Exploring cultures and communities – the slow way

In the early days of train travel, landed gentry and the well-to-do made arrangements with local rail companies to convey their horses and carriages on board the trains. Europe's car trains are the modern day incarnation of the same arrangement, a chance to take the car along when heading off on a long train journey. We take a look at some of Europe's car trains, including Europe's premier car train network operated by DB Autozug.

article summary —

There are surely many reasons to go to Hildesheim, a mid-sized town on the edge of the hills in northern Germany. Hildesheim has a remarkable marketplace which, though left in ruins at the end of the war in 1945, has been carefully restored and now ranks as one of the finest city squares in a part of Europe that has superb squares aplenty. Others travel to Hildesheim to see the city’s distinctive Romanesque cathedral which is inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Our goal was rather different. We skirted the Old Town centre, crept through back streets and past railway sidings. We saw an abandoned multistorey car park, hung a right then a left, passed the sex shop and eventually reached the rainbow railscan coloured sign that announced ‘the cruising zone’ (in English). Some things leave so little to the imagination that they just do not need to be translated. There in the middle of the road stood some two dozen guys in leathers.

Such moments demand audacity. So we parked the car, strolled casually across the road and tried to look really cool mingling with the men in leathers, who were far more interested in their Harleys or their BMWs than ever they were in two women travel writers who had somehow turned up the cruising zone on a wet Friday afternoon.

We never did get to see that perfectly restored market square nor the Romanesque cathedral. But that’s the beauty of taking your car on a train. Car trains depart from (and often arrive at) the parts of cities that the tourist boards and PR agencies would rather you never knew about. The very helpful people at DB Autozug had sent us a map highlighting where in Hildesheim we might join the car train to Avignon. It is not as if you just drive to the main station and look for Platform 4. Car trains depart from the nether regions, from the forgotten territories on the wrong side of the tracks, or — in the case of Hildesheim — from the railway siding beside the cruising zone.

This is just an excerpt. The full text of this article is not yet available to members with online access to hidden europe. Of course you can also read the full article in the print edition of hidden europe 31.

About the authors

hidden europe

and Susanne Kries manage hidden europe, a Berlin-based editorial bureau that supplies text and images to media across Europe. Together they edit hidden europe magazine. Nicky and Susanne are dedicated slow travellers. They delight in discovering the exotic in the everyday.

This article was published in hidden europe 31.