Madame Ziemowit the witch nods and scratches her beard as I flip a tarot card, revealing the chariot image. Choosing the chariot appears becoming, because the turban-clad sorcerer and I are on a prepare, having simply crossed the border from Germany into Poland. Multicoloured lightbulbs adorn carriage home windows, framing a green-blue blur of fields and rivers. Subsequent to us a toddler, sitting in a mini-library by the john, attracts squiggles on an Etch A Sketch. A jaunty brass fanfare performs by way of the carriage audio system.
That is the Tradition Practice, which makes the four-and-a-half-hour journey between Berlin and the Polish metropolis of Wrocław every weekend, and is definitely probably the most artistic and quirky railway companies in Europe. Musicians, authors, DJs, academics – and certainly efficiency artists adopting tarot card-reading witch personas – present leisure to passengers, who vary from bum bag-strapped weekend trippers to Berghain clubbers on comedowns.
The concept, says venture supervisor Oliver Spatz, is “a mixture between a pageant and an academic centre”. There may be deeper which means to the prepare than the flashing lights and music may recommend, nonetheless, with programming designed to strengthen cultural ties between Germany and Poland, problem stereotypes, and convey artwork to a captive viewers.
I arrive on the German capital’s Ostkreuz prepare station after getting the Eurostar from London to Brussels then the European Sleeper to Berlin. With the Tradition Practice leaving Ostkreuz at 8.05am on Saturdays, I spend Friday evening on the Motel One Berlin-Hackescher Markt, overlooking Alexanderplatz station, 4 S-Bahn stops from Ostkreuz. You’ll be able to go away the resort at 7.30am and catch the Tradition Practice with minutes to spare.
Berlin-based Polish artist Jemek Jemowit, chosen for the Tradition Practice partly due to his connections to each Poland and Germany, units up his tarot desk quickly after we depart. He dons his turban to change into Madame Ziemowit and shortly has passengers lining up without spending a dime periods. Natalia, a grinning German-Polish prepare announcer in her early 20s, declares on loudspeaker that Jemowit doesn’t really imagine in mystic tarot energy. The true purpose right here is efficiency and social lubrication.
“We need to have this ‘conflict’: extra common folks assembly extra artwork and tradition,” says Jemowit, who runs a swimming pool-based artwork house in Berlin referred to as Tropez. “Taking cultural stuff and artwork from the galleries and out to the folks.”
The passengers’ Saturday morning yawns quickly give method to discussions about tarot outcomes. Emilia, a Berlin-based Polish lady travelling to Wrocław together with her younger daughter to go to household, tells me that the leisure on board makes the journey nice fairly than taxing. There are packing containers of youngsters’s books and video games, plus wool and knitting needles anybody can get clacking with. Announcers host a quiz with questions on German and Polish tradition.
Emilia, who’s married to a German, rides the Tradition Practice commonly and says it’s a logo of friendship. “The very first thing I came upon after I moved to Germany was that some folks had the sensation that Poles have been cheaters,” she says. “It’s not true. So, individuals who go to Poland can change their thoughts about this.”
The Tradition Practice began in 2016 as a approach of getting extra Berliners to go to Wrocław: town (inhabitants near 650,000) was that yr’s European capital of tradition. It was purported to run for six months however proved so well-liked it has continued since, apart from an enforced Covid break. Funded by the German city-state Berlin and Brandenburg state, the prepare is run by Kulturprojekte Berlin, which was a culture-focused NGO when the prepare launched and is now owned by Berlin city-state.
Spatz has invited jugglers, dance instructors and bands to carry out on the prepare, which at peak occasions can carry 1,000 folks in six carriages, with the primary performances normally within the entrance carriage. Essentially the most energetic present, he says, was from a 20-piece band with kids’s devices and ukuleles. “They have been mendacity within the baggage racks whereas they performed – they rocked the prepare.”
Tradition Practice performances are in German and/or Polish, in step with the prepare selling tradition in each nations. Nonetheless, performers can typically communicate English, and one well-liked reserving was a Yiddish language instructor who gave classes on the prepare.
“We’ve been occupied with frequent heritage,” says Spatz, “and one factor linking German and Poland is the Jewish group. So, we thought of how we may assist maintain this heritage alive.”
Spatz says that in 2022 passenger numbers dipped as a result of Germans didn’t need to journey eastwards. Many noticed Poland as a “frontier” following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, he says. So, shortly after the invasion, the Tradition Practice was used to ship provides to Ukrainian refugees in Poland. “It was onerous to unload as a result of the whole platform was stuffed with refugees,” says Spatz. “So we took the refugees again to Germany.” He despatched the prepare again for additional missions. “Folks mentioned we took 6,000 folks in complete, however I believe it was extra.”
We arrive in Wrocław at lunchtime on Saturday and examine in to Lodge Europejski, reverse the darkish yellow mansion-like Wrocław Główny prepare station. By early Sunday night I’m again on the prepare for the return journey. Announcer Natalia palms paper to every passenger and asks them to put in writing a letter about their Wrocław discoveries: will probably be given to a passenger on the following journey.
I write about how Madame Ziemowit’s prediction – that I’d discover great pierogi at Pierogarnia Ze Smakiem, a tiny restaurant the place dumplings are folded in entrance of you – got here true. And that reverse was the Polish Poster Gallery, the place I purchased an unofficial Blade Runner poster by Polish artist Michał Książek and chatted with proprietor Krzysztof about classic poster artwork. I additionally write about leaving the stainless touristy outdated city to seek out the Ruska 46 complicated, the place roads are swept much less typically and peculiar octopod road artwork adorns condominium blocks. There I discovered BMA Wrocław – a gallery displaying wonderful BDSM-inspired works depicting shoe licking and gorilla hugging.
I get to reward the BDSM exhibition reside to the Tradition Practice passengers, as a “particular British visitor” on the radio station arrange for the experience to Berlin. Thomas Müller and Frank Diersch, DJs from Radio Trade, a small radio present based mostly in Woltersdorf, close to the German capital, plug in mixers and mics round carriage seats. Wi-fi headphones are circulated earlier than the present begins with Kraftwerk’s Trans-Europe Categorical. Passengers swig beer and dance within the aisle. I discuss to Thomas and Frank about how costly UK prepare tickets are, then have them play Tremendous Furry Animals.
Partly because of Radio Trade’s wonderful inventory of digital music, 4 and a half hours on the prepare as soon as once more zip by. As we arrive in Berlin, Spatz tells me that with near 100,000 passenger journeys made on the Tradition Practice since 2016, he’ll pilot new routes in October.
“How a couple of Tradition Practice to London?” Spatz asks, semi-joking. I’ve a quick imaginative and prescient of lengthy British prepare rides soundtracked by cellos, pleasant chat and tarot playing cards gently slapping towards tabletops, fairly than TikTok performed at maddening quantity. At some point maybe.
The Tradition Practice is €24.90 one-way (dbregio-shop.de, then electronic mail firstname.lastname@example.org to order a seat within the leisure carriage). London to Brussels supplied by Eurostar (from £78). Brussels to Berlin supplied by European Sleeper (return couchette from €158). Lodging in Berlin supplied by Motel One Berlin-Hackescher Markt (doubles from €89 room-only), and Wrocław by Lodge Europejski (doubles from £50 room-only – use code “Culturetrain” at Europejskiwroclaw.pl for a 15% low cost)
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