which goes by the name of Grundloser See ("Pointless Lake"). We also pass by a number of towns with names such as Schwaan ("Swaan"), Wolken ("Clouds") and Blankenberg ("Blank Mountain").

This particular train is mostly empty. Apart from us, there are only three or four other people in the entire wagon. In fact, this might be the emptiest train we've been in since the beginning of our journey. It's remarkable, really, especially considering that the train runs from Rostock to Hamburg, and is thus serving a major route.

Ironically, despite there being so many lakes nearby, we should not see a single one on the whole ride (or at least not in the direction I should film), what with all the lakes either being hidden by trees, or inconveniently to the south, where my shooting direction ends up being towards the north. As it is, I mostly get to see the flat fields of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, interrupted by a few forest, as well as the odd hill near the end of the ride when we leave the floodplains of the Warnow.

Arriving in Bad Kleinen, we are lucky that the train is relatively on time, for we only have 9 minutes of transfer time to make our connection, and while in Japan that amount of time would be sufficient to not only make the connection, but also go for a quick bathroom break in between, here in Germany with all the "unexpected" delays, this is the kind of connection that I always make backup plans for in case we miss it. For example, for today I have not only prepared the optimal total route, but also noted how often each individual train repeats, and how many connections we can miss before we will end up having to stay the night at a station. I usually try to make sure to plan our trips so that even if we miss all the tight transfer, we'll still make it to our destination without something like that happening, so it would take a really horrible delay for us to miss a non-tight transfer. Anyway, this is one critical transfer down, and thus one step towards a punctual arrival. Go us!

And that us one more segment down, and five more to go. Now then, this next leg would lead us straight...

Into Schleswig-Holstein

Ride Duration: 0:53
Approximate Distance: 62km

Our ride to Lübeck should be relatively straightforward and go mostly westwards. Along the way we pass the towns of Grevesmühlen ("Mill of Wrath") and Schönberg ("Beautiful Mountain"), before crossing over into Schleswig-Holstein just south of Lübeck.

This time around, the train is a little bit fuller, but it's still within acceptable limits.

The landscape is still mostly the same, featuring mostly plains, with a bit of hills, and several forests. We also pass over a number of rivers - some smaller and some bigger - on our way to Lübeck.

Since we're inside trains all day, lunch - as so often - consists of a humble sandwich that I eat on the ride. This one features northern cheese.

Arriving in Lübeck, we have to hurry to make our connection, since it is not only a tight one, but is also four tracks over, meaning we have to cross several platforms. Fortunately, the train is incredibly on time one again, and so we are able to make this transfer as well.

Next, we are headed towards Kiel, and along the way we should pass by...

Many More Lakes

Ride Duration: 1:10
Approximate Distance: 81km

Having circumnavigated the Mecklenburger Bucht by now, our bearing is now significantly more northbound. Once again, the landscape we pass through is speckled with a large number of bodies of water of various shapes and sizes. Interesting place names we encounter along the way are Bad Schwartau ("Bath Rind Meadow"), Ekelsdorf ("Disgust Village") and Ascheberg ("Ash Mountain"). It is really amazing how many places with "mountain" in their name we come across, considering that few hills in these parts exceed even 100m in altitude.

This time around, the landscape should be subtly different. For one, there seem to be even more forests the further north we go, but there's also the fact that this time around we should at least be able to catch a glimpse of a few of the ponds and lakes we pass along the way (even if most of them are hidden by the nostalgic greenery.

Kiel is one of those stations where changing is a bit more tricky on accounts of it being a terminus station with no parallel connections. Fortunately, we have ample time to change at this particular stop.

From here, we are supposed to take the train to Husum, which is easier said than done. Apparently, the line is interrupted between Schleswig and Husum, and so the train only runs to Schleswig. Fortunately, however, a bus connection has been organized between Schleswig and Husum, so that's at least something.

Another annoyance are the worshippers of Öchött'Kjött, God of Vile Vapours and Lung Diseases who shamelessly spread the noxious fumes of their sinister sticks around the platform. Though few in number, they are absolutely obstinate, and even requests for consideration of others are only met with scorn, or outright ignored. I wish I knew how I am supposed to deal with people like these. Never mind that smoking is forbidden on the station, by the way, but with the officials turning a blind eye here in Germany, I can only long for such civilized countries as New Zealand and Japan where this level of inconsideration is simply nonexistent.

It does not help that the train arrives late and we have to endure these poisonous gasses without any shelter to find around, lest we flee to the hall and potentially miss the train that is by now already overdue. However, in the end it finally arrives, and we are now on a track that should carry us...

Across the Divide

Ride Duration: 0:52
Approximate Distance: 64km

This should quite definitely be the most interesting part of today's ride. Not only does it take us past places such as Achterwehr ("Aft Weir") and Ramsdorf ("Ram the Village")... also takes us across the Nord-Ostsee-Kanal ("North-East-Sea-Canal"), one of the most frequently travelled canals in the entire world. About 100km in length, it cuts straight through the Cimbrian Peninsula from Brunsbüttel ("Brown Beadle") to Kiel, routinely saving ships about 460km of sailing around Denmark. It is notably also a level canal, with sluices at both ends only to normalize tidal differences, meaning that technically, everything north of the canal is an island, since it is completely surrounded by ocean water at sea level.

We should cross it at the famous Rendsburger Hochbrücke ("Fringe Castle High Bridge"), an architectonic masterpiece of the early 20th century. One of the most significant technical memorials in Germany, it has a total length of almost 2.5km, 300m of which consist of the bridge proper, with the remaining 2km being a really cool viaduct that serves to elevate the trains from ground level up to the 68m of the bridge at its highest at a negotiable gradient. On the south side, this is achieved with a 3km long causeway, while on the north side there is a really impressive 4km long loop, which I will admit is the main reason why I picked this route of all the available ones. It took two years to complete this technical masterpiece, and seven of the 350 workers making this possible paid for it with their lives. Also, in addition to the railway above, a suspended transporter bridge operates beneath - or at least it did until the gondola collided with a ship in 2016. It is currently in repair, and is scheduled to be re-opened sometime in 2021 (read: probably not in 2021).

Anyway, this train is once again filled to the comfortable limit in these times, with about 30% to 40% of all seats being taken. It really should not be any more people than this.

Now, this is quite probably my favourite train ride on my entire journey, as nothing quite manages to come close to the feeling of crossing the Nord-Ostseekanal across the Rendsburger Hochbrücke in this flat country, giving us a fantastic view to the horizon. That, and there's plenty of windmills to be found all around.

We arrive at the Schleswig station (which is remarkably rural considering it belongs to a city eponymous of this state), more or less without delay, and this time around together with most other passengers should not change into another train, but depart the station altogether.

As mentioned before, the train conenction to Husum is currently out for whatever reasons, so now we have no choice but to submit to...

A Delaying Detour

Ride Duration: 0:54
Approximate Distance: 40km

For out next leg, we have to transfer to the so-called SEV (Schienenersatzverkehr = Rail Replacement Service), which usually takes the form of a bus. Said bus is waiting for the passengers in front of the station, and since the bus is specifically waiting for the passengers from this train, there's no worry about missing it.

This leg should take us across the narrowest stretch of Germany between the Ostsee and the Nordsee, passing by the towns of Silberstedt ("Silver City") and Ohrstedt ("Ear City") along the way. The route by bus is actually much more direct than by train, and yet due to limitations in the cities and towns, it should still take almost twice as long as the 32 minutes which the trains need for the trip.

One reason for this surely is the very creative route our bus driver takes through Husum for no apparent reason. It feels like he tries to hit every possible traffic light and cover as much distance as possible before finally dropping us off at the station. I wonder if he used to be a taxi driver.

Also, in case you were wondering, yes, despite appearing to be located 20km inland, Schleswig is actually officially located at the shore of the Ostsee by means of the Schlei ("Sly Firth"), a narrow tunnel valley that is about 40 km long and between 100m and 4km wide. The famous Viking settlement of Hedeby used to be on this impressive firth, and there's even a Viking museum to be found not far from Schleswig.

Oh, and here's some more (completely unrelated) maps, since I some to be having such a good rhythm going right now and all.

Anyway, apart from us, there's only half a dozen other people in the bus, so there's plenty of space for everybody. The bus ride is also nonstop all the way to Husum, so the number of passengers remains constant for the entire duration of the ride.

Despite the fact that this ride is effectively leading us across the pass between Ostsee and Nordsee, the terrain is really, really flat, only a few flat hills in between. Instead, we pass plenty of maize fields along our ride, as well as one wind park and a good number of the characteristic brick houses of the north.

By the time we finally arrive at the station of Husum, it is almost 17:00, and thus approximately half an hour past our intended arrival at this stop.

Fortunately, this was is one of the transfers with a really generous transfer time of a full hour, so we still have half an hour to spare. Or so we thought, because for some strange reason, the trains which the official DB website said would depart at 17:30 instead departs at 17:00 today. Fortunately (again) we notice this in time to quickly hurry to the platform. Unnecessarily so, as it turns out, because this early train is fashionably late.

Thus, we still have a bit of time to look around the station, which results in me finding a really interesting wagon order plan providing the wagon orders for trains that apparently never run.

Eventually, the train arrives barely any later than the announced 5 minutes delay, and subsequently departs around 17:10, which is still about 20 minutes earlier than what the DB website said. Oh well, I suppose that means we are going to arrive at Westerland a little bit earlier, than anticipated, right?

Beep! Wrong!!! This next segment should feature the longest delay we have experienced so far, but at the very least, it should still carry us safely...

Across the Mudflats

Ride Duration: 1:05
Approximate Distance: 79km

This should be the final leg of today's journey, taking us north to within 3km of Denmark, and then east across the Wattenmeer ("Mudflat Sea") to Sylt. Along the way we pass places such as Langenhorn ("Long Horn"), Niebüll ("New Settlement") and Klanxbüll ("Sound Settlement").

But wait, how do we actually get across the sea? I mean, we're on a train and all. However, thankfully, just in the same way that everything north of the Nord-Ostseekanal is technically an island, our destination of Sylt is technically not an island, but a tethered island, and thus one really fancy peninsula. It is tethered to the mainland by the Hindenburgdamm ("Hind Castle Dam"), which just like the Rendsburger Hochbrücke was built in the early 20th century. Completed in 1927, it was from the very beginning and is still today a pure railway causeway, meaning there exists no road conenction onto the island, and the only way to bring a car to Sylt is by taking the car shuttle train from Niebüll. There is a maintenance road leading across the roughly 11km long causeway, however, that one is off limits to the public, and it's not even allowed to cross the causeway on foot or by bike. So if you want to get to Sylt, the only way is by train, like we're doing right now.

This train is I'd say about 25% to 30% full, so there's enough space for everybody, but at the same time I wouldn't call it comfortably empty either.

This last leg of our journey first takes us past sprawling fields both flat and wide, occasionally interrupted by a river or some trees as we make our way towards the Hindenburgdamm.

And then, just 500m outside of the Niebüll station, our advance abruptly aborts as the train trawls to an unplanned stop. What happened? Apparently, a train broke down on the Hindenburgdamm, causing a tailback all the way to Niebüll, meaning that our train can not only continue any further, but it can't even enter the station since all available tracks are taken. This is much to the frustration to some of our fellow travellers who were planning to transfer to a train to Dagebüll ("There Go Settlement") and take the ferry to the island of Föhr ("Ferry") from there. As our train just stands there outside the station for the better part of an hour, their frustration only grows more intense as they are not even allowed to just exist the train and walk the rest to the station. Inside they are trapped inside as the last train that would have enabled them to catch the final ferry for today departs. But at the very least the DB takes some responsibility for this debacle by compensating those who missed the last ferry due to this mess-up with free hotel stays for the night.

Eventually, our train advances to the Niebüll station, and remains there for another 10 minutes or so while waiting for the tailback to dissolve - a chance that several passengers use to get some fresh evening air, for by now the sun is already in the process of setting.

And after that, our ride finally continues with an hour's delay. We cross the remaining bits of land, and then embark onto the Hindenburgdamm, which sports curious rectangular mudflat-fields to both sides. I wonder if they are used to farm crabs or seashells or such, or maybe they are of structural importance for the causeway. Once across, it is only a short way further until we finally arrive at Westerland, half an hour late instead of half an hour early as I mistakenly assumed in Husum.

Oh well, given that today featured a total of seven legs with several tight connections and most of them being operated by the DB, that is actually quite a good outcome. I had actually anticipated the possibility of us arriving well after dark, when the stores had already closed, and did as such make sure that both Robert and I had some provisions in our backpacks that we could use as emergency rations in such a case. However, as it is the sun has not even fully set by the time we arrive at the station of Westerland, the central city of Sylt.

Now all that's left is the walk to our local stay place, and while it did not turn out quite as bad as I feared, this should still be...

A Late Arrival

The good news is that our stay place is not far from the station. However, since the station does not have any side exits, we still have to go a rather roundabout way to get there.

And yet, it is only as a consequence of us having to exit through the main entrance of the station that we run into a selection of seriously skewed station square statues.

After that, it's only a short walk to the evening streets of Westerland...

...before we finally arrive at our stay place, which this time around is an apartment in a humble block of flats.

By the time we get there, the sun has already set over the streets. However, thanks to our apartment being located on the top floor, we still get to see a solemn sunset over the shore of Sylt.

With that, our long journey to Sylt finally comes to a close. Altogether, we've been on the road for over 10 hours now, which makes this my longest (and also most complex) terrestrial travel since my journey from Yodoe to Kagoshima in Japan (see Book II ~ Chapter 13 ~ Daring Daisen). Anyway, now that we have safely arrived on Sylt, we can look forward to achieving our next big objective. However, that is a tale to be told in the next Chapter of the Travelling Fox Blog, so stay tuned!

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