The Slow Polish Express

Wrocław to Berlin – 27 Sep 2012
At Wrocław Główny station – Główny is pronounced something like gwawvny – groovy by someone who has been smacked in the mouth – appropriate for Poland which as a nation has been smacked in the mouth far too often – it means main or central.
Wrocław Główny station.
At Wrocław (pronounced something like Vrotzwarv) Central station we try to find which platform the train will go from. The platform indicator displays are not working. The destination display seems to say platform 13, but there is no platform 13. The printed paper general departures list says platform 3. We make our way to platform 3.
Buying tickets at Wrocław Główny railway station. The way the man is leaning on the counter has an old-fashioned look about it, dating from the days when buying a ticket was a battle of assertiveness skills with the sales clerk – which in Poland it still can be a bit, ticket clerks are mostly middle-aged women who started their careers pre-1989.
On platform 3 there are people speaking German. Platform 3 seems to be the best bet for a train for Berlin.
The train comes in and we find our booked seats. By a window bar so we can’t properly see out. I notice that we, who are interested in seeing the countryside, can’t, while those who want to pull down the window blinds, put their coats over their heads and sleep, can, or could, if they had their eyes open.
It is while I am pondering the injustice of life, injustice that we have a duty as human beings to do everything in our power to overcome, that the mobile rings and it is Audrey reporting that the internet in the office is not working.
Injustices are bunching this morning.
But blessings, too, are to be counted. Had we got the pair of seats behind us, currently occupied by a quiet, meek couple, we would have had a window seat but the double glazing is shot, all they can see is a messy mist.
Two men in the foursome of seats opposite, one looks Italian and has an Italia T-shirt, but they’re reading Polish newspapers, or is it some other language? They seem to be speaking a dialect of Italian.
We are in a Polish carriage, with brown carpets and seats, slightly old-fashioned soft plush.
At the end of the carriage a party of German schoolchildren, they’ll have got on the train at Kraków, starting the journey at around seven this morning, and they are getting restless. Occasionally, their teacher shouts, sssh!
They have broken off one of the seat armrests, probably by one of them sitting on it. It lies on the floor. A plush brown discard, becoming ever grubbier.
One of the boys is a big fat slob – looks older than his age, with baggy-bum blue jeans, jeans that hang down below his crotch. It was probably him that sat on the armrest.
The train does alright for a bit, but then slows down.
At Węgliniec the train manager announces in English that the train will depart at 14:59 – he means 13:59, forty minutes on. During that time the electric engine is detached; it runs on up the line and then back along an adjoining line, then back up to the rear of the train where it is coupled to the restaurant car, the final carriage of the five-car set, which has been decoupled while the engine is doing its running around.
At Węgliniec station the InterCity express from Kraków to Berlin and Hamburg gets a diesel engine and loses its restaurant car. The changeover took 40 minutes.
The electric engine pulls the restaurant carriage away.
Then at the front of the train appears an oily PKP Cargo engine which will tow us, very slowly, through a forest, to Ża r y, where Polish border people get on and walk through the train peering about while the train carries on to Forst.
Getting ready at Węgliniec station to pull our InterCity carriages on the sluggish ride to Cottbus.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, we are approaching to Forst”.
At Forst the Polish border police get off then the German Zollamt gets on, while the train proceeds slowly to Cottbus, where the Zollamt disembarks.
At Cottbus it takes five minutes to change the oily Polish diesel engine for a German electric one, which whizzes us to Berlin, stopping on the way at Lübbenau(Spreew), where eight elderly women get on with their suitcases. They are booked in seats 41–48. Other people are sitting in them. There is much fro-ing and faffing. They still don’t get all their seats despite the help of the train manager. One stroppy, loud, rather ugly woman, strident, says she is getting off shortly anyway so she doesn’t need to move. We saw her talking loudly at Wrocław Główny station. Like us, she’s going to Berlin Ostbahnhof.
As Berlin approaches we get up from our seats and walk towards the carriage door at the back of the train. Standing at the back looking out of the (locked) carriage connecting door windows, a young man in a flat cap, with a canvas rucksack. And one trouser leg rolled up beyond the knee. He keeps his back turned to us.
The train we took from Wrocław to Berlin was the Wawel PKP Eurocity. It left Wroclaw at 11:59 and arrived in Berlin Ostbahnhof at 16:58. Had we waited until 12:35, 36 minutes later, we could have taken a train to Görlitz, stopping all stations, changed to another for Cottbus, stopping all stations, and then onto another for Berlin, stopping all stations, and been in Berlin Ostbahnhof at 17:19, just 21 minutes after our train arrived there. This collection of stopping trains would have taken less journey time than the Wawel InterCity Express. But the connection times at the intermediary stations are quite tight, so perhaps a more stressful journey.

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