Leipzig Train Station

Inaugurated in 1915, Leipzig Hauptbahnhof (Leipzig main train station) is the central railway terminus in Leipzig, Germany. When its plans were finalized in 1909, it was the world’s largest railway station. Today, at 83,460 square metres (898,400 sq ft), it is Europe’s largest railway station measured by floor area. It has 19 overground platforms housed in six iron train sheds, a multi-level concourse with towering stone arches, and a 298 metres (978 ft) long facade.

It was in 1898 that the Leipzig city council decided on a joint terminal for Royal Saxon and Prussian state railways north of the city centre. A building contract with both organisations was signed in 1902 and an architectural competition with 76 participants was held in 1906. The winning design by architects William Lossow (1852–1914) and Max Hans Kühne (1874–1942) featured two identical domed entrance halls facing the street, one for each company. The foundation stone was laid on 16 November 1909 and the platforms were gradually brought into operation station from 1912 onwards. When construction works finished on 4 December 1915, Leipzig Hauptbahnhof had become one of the world’s largest railway stations with 26 platforms.

Enjoy the photographs!


CFR still doesn’t get it

I last wrote about CFR (Caile Ferate Romane) — the government-run railroad company — in 2006, and — in spite of the repeated government bailouts and consulting firms who have been called in to help them re-structure, and the IMF directives for their improvement — things have gotten no better.

Ligia and I rode on an InterCity train today, from Cluj to Medias, in what was supposed to be 1st class. In my last article on the matter, I concluded that at least 1st class on the InterCity still meant something. It did, back in 2006. Now it no longer does.

This is how the 1st class wagon looked back then.

1st class no longer looks like this

Now they’ve done away with the glass dividers, and with most of the tables between the chairs. They’ve also faced most of the chairs forward, so they could fit more of them into the wagon. It looks like you’re riding in a bus. They’ve killed 1st class.

Another thing which I dislike is a cheap populist move on the part of Romanian politicians, whereby they granted old folks the privilege of riding 1st class for free. So what you end up with is paying 1st class prices for the questionable privilege of being stuck in the same wagon with a bunch of rude, loud (and smelly) old people from all walks of life, who love to complain (loudly) about everything during the trip.

I can understand the need to make travel more affordable for older folks who live on a limited income, but when you also kill 1st class in the process, which is the place where you make your better profit margins, that’s just not smart, nor is it in any way polite or respectful to the people who pay their own way for 1st class and expect to get clean, deodorized wagons and a little peace and quiet during their travels.

Things have gotten so bad with the CFR that 1st class is no longer a luxury — it’s almost a necessity. Riding in 2nd class or 3rd class on most trains means putting up with ungodly stenches, filthy chairs, smelly people and bathrooms you’d rather burn than use. Any way you split this hair, the people in charge of the CFR end up looking like a right bunch of ninnies.

To top things off, 1st class seems to also be the place for the conductors to take their uniforms off and relax after making their rounds — and talk loudly while they’re at it, with no regard for the passengers — as was the case today. Because obviously what the tired business passenger wants while they’re trying to sleep is to hear a conductor’s country bumpkin accent, complaining about cellphone rates. That’s the CFR way…

It seems to me the CFR management has had tons of time to turn the company around. They’ve been offered countless opportunities to mend their ways. But the more time and opportunities they get, it seems the more determined they are to run the company into the ground. It’s a painful realization for me, because I like train travel, and I have had wonderful experiences traveling by train as a child — you know, back when 1st class was actually a luxury, 2nd class was clean, and 3rd class was presentable.


Christmas train show at US Botanic Garden

Every year, the United States Botanic Garden in Washington, DC, puts on a great Christmas show that features toy trains. These aren’t your average toy trains, like my own set, but large-scale Lionel model trains, made of metal, lit up inside, painted carefully, running on metal tracks. The decor is also special. They put together a different setting to showcase the trains each year, built around a particular theme. The year that I filmed the train show, they’d put together a mountain terrain with tracks hugging the mountainside, going through tunnels inside the mountains, passing by waterfalls and little mountain towns, and crossing long suspended bridges overhead. The video you see below was recorded on December 1, 2007, and you can watch it on Youtube or here.

This year, the Holiday Magic show runs from November 26, 2009 through January 10th, 2010. If you’re in DC, don’t miss it. It’s held in the Conservatory East Gallery and Garden Court. Here’s what the US Botanic Garden says about this year’s show:

The U.S. Botanic Garden’s National Mall and fanciful garden-train exhibits have become a beloved Washington tradition, and this year we’re serving up even more magic with larger and more amazing displays made of plant-based natural materials. You’ll find an enchanted storybook garden with trains popping in and out of a landscape that now includes Snow White’s cottage and the Owl and the Pussycat’s beautiful pea green boat. Our exhibit of the National Mall landmarks is up to date this season with the Obama children’s swing set and another new addition: the National Museum of the American Indian. Again this year, one of Washington’s largest indoor holiday trees will tower over pools of colorful poinsettias and other holiday plants. The whole family will enjoy the children’s plant hunt, which will take visitors through our collections in search of particularly “magical” plants.

For more information about the US Botanic Garden, you may view a gallery of photos I took inside, or you can visit their website.