Like our trip to the Harz Mountains earlier in the year, this was a trip led by Railtrail Tours Ltd, a company that specialises in holidays by rail. The trip was based in Freiburg im Breisgau on the edge of the Black Forest in South West Germany for six days. The trip included steam hauled journeys along sections of the Black Forest Railway and the Three Lakes Railway. We were hoping for snow covered landscapes, but that was not be and the weather for the trip was characterised by overcast skies.
We had decided to travel to London the day before going to Germany and having arrived mid-morning made a day of it by visiting the City – in particular Leadenhall Market and had a general wander around, ending up at Southwark Cathedral. Although this is not large as cathedrals go, the interior is beautiful and I was able to put my tripod up to get some good photographs of the roof. After that, it was back to our hotel in Bloomsbury, the Tavistock, and dinner out at a nearby gastropub. London felt quiet with it only being two days after Christmas and many eating places were closed.
The following day, we met up with the rest of the tour group at the champagne bar at St Pancras station. We didn’t have champagne, but did have coffee and pastries! We left for Paris on the 10:24 Eurostar and following arrival made the short transfer on foot to the Gare de l’Est. Our train from there to Mannheim was one of the comfortable German InterCity Express trains, as it was for the final leg to Freiburg, where we arrived on time at 19:59 hrs. Our hotel for the next five nights was the modern InterCity, directly adjacent to the station and therefore very convenient. We had dinner in the hotel after which it was time for bed.
The next two days were to be spent riding main line steam trains on sections of the Black Forest Railway that runs from Offenburg to Singen. The railway crosses the Black Forest and passes through spectacular scenery. Between Hausach and St Georgen, the railway climbs steeply by means of hairpin bends to the summit above Triberg and then descends using the same method. We first travelled to Rottweil, changing at Villingen to pick up the first steam train. This, and all the other trains we travelled on on the route were hauled by 1930s German 01 pacific 01.519 that latterly operated in East Germany and was rebuilt with a new boiler in the 1960s. I subsequently found that I had seen and photographed the very same locomotive in service at Saalfeld in East Germany in September 1974! The train left Rottweil at 11:20 and arrived at Triberg at 12:39, where we left it and walked a short distance along the line to watch it depart at 13:15. It certainly made an impressive and stirring sight! We then made our way back to Freiburg by service train and had a bit of time to explore the centre of the city before dinner. Oh and we also made time to each enjoy a massive piece of Black Forest gateau in a café in the cathedral square. The Germans certainly know how to do cake!
The next one of the two days consisted of travelling by service train to Offenburg and then along the Black Forest Railway again as far as St Georgen. Here we joined the train again hauled by 01.519 for the steep climb back to Triberg and descent to Hausach. There was time at Hausach to visit a large model railway and walk into the town, which looked to be quite an appealing place for a holiday. Our train back to Triberg hauled by 01.519 was in the platform at Hausach, and as it approached sunset time, the grey skies suddenly turned pink reflecting nicely along the boiler of the steam locomotive. This made for a most enjoyable run back to Triberg with the locomotive working hard as it pounded up the grade under colourful skies. From Triberg, we travelled by service train back to Friberg and dinner at the hotel.
Our third day in the Black Forest was to be a change from trains as we were to spend the morning riding on Freiburg’s tram network on a vintage tram. It was interesting to see how trams had advanced over the years as our tram was quite small and just had two wooden longitudinal seats down each side of the interior. Afterwards, we had lunch and went to do some further exploration of Freiburg starting off with its magnificent cathedral dating from the 13th century. The interior was dark but relieved by beautiful stained glass windows. The cathedral was lucky to be spared during the second world war as all the buildings around it were destroyed by British bombing. Afterwards, we had a walk up the Schlossberg; a hill that sits behind Freiberg. It wasn’t long before we were in low cloud; it really was a very murky, overcast day. As it was New Year’s Eve, our dinner was out at a restaurant close to the cathedral. Leaving the restaurant afterwards, and close to midnight, we had to run the gauntlet of fireworks being set off in the streets to get back to our hotel. It was total mayhem with no control at all on where fireworks were being let off. The air was thick with smoke and full of flashes and bangs; it was actually quite scary and we were very glad to reach our hotel.
Our final day was another steam train excursion; this time on the Drei Seen Bahn; the Three Lakes Railway, a very scenic line reaching almost 1000m above sea level at its highest point. We first had to get to Titisee by service train where we had over an hour to explore and find the lake, Titisee. It had been extremely dull and misty but did clear briefly before closing in again. As we got back to the station, we were just in time to see our steam train running in consisting of a Prussian P8 steam locomotive, built in 1919 at Breslau, complete with a set of vintage carriages. At the time, Breslau was in Germany, but after the second world war it became Wrocław in Poland following frontier changes. I was quite excited to see a locomotive of this class as I had seen other class members working in Poland in 1977. Thousands were built and they worked all over Europe; our particular example having spent most of its working life in Roumania. The locomotive had to work hard as we chugged out of Titisee and followed the lake and then subsequently steamed past the lakes Windgfällweiher and Schluchsee. Reaching the terminus of the line at Seebrugg, we had an hour to kill before returning on the steam train to Titisee. There wasn’t actually much at Seebrugg and it was all a bit bleak in the cold wind and the overcast conditions. From Titisee, we joined a service train back to Freiburg, and then it was dinner was out at Martins Bräu restaurant, which brews its own very drinkable beer on the premises.
Now, all we had to do was travel back to Britain. On eating breakfast, we learned the slightly disturbing news that no trains were running north because the overhead wires were damaged near Offenburg. Fortunately, trains did start running again later that morning and we ended up returning via Cologne and Brussels, rather than Paris, eventually arriving into London over two hours later than planned. It did demonstrate the value of being part of an organised tour as the tour leader and company were able to make all the alternative arrangements and rebook seats on different trains to those planned. After a quick interchange at St Pancras, we were soon heading north on the Midland main line and reached home at 22:30, very much looking forward to a night in our own bed.