The International Steam Pages
Glimpses of the Fatherland – Railway Travels in Germany
Robert Hall takes up his virtual pen to describe a number of journeys in Germany, both before and after re-unification.
There is a map of the route taken at the bottom of this page
The two World Wars notwithstanding, I can fairly claim to harbour no dislike of Germany or the Germans. My hero Bryan Morgan, writing “The End of the Line” in the early 1950s, described the country with much affection – and one infers that he had taken part in the recent war against said country: could I, born a few years after the war’s end, do less? It has nonetheless come about, that overall I have spent little railwaying time, in any of Germany. What I heard, and in a small measure saw, of steam in West Germany-as-was, I did not find immensely attractive – but not highly repellent, either.
The old story in my case: Browning’s “reach exceeding grasp” – though few have suggested that gricing is on the menu in heaven. (Mr. Morgan, perhaps – but he admitted that alcoholic priming would be needed, to get him to argue convincingly in favour of that proposition.) What opportunity came my way, had to be the subject of hard choices; and Germany ended up, as they say in rural America, “sucking hind tit”.
My first experience of that impressive country (Germany, not the USA) was in spring 1967 – a couple of weeks’ spell at the University of Bonn, in furtherance of my (largely disastrous) supposed studies of modern languages. Things scholastic, were what the trip was basically about; but some free time was granted, and I did what I could in same, re railway matters. In that particular corner of West Germany in early 1967, Deutsche Bundesbahn steam appeared to be marginalised, but it was still there to some extent. I sampled haulage thereby (the only time I ever did) on the secondary line between Bonn and Euskirchen, whose passenger service seemed then a mixture of steam and diesel. 43 years later, memories blur somewhat; but I undertook a trip along that line, not the whole way. I “mixed-and-matched” my trains, alighting and boarding at various points en route. Memory delivers three rides: one behind diesel; one hauled by a class 50 (WWII vintage) 2-10-0, then DB’s most numerous steam class; and one behind a Prussian 4-6-4T, DB class 78.
Just across the Rhine from Bonn was, in 1967, the terminus at Beuel, of the Rhein-Sieg Eisenbahn, on the extremely rare gauge of 785mm (two and a half Prussian feet) – in 1967, the only venue outside of Upper Silesia in Poland, where that gauge still obtained. Nowadays, the gauge is found only in Upper Silesia, on a couple of fairly tenuously preserved remnants – Rhein-Sieg Eisenbahn is long gone. Forty-three years ago, the RSE was freight-only, over perhaps a half of its one-time full length. I lacked both the time, and the “intel”, to get anything worthwhile in the way of action on the RSE; merely crossed over to the Rhine’s east bank, and wandered around the RSE’s Beuel terminus – a couple of diesel locos (which had long since ousted steam as motive power), and numerous goods wagons, were present; but nothing turned a wheel while I was there.
One day of the course at the university was given to recreation – a coach tour through the beautiful Eifel hill country south-west of Bonn. I recall gricing-wise from same, an encounter and roadside following for a little while, of the Brohltal metre-gauge line (still with us, in a preservation context); and, somewhere up in the hills, a meet-up with the standard gauge, with a class 50 in steam as we happened to pass by. Also during Bonn time, considerable use was made (“A to B”, rather than gricing) of the standard-gauge electric, private, Köln - Bonner Eisenbahn.
And, a journey taken one afternoon, with a coursemate (purpose, communing – in a totally innocent way – with German nature), diesel-hauled out and back, along the DB line following the valley of the river Sieg, (literally translated, the “River Victory”) for a walk in the thick conifer woods along said valley. The narrow-gauge Rhein - Sieg Eisenbahn intersected the latter eponymous river at just one place, then split north and south therefrom – the state railways’ standard-gauge line followed the river.
A “bash” in Austria and south-east thence, in summer 1970, took me through West Germany en route, both directions. Outbound, dawn came a little before Aschaffenburg, at which point I recall seeing 064 class 2-6-4Ts in steam. Only other recollection of that (electric-hauled) run, onward through Nürnberg and Regensburg to the Austrian border at Passau, was disappointment at the landscape’s relative flatness and dullness. Had expected all of Bavaria to be highly picturesque: along the Danube valley, not so... Homeward run through Salzburg and Munich (which would have been scenic) was all in darkness until “way, way north”.
Through nearly all the 1970s, a highly impecunious personal situation prevented me from travelling abroad. I read about the long, slow decline of DB steam; and planned and schemed to scrape together the cash for a brief visit to the Rheine – Emden main line near the Dutch border, steam’s last big stronghold in the Federal Republic. “The Force was not with me” – DB steam ended early in 1977, without my having been able to pay it my final respects first-hand.
Steam lasted a good deal longer in East Germany. With an improvement for me, in things financial; rail journeys to / from Poland in the first half of the 1980s afforded, on the stretch through East Germany, sightings of 2-10-0s on freight haulage. Also, in November 1980 I took part in a long-weekend group visit run by “To Europe For Steam”, centring on Deutsche Reichsbahn (East German railways)’s renowned steam bastion at Saalfeld, in the far south of the country near the West German border. My only trip specifically targeting East German standard-gauge steam. Objective reached, by air to /from West Berlin, and the “through the Wall” pantomime (I was disappointed by how physically small and feeble, the notorious Wall looked – of course it wasn’t truly about the obstruction itself, but those manning it); then rail from Berlin to Leipzig (electric) – and onward into “steamland”.
The oddities of Communism in general and East Germany in particular, meant the group’s having to stay in a hotel in Gera, some 60km from Saalfeld, and “commute to the hotspot”. With the approximate “diamond” of lines bounded by Leipzig. Jena, Saalfeld and Gera seeing abundant steam action by Saalfeld locos, plenty of the desired commodity could be observed in the course of said commute; by late 1980, though, the majority of passenger workings in the area were diesel – ingenuity and plenty of time were needed, to have oneself steam-hauled. Our group achieved only one run behind steam, in the whole visit.
DR used oil firing for many of its steam locos. A thing which I have encountered in only a few places – albeit railways in some parts of the globe, fuelled all their steam motive power with oil. I met oil-burning steam only – and only for some of the respective steam fleets – in France, and East Germany. Plus, Roumania had her own unique twist on this matter: all Roumanian locos were equipped for a combination of oil, and coal, firing. In the late 1970s, Saalfeld depot’s steam allocation had been all oil-fired. Early in 1980, however, several coal-burning 4-6-2s of more than one class, were transferred to Saalfeld, to supplement the oil-burning class 01.05 Pacifics, with their “Skyliner” semi-streamlining, already in residence there. Oil supplies were a problem at the time, and attempts were being made to eke them out – giving an interesting bonus to the railway enthusiast.
On our visit toward the end of 1980, passenger services into and out of Saalfeld on the main lines thence toward Leipzig – two routes, via Jena and Gera – were a patchwork of diesel haulage, and Pacific power variously coal- and oil-consuming; while on those lines, much heavy freight action was to be relished, by Saalfeld’s massive three-cylinder oil-burning 2-10-0s of class 44. Another steam speciality of the area – the oil-fired class 95 2-10-2Ts – was unfortunately very much in retreat by the time of our visit. Up until early ’80, they had worked assorted locals on the lines running in several directions from Saalfeld, and handled all “branch” passenger on the quite scenic route initially south from Saalfeld along the main line, to the Probstzella crossing-point into West Germany; whence a branch struck out south-westwards, keeping just to the East German side of the border, to Sonneberg. In the course of 1980, an influx of new class 119 diesel locos eliminated the ten-coupled tanks on these passenger duties. Toward the end of the year, class 95 was understood to be “hanging on by a thread”, and not very easily accessible.
In 1980, there was a whole chain of branch lines running westward from Probstzella to Sonneberg (as above) and beyond, through very pleasant scenery, hugging the “Democratic Republic’s” side of the border and ending up at Meiningen (of, even today, steam-loco-works fame). The latest, as at 2010, Thomas Cook Continental rail map shows most of this chain of lines still with passenger service; but, weirdly, passenger facilities petering out halfway between Sonneberg and Probstzella. Picture got in late 1980, was that the 95s had been reduced to menial and standby duties on the Saalfeld – Probstzella – Sonneberg stretch; they were suspected still to be doing rather more, west of Sonneberg.
Though I have taken part in a few organised tours, including this “TEFS” one; on the whole I dislike this scene, because of its unavoidable subjection to the tyranny of the majority and / or of whoever is running the show – greatly prefer to grice independently and be free to do what I want to do, within the limits of what the country being visited, allows. I was avid to go off and hunt for 95s in action (none were turning a wheel, actually at Saalfeld). No other tour participants had any interest in such a potential wild-goose-chase. Giving due credit to those running the tour: they allowed me to split off from the group, solo, to the tune of an afternoon journey Saalfeld – Sonneberg and back, taking the immediate return working from the outer destination; and exacting the promise that I would not produce a camera for the duration of this mission. Not being afflicted by much of a death-wish, I was happy to comply with the latter requirement. 119-hauled return journey to Sonneberg, duly made. A fascinating experience, and crowned with some success re the primary objective: a 95 was observed fleetingly in motion, light engine, during the quick turn-round at Sonneberg; and another was noted light engine, stationary, at a station en route. With the line’s proximity to the border, a couple of – extremely polite – officials made a document-checking round of the ex-Saalfeld train; they seemed quite unperturbed by my British passport.
A wonderful feast of observed steam was had on the visit, performed by Pacifics and Decapods. An opportunity was also provided at one point for the group to walk around Saalfeld’s locoshed, and relish examples of the “standard-fare” steam classes, both active and withdrawn; and members of other steam classes, in store with a view to potential preservation. As mentioned previously, only one run behind steam was experienced: on the tour’s last day, for the 60-km-odd from Gera to Leipzig. The train involved, was a morning Saalfeld – Gera – Leipzig semi-fast, hauled if memory serves me rightly, by coal-burning Pacific 01.2204 – unrebuilt, with “classic” aspect – no streamlining stuff. It had snowed heavily the previous night, giving a fine steam run through whitened scenes. Subsequently, Leipzig – Berlin with electric haulage, then the plane home.
I didn’t get to East Germany “in its own right” again (or specifically Germany at all) for another ten years. On my next visit, in 1990, the country had little time to go as a separate entity – and was rid, by the time of my visit, of Communist authoritarianism. I made in late spring 1990 a week’s “much in little” independent trip, taking in the “mid-west” of Poland (Polish doings recounted in my piece in these tales, “On Borrowed Time...”), with a brief preliminary call-in, to East Germany. The exercise was undertaken by dint of flying to and from Berlin, with rail travel south and east thereof. Wished to take a look at one section, at least, of the East German narrow gauge – long found a splendid scene by those who like such things. East German standard-gauge steam in regular service, had ended in the late 1980s; but the country’s surviving public narrow-gauge lines had continued overwhelmingly steam-worked, giving joy to enthusiasts. A bit of a “poisoned chalice” for miserable super-purists such as myself: as from end-70s / early 80s, DR had decided that it was the end of the road for its narrow gauge, for fully-practical purposes (East Germany’s one-time enormous kilometrage on assorted narrow gauges, had already been savaged by closures approx. 1965 – 1980). A certain number of narrow-gauge lines / systems were to be retained, with the steam traction which obtained on them, seen as a potential attraction for tourists, including gricers. East Germany – though in most things, one of the Soviet Union’s more hard-line satellites – managed to “get the message” that railway enthusiasts were not Western spies, just harmless nutcases obsessed with steam trains (and potential rich sources of Western currency): for the country’s last decade or so as a separate entity, it was mostly “Liberty Hall” for railway enthusiasts / photographers.
Part of me would have preferred East Germany to dieselise and / or close its last narrow-gauge lines, rather than keep them with steam as conscious tourist/gricer bait; the other part was greedy to eat up said bait, and beg for more. The whole thing involved various grey areas – under Communism, moving of passenger and freight traffic by rail was a priority wherever possible: so the narrow-gauge lines reprieved in the “leisure / heritage” context – since they were still there anyway – continued into the early 1990s, to carry freight traffic. A very broad and blurred spectrum, between the extremes of “completely the real thing”, and “complete tourist / preservation pap”.
At all events, the “to be kept for the tourist/gricer dollars/marks/whatever” “elect” – seven or eight of them – on three gauges, 750mm, 900mm, and metre – were with us in 1990 with steam, and are still thus with us today, giving delight to enthusiasts. As at 1990, I had never seen anything of East German narrow gauge, and wished to see something of same. The bit of narrow gauge which I chose to visit – out of several which might be incorporated in a journey from Berlin to Poland via the south-east corner of East Germany – was the 30-odd-km 750mm gauge line from Freital- Hainsberg near Dresden, southward into the hills to Kurort Kipsdorf. As per latest information known, this line still runs – all-steam – between Freital-Hainsberg, and its approximate mid-point of Dippoldiswalde. After disastrous flooding in 2002, all services on the line were suspended for some years. Reopening as far as Dippoldiswalde took place in late 2008; what may become of the section south of this point, is thought to be at present, uncertain. Nowadays, the line carries passenger traffic only; in 1990, (“as per above”) it had an apparently healthy freight business.
Travelled on an express from Berlin (Ostbahnhof) to Dresden – a main line long electrified by 1990, but which had been up to the late 1970s, one of DR’s supreme and railfan-beloved virtually-all-steam routes. At Radebeul a little way north of Dresden, the 750mm line to Radeburg – then, and now, steam-worked – was glimpsed in passing.
Freital-Hainsberg was reached in the early afternoon, by a short EMU journey westward from Dresden Hauptbahnhof. As on the majority of the East German narrow gauge, this 750mm gauge line was worked by relatively modern 2-10-2Ts; here, of the 99.17** series. I took the 14.28 departure from Freital-Hainsberg to Schmiedeberg, a few stations short of the Kurort Kipsdorf terminus. This train, headed by 99.1734, ran as a “mixed”, with three standard-gauge open wagons on transporter trucks – it continued south from Schmiedeberg with the wagons, presumably to the terminus. In the line’s earlier reaches, a scenic run climbing up a wooded river valley, crossing and recrossing the river, and sometimes running on embankments or ledges above it. After Dippoldiswalde, line ran through a less dramatic “plateau” landscape; but the journey still interesting, with the line running parallel to the busy Dresden – Prague main road, sometimes almost roadside-tramway-fashion in fact, and traversing it by ungated crossings at a couple of points.
I alighted at Schmiedeberg, train’s official passenger destination. 99.1734 and train returned to that station some twenty minutes later – loco plus coaches plus two standard-gauge cement wagons on transporters. Seemingly, I was not properly “with it” that day: as I subsequently figured out, this return working was not an officially-passenger one; I nonetheless embarked on it (with no-one to say me nay), and travelled on it back down to Dippoldiswalde; where was encountered the long, impressive, and make-no-mistake 16.24 passenger working ex Kurort Kipsdorf, for Freital-Hainsberg. (Precise sequence of events, forgotten; logic would suggest that after being behind “my” freight, the 16.24 overtook it at Dippoldiswalde.) I transferred to the undisputed passenger train, and rode on it back to the standard-gauge junction, behind 99.1771. In the course of my return run up into the hills and back, a couple of other workings were encountered; it was a busy line in those days. And in my estimation, a delightfully scenic one. This 750mm section seems on the whole, to have received less acclaim than its Radebeul – Radeburg “twin” of the same gauge, just north of Dresden – unjustly, I feel: the Kurort Kipsdorf line has to be better in the scenery department.
An odd quirk of divided Germany 1945 – 1990 was its so happening that in the West, the majority of narrow-gauge lines were metre gauge, with a lesser number on 750mm, and a very few on other narrow gauges. In the DDR, the proportions were reversed – 750mm predominated, with ”metric” lines less common. By the time of reunification, the only metre gauge left in the East, was what had always been its “biggest and best” system on that gauge: the Harz Mountains one, just on the eastern side of the border (pre-partition, the system had sections west of the frontier-to-be, some of which remained in – separate – use post-1945, though surviving thus for only a couple of decades at most). The Harz is Germany’s northernmost true mountain range. As things now are, metre-gauge spectacular mountaineering is done basically in the system’s more northerly reaches – including an (adhesion) branch which twists and winds to the summit of the storied and much-loved Brocken mountain, the range’s highest peak at 1141 metres above sea level. The network further south and east is more “tame”, characterised essentially by pleasant hill country.
As at the early 1990s, the ex-East German reaches of the metre-gauge complex formed an interconnected multiple-branch network totalling a little over 100 kilometres. The system was privatised – in stages, I gather, with final ratification as at February 1st 1993, passing from the Deutsche Reichsbahn (then at that time still independent East German railway authority, which in the Communist era had worked all the country’s public railways) to Harzer Schmalspurbahnen GmbH.
I visited the Harz system shortly after full privatisation, at the end of May 1993. This was part of another busy week’s “multi-tasking” expedition: by road from Britain, to the Harz lines in Germany and then to the Wolsztyn area in Poland – a couple of full days being devotable to each venue. Travel was by camper-van, with B. – my companion on several trips told of in “Traveller’s Tales” – and a third participant: a friend of both of us – who was in fact not a railway enthusiast (he found some aspects of the week’s activities, rather trying).
In summer 1993, the Harz metre-gauge system was worked approximately 50% by class 199 C-C diesel locos converted from standard-gauge class 110; and 50% by steam (coal-burning). Almost all the steam action was by massive-for-the-metre-gauge 2-10-2Ts of series 99.72xx (East Germany had clearly liked the 2-10-2T type); but the system also had in going order, a 2-6-2T (no. 99.6001), and – for special workings only – a couple of Mallet articulated 0-4-4-0Ts, series 99.59xx. Freight traffic seemed in 1993 to be at a lowish ebb, and to be happening only on the north-to-south main line; the system was basically a passenger undertaking, with satisfyingly frequent services, varyingly steam- or diesel-hauled (no railcars at that time).
Just occasionally in Europe, in the past half-century-plus which has been mostly miserable for devotees of lesser railways, isolated instances (sometimes amazing ones) have occurred, of things going the other way – more often in the Communist half of the continent, while it was thus. Up to 1945, the Harz metre gauge was made up of several independent but interconnected private railways; the approximate north-south, and east-west, axes – meeting at the junction of Eisfelder Talmühle – being under different ownerships. A part of the immediate-post-World War II traumas in this area, was the dismantling of everything on the metre-gauge system east of Stiege, in the interests of reparations to the USSR. I understand that the rails were taken away, to that end, but not the locos and rolling stock. Most of what had been thus lifted, was reinstated two or three years later; but not the 12 / 13 km. between Strassberg and Stiege – which stayed lifted and abandoned for nearly forty years. The former network was divided into, and worked as, two separate parts by the Deutsche Reichsbahn: to the west, the “Harzquerbahn” (Wernigerode – Nordhausen and branches), a substantial system operated by the impressive 2-10-2Ts; and to the east, the “Selketalbahn” (Gernrode to Harzegerode and Strassberg), an altogether lesser concern worked by lighter locos – largely the 99.59xx Mallets.
Seemingly quite incredibly – in the early 1980s (after a fair number of years’ deliberation), DR set about reinstating the Stiege – Strassberg line, and carried the project through to completion, with services commencing in late 1983 or early 1984. The rationale is understood to have been, to improve freight connections with the upper end of the Selketalbahn (mineral from a quarry at Strassberg, and coal to a sizeable industrial area near Alexisbad) – enabling transporter-trucks carrying standard-gauge wagons, used on the Harzquerbahn but not the Selketalbahn, to handle this freight traffic. It is gathered that in the few years for which freight ran over the reinstated section, timber trains also featured. Passenger services were instituted over the reopened line as well. At Stiege junction, a balloon loop was put in, to allow all trains using the junction, in whatever direction, to negotiate it without any reversing or loco-running-round. The whole thing was, for gricers, a happy concatenation of circumstances within a narrow time-window. If DR had been in possession of a crystal ball in the early eighties, they would most certainly not have bothered to bring this line back to life; it would have stayed abandoned for good. I understand that less than ten years after the section’s reopening, the freight flows for which it had been resurrected, had rail-wise totally come to an end. The section still has passenger trains today, though, under Harzer Schmalspurbahnen GmbH auspices.
Memory is a capricious thing. Though I found the Harz system delightful, my recall of our total two-plus days on it is annoyingly poor; there are railwaying holidays of mine, taken some quarter-century before this 1993 venture, which I remember better than I do the Harz sojourn. Strange, but thus it is. And I no longer have the notes taken on this part of our tour; so must fetch out what memory allows, with apologies for more not being retrievable.
I travelled over all the system’s lines “as then were”, but remember irritatingly few details. General pattern of things was that B., the impassioned photographer, spent the bulk of the time chasing steam workings in the van. I, keener on line-bashing, split up with him a lot of the time, and explored the system on the trains. Our “No. 3” tended to accompany me train-travelling; he enjoyed the rail rides through agreeable scenery, and the often to-and-fro nature of road-borne chasing exasperated him. I recall that we all made a return run on a train crowded with happy excursionists, on the system’s acknowledged scenic pearl, the branch from Drei Annen Hohne to the top of the Brocken, behind a 2-10-2T – magnificent noise from the loco, on the ascent; and wonderful views, and sinuosity of line (thoughts of the old chestnut about the driver being able to lean out of the cab and cadge a cigarette from the guard). Throughout the decades of partition, the mountain had been actually on the border – the summit, and the railway, just in the East; there were military establishments up on the top, and public passenger workings on the branch terminated at Schierke, some kilometres short thereof. You had to be a local resident to travel even to Schierke; the whole branch was off-limits to others, including foreign railfans. There was great joy post-reunification, when after nearly half a century, all Germans once again had free access to their beloved mountain. In fact, in the last Cold War years the military had virtually ceased to use the section from Schierke to the mountain summit, though the track remained in situ. Reopening to the summit was clearly seen as a high priority, in that much work was done at the beginning of the 1990s to bring the section back into passenger-service-fit condition.
In early summer 1993, there was still a small Russian Army presence at the military “doings” at the top of the mountain, pending final agreements between the two countries involved; this seemed a relaxed-enough situation, with no hindrance to photography.
I remember covering the southern reaches of the system’s main line, to Nordhausen and back, by diesel-hauled working (s); and I remember doing Gernrode – Harzgerode, the final part of the network which I needed to cover, behind 99.6001, the solitary 2-6-2T – this ride was by me alone, the other two staying with the van. I think, though can’t be sure, that Hasselfelde was attained with diesel traction (insistence on steam haulage for all train journeys taken, was not practicable with the restricted amount of time which we had: some parts of the system saw little, if any, steam working, and things just had to be taken as they came). I remember the balloon loop at Stiege, and seeing it in use; but how, when, and with what motive power I traversed it – though I know I did so – that has totally gone from the memory cells.
A comical instance is recalled, of “wilfully seeing (or not) what one wants to” – a foible to which railway enthusiasts have a considerable tendency. One of the British “learned gricing journals” with an interest in matters on the Continent had – in all good faith – published shortly before our visit, a map, submitted by a contributor, showing in detail the Schierke – Brocken summit section, and the alternatively-routed but intersecting road up the mountain; plus various suggested photo-spots. One morning, we took advantage of this valuable bit of “intelligence”, and set off up the Brocken road in our camper-van. As we progressed up the mountain, we became aware of numerous signs posted beside the road. Memory is not precise, after so many years: but if I recall correctly, they were “pictorial rather than in words” – had words been the case, our combined command of German would have been sufficient for their meaning to be clear.
We all had, I think, the fairly strong impression that we were being told that the road we were on, was not supposed to be traversed by general motorists. However, we wanted to go up the mountain and get our pics of the 2-10-2Ts doing their stuff; persuaded ourselves thus, that the signs didn’t mean what they seemed to mean – and if there had been anything “dodgy”, surely the magazine would not have printed the map? We pressed on, and managed to get a steam picture or two; but quite some way before the top, were intercepted and halted by a vehicle-load of irate “forest ranger” types, who told us that we were indeed driving on a road forbidden to general traffic; and how could we have failed to see the signs? The Brocken area is of great biological and ecological interest, and part of the mountain is a jealously-guarded nature reserve; there was in fact some opposition, from extreme proponents of the Green cause, to the railway to the summit’s being reopened at all.
We performed the “dumb Brits” routine, and apologised profusely; in the end, the guardians of nature let us off with a caution, and sent us on our way downhill. The malefactors duly reported to the journal concerned, that the road in question was “not for car-chasers”, and a couple of issues later, journal published the caveat. So, for anyone who might be thinking of driving up the Brocken to get steam-action pics...
The Harz system has continued in essentially good health under its private ownership, up to the present day; for the author, revisiting it is, sadly, a scenario more attractive than likely achievable. Assorted developments have happened over the years; some railcars were brought in as from the late 1990s. The system’s southernmost stretch, from Ilfeld to Nordhausen, has become increasingly integrated – context modern traction – with the city of Nordhausen’s public transport, including its trams, and carries busy commuter traffic for Nordhausen. The entire system as running in 1993, is still active today; with an “extra”, in point of fact. After abandonment in 2004 by the state railways, of the standard-gauge Frose - Gernrode - Quedlinburg branch, thus leaving the eastern end of the “metric” network bereft of s/g access, it was achieved that the 9 km section from Gernrode to Quedlinburg (a beautiful town and tourist-honeypot in its own right) was converted to metre gauge and made part of the Harzer Schmalspurbahnen system. Metre-gauge services over this section commenced in, I believe, 2006.
General picture as at the present day, is that the eastern end of the system, Eisfelder Talmühle – Quedlinburg and branches, is the relatively sleepy and lightly-trafficked part. The busy doings are on the Nordhausen – Wernigerode main line, and the Brocken branch. Everything Wernigerode – Drei Annen Hohne – Brocken, is steam; other parts of the system mainly diesel-worked in one form or another, but with a modicum of steam diagrams on at any rate most sections. To the best of my knowledge, a smallish amount of freight traffic still obtains on the north – south main line, essentially stone from a quarry situated on it. Regularly-active steam locos are the 2-10-2Ts, plus the unique 2-6-2T 99.6001; and from recent reports, one of the Mallets has lately been in scheduled service at the network’s eastern end.
At various times, road journeys to and from grices have shown me stretches of the central parts of Germany which I would otherwise not have seen; and – ill winds, and all that – a foul-up concerning a “mini-cruise” from England to Denmark and back, got me my only look ever, at Germany’s far north: coach journey from the Danish border to Hamburg, and thence boat down the Elbe estuary and into the North Sea. However, vast reaches of the country are still, regrettably, totally unknown to me; and in present circumstances, this is likely to remain the case.