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Wednesday, 3 February 2021

Book IV ~ Chapter 9 ~ Waves of Wind and Water


After three days on this "island", we are now leaving Sylt behind, and heading back south. In the morning, we depart from our stay place here, and walk to the one and only train station of Westerland.

Along the way, we pass a car the owner of which has figured out a really smart way to advertise his holiday homes (with "smart" being used meaning "hey look, it's a cool English word and we don't care if it doesn't make any literal sense")...

...and before long arrive at the station, where I find out the hard way that my camera seems to have a problem focusing while taking pictures against the sun. I'm afraid my trusty photographic companion is in its death throes. I only pray it still lasts for the remainder of this journey.

Despite us being fashionably early as usual, our train is already standing in the station. It's a good old DB train, but at least it features a fashionable color.

Today, we are headed for the Hanseatic City of Bremen, passing the town of Elmshorn, as well as the Hanseatic City of Hamburg - eponym of the world-famous Hamburger - along the way. By the way, technically, we could have also taken a more adventurous route, taking the bus to Hörnum, then a ship to the island of Helgoland - the most remote island of Germany - and another ship from there to Bremerhaven, before finally taking a train from there to Bremen. However, that would not only have been way more expensive and taken longer, but it would also have been a royal shame to travel to Helgoland and not take a few days to explore the island. Also, quite frankly, I simply did not think of this option in time. Plus I'm not sure if the ferries would have run anyway. I know they don't run right now, but back then the Green Shnolz was on summer break, so odds are there would have been ferries.

But anyway, we did choose the train for today, we're actually already sitting in it, and before long we would be...

Embarking towards Elmshorn

Ride Duration: 3:07h
Approximate Distance: 207km

The first leg of our trip today should also be by far the longest. Covering a distance greater than half our total travel distance today - quite possibly due to some interesting meanders the train route makes just short of Elmshorn - this ride should take us south, and just a little bit to the east. Between Westerland and Husum it also contains the second and also last duplicate route of our trip (see Book IV ~ Chapter 3 ~ The Shortest Journey). Following Husum, we are on a new track once again, and come past such places as Heide ("Heath") and Burg ("Castle"). It is near the latter that we pass back over the Nord-Ostseekanal again. This time, however, the bridge is not quite as spectacular.

This train is maybe 30% full, so there's plenty of space for everyone, and everybody is wearing their masks too.

We quickly leave first Westerland and then Sylt behind, passing over the Hindenburgdamm, where we are lucky to see some maintenance work being done on what I now know to be groynes to protect the causeway. After that, we start passing by the first windmills and solar farms, and over the course of this ride alone should pass by more renewable energy plants than I have ever seen before. Again, I wish Bavaria would be as progressive as Schleswig-Holstein. The first major river we cross over is the Eider, and a bit later we cross the mighty Nord-Ostseekanal by means of the Eisenbahnhochbrücke Hochdonn ("Railroad High Bridge High Thun"). Though not as much of a technological masterpiece as the Rendsburger Hochbrücke, this one is still quite impressive with its total length of 2,218m (making it the 4th longest railway bridge in Germany, just after the Rendsburger Hochbrücke), and a maximum span of 143m. With a height of "only" 56m, this one is the lowest bridge across the Nord-Ostsee Kanal. Also, having been built in 1920, it celebrates its centenary this year. Following that, there's more fields, more renewable energy, and eventually, Elmshorn.

After one of the longest rides of our journey, we arrive in Elmshorn with remarkable punctuality. In fact, the only thing that surprises me is why the train terminates here, instead of continuing for two more stations and reaching Hamburg, but I guess that's the DB for you. Anyway, our connecting train is not even here yet, and so we have to wait for a bit at this medium-small station.

Anyway, with this, we have already covered over half of our trip to Bremen, and next should be...

Heading for Hamburg

Ride Duration: 0:21h
Approximate Distance: 34km

This should be a pretty straightforward and an almost-nonstop trip. Taking just over 20 minutes, it takes us out of Schleswig-Holstein and into the Hanseatic City of Hamburg, one of the three city-states of Germany, and the second-smallest state just after Bremen.

This time around the trains is actually quite near the comfortable seat-capacity of 50%, but fortunately, Robert and I still manage to find a pair of seats with acceptable distance within one of the intermediate sections.

After our ride from Stralsund to Husum (see Book IV ~ Chapter 5 ~ Seabound), this should be the second shortest ride of our entire journey. We pass by a few last fields and forests, and before the ride is even half over enter the Hamburg metropolitan area, making our way through a canyon network of streets and houses adorned with billboards and graffiti.

Again, we amazingly arrive in Hamburg on time. Now, the central station of Hamburg is also one that is going to stay in my mind. For one, it's freaking BIG, and we have to cross a great hall to even get to the right platform...

...but the true reason why it's gonna occupy a permanent entry in my memory database is because it's platforms are the fuck long (the longest one is over half a kilometre long). In fact, they are so long that each platform is split into two separate ends which can serve separate trains on each track - a fact which I thankfully realize while waiting for our train to arrive on the wrong half of the platform. And fortunately I also realize it in time for the two of us to still get all the way to the other end of the platform, where our connecting train is waiting.

Said train is of the Metronom train company, which is another rival of the DB, and one of the biggest ones in that. It mostly operates in Niedersachsen and Hamburg, and the vast majority of its trains are double-deckers.

These trains are also quite polite, greeting their passengers with a friendly "Moin", the traditional greeting of northern Germany...

...quite unlike the disciples of the Öchött'Kjött, God of Vile Vapours and Lung Diseases, who rudely smoke at the station while also not wearing a mask, exposing all around them to all matter of disease.

Fortunately, having taken our sweet time in actually getting here, we don't have to wait long before we can enter the train and be out of the smoke. From here on, we should be making...

A Beeline to Bremen

Ride Duration: 1:09h
Approximate Distance: 116km

The final leg of our trip today should take us from one Hanseatic City to another, out of Hamburg, through the state of Niedersachsen ("Lower Saxony"), and then into Bremen. This time the route is pretty straightforward and without any notable highlights. Along the way we pass the towns of Haarburg ("Hair Castle"), Buchholz ("Book Wood") and Rothenburg ("Reds' Castle"), not to be confused with the Rothenburg near Görlitz that we cycled through (see Book IV ~ Chapter 4 ~ Görlitz Gaiety ~ Eastern Escapades). I suppose all those red castles must be a Saxon thing.

This train is once again only about 30% full, so we can easily get a nice window seat on the upper floors.

Also, clearly the Meridian puts a greater focus on social distancing than the DB, as becomes apparent by the rules of conduct posted all over the train so they are literally impossible to miss. One new rule that I haven't seen anywhere else yet is to sit at the window in order to keep a maximum distance to the central hallway.

This last leg starts out taking us across the Elbe - yes, the same Elbe we've been at in Bad Schandau (see Book IV ~ Chapter 2 ~ Scaling Saxon Switzerland's Serene Slopes) - and then continues across a mix of fields and forests, both quite flat, before finally taking us to the city of Bremen.

It is, again, a pretty straightforward ride with not much notable happening along the way. The most notable thing is probably that for some strange reason, despite coming from the east we should enter the station from the west, due to the train taking a roundabout route involving a 180° turn near the end.

Oh well, I'm sure there's a reason for that as well. Anyway, we have now safely arrived at the Bremen central station, and are ready to continue to our stay place here.

Now since that's quite a bit away, we should take the tram to get there. Also, this should turn out to be...

A Slightly Confusing Check-In

This one should be the one stay place furthest away from the station. I mean, it's still "only" 2.3km, but since we're carrying all our luggage on our backs, I figure it's still better to ride the tram - what with there being a tram line running pretty much straight from the station to our stay place and all.

As such, we don't have to walk all that much. The tram station is only about 2 STEPs away from the train station after all.

Our tram is soon to arrive. It is of a modern build on par with or possibly even exceeding the trams in Munich, and the line we have to take is headed for a place called Huchting ("Whoa-ton").

The drawback of the tram, however, is that it's relatively full. Not full full, but full enough to be just slightly uncomfortable in times of the Green Shnolz, and full enough for us not to find and safe free seats. Oh well, but at least most of the people are wearing their masks.

Inside, it becomes apparent that the tram in Bremen really is more progressive than the one in Munich, for it does appear to feature a wireless ticket system, the likes of which I've last seen in Japan and New Zealand. This one seems to be still a bit more primitive than the ones from overseas, which automatically calculate and deduct the right fare based on an indescribably convenient tag-on tag-off mechanic.

We get off the tram in what I'm going to call a relative downtown area. It's not the central city, but it's definitely still inner-city-style, with houses densely crowded together and no gardens. The upside to that is that there's also lots of stores nearby.

Our stay place is in one of those houses... which has maybe just a little bit of a shabby feel to it. However, compared to some of the houses we've seen in Görlitz, this still looks like a veritable palace.

The check in, however, does not go all that smooth. Again, our host apparently sent us a message over Airbnb that did not get delivered in time, and unfortunately he's not at home. However, there is a housekeeper present, and she was apparently informed of our arrival and lets us in. A bit of confusion follows as she first shows us into the wrong room, complicated by the fact that she barely speaks any German or English. However, eventually she arranges a phone call with our actual host, and after several more minutes all confusions are cleared up, and we are happily settled into our room.

That concludes our journey here to Bremen. It's technically only a stopover location, and yet we'll still stay here for a few days and explore the city and surroundings. What we found shall be the stuff of the next chapter of the Travelling Fox Blog.

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