My Moscow Express (Memory Project): I remember a spectacular train from my childhood days: a daily Express that came all the way from Moscow! It was so spectacular because we lived in the West, ie. on the other side of the Iron Curtain. Where
we were, was West Germany then, and then there was this phenomenal train from the Eastern Bloc that came through our little town! And it ran on regular schedule throughout the Cold War, it went through the Wall each time! It is now considered so surreal that people sometimes don’t believe me when I mention it. And I would love to delve into the history of the train and find out what happened there, who was on it (because I don’t think many people could take it, bearing in mind our then Super-power-separation-imposition (was the train full of spies in wonder…)) It was called the East-West Express and it ran between Moscow and London (or Hoek van Holland, but on the time table the ferry was included so you could go straight through). So that’s a long distance and means it’s long line. Why I call it the Moscow Express is because its carriages were Soviet style: a olive- green with a yellow-ochre stripe in the middle (I think some old British train cars oddly and amazingly have the same design!).
Our stop on the line was Loehne – a small town between Hannover and the Dutch border. It so happens that Loehne is also on one of the major train routes between north and south, so this means the small town of Loehne is a major railway junction – that’s why it’s mentioned in the anti-war novel All Quiet on the Western Front (by E. M. Remarque, 1928). This too explains why this major kind of intercontinental East West Express actually had a stop in our town! (though from 1968 trains no longer stopped here but only ran through; but I still remember well its remarkable look). So, on a daily basis you could have gone to Moscow direct! I don’t know how long it took at the border by the Wall in Berlin – I would love to know. This is why I would love to hear from people who took this magic train!
The train line of course still exists – here is a map of train routes I found on the internet, going to Moscow (and other former Soviet destinations) from Berlin. In May of this year I decided to travel along this train route (I went to Berlin then anyway, to perform at the annual Fountainhead Black International Film Festival) as far as I can go without needing a visa: that is Terespol. Terespol is at the eastern end of Poland, so it’s the last stop in the EU – the country that comes after this is now Belarus, formerly Russia, formerly the Soviet Union – or, in other words, the country where Marc Chagall comes from! The first town that you would reach in Belarus is Brest – and in fact, Teresol and Brest are almost a bit like East and West Berlin, they are twins, sitting very close together, but with a big border in the middle.
What I found, however, when taking the old Moscow Express train route this time round, is that the train is no longer direct, at every big stop along the line you have to change, and so you no longer see the Soviet train but just local ones, which run from one border to another but not across them – except the smaller borders within the EU. So, a train to the west of Berlin ends in Berlin, then the next section on the line ends in Warsaw, the one
after that ends in Terespol, and so on. So here is the irony: back in the day, when the Wall was standing there was a direct train, and now that the Wall is gone, there is no such train. The train went with the Wall…. The crazy contradictions of our times…
Going to Terespol was nevertheless a big and magic (borderline!) experience! I set off that
morning from Biala Podlaska (about half way between Warsaw and Terespol)
and a big taste of Eastern style, and arrived here:
with houses and buildings and traditional Russian style, such as this beautiful blue orthodox church. And even many of the ordinary houses are built in this style.
with magic orthdox crosses of two sorts – the latter looking to me like a lovely cross between a Japanese zen sign and a railway signal!
I had never forgotten about the East West Express but since I moved from West to East London I think about it much more often. Directions can have magic effects! And since then I have been writing poems etc about this my beloved considered surreal train, so there I’ll post more here about the whole border thing and how to break through itas the train had done! – though now there are even more borders to cross, in more sense than one…
with different postcolonialities, different colours, different lines, different trains (of thought) to invent…