Exploring cultures and communities – the slow way

We report on the only train that provides a direct link between anywhere in Asia and the European Union: the weekly train from Astana in Kazakhstan to Berlin's Lichtenberg station

article summary —

In hidden europe 3 in July 2005, we extolled the merits of Europe's most outlandish train, the D-1249 Saturday lunchtime departure from Berlin to all points east. This remarkable service, and its counterpart in the reverse direction - the D-1248 - are the only trains that provide a direct link between anywhere in Asia and the European Union. Through carriages from Berlin to Novosibirsk, way beyond the Ural Mountains. Five days and over five thousand kilometres distant. Just think... all the way to Novosibirsk and then, with just one change of train there, you could continue to the Mongolian capital, Ulan Bator, or on to Manchuria or Beijing.

This little known train, one that weaves its way through innumerable timetable pages now acquires an even more exotic dimension, for from mid-December 2005, the D-1249 will also convey an single extra carriage. And that will traverse Russia and criss-cross borders, eventually to reach Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan.

On the morning of Saturday 17 December, if all goes to plan, the train from Kazakhstan will pull into Berlin's Lichtenberg station at exactly 10.21. Not for three years has there been any direct train from Astana to Berlin. If the new service turns out to be anything like its predecessor, which was withdrawn in 2002, the weekly arrival of the Kazakh carriage at Berlin's Lichtenberg station will be a moment of high theatre.

hidden europe was at Berlin's Lichtenberg station three years back - the last time that the train from Kazakhstan arrived.

It drizzles at this spot that lies outside the circuit of civilisation. Lichtenberg is not a proud place. It is hemmed in by railway tracks and shunting yards in this neglected corner of Berlin. It is an unlikely final destination for a train that journeys over five days and four nights from the banks of the Ishim river to the German capital. Six international frontiers en route, and always the screech of metal on twisting tracks as the train traverses mountains and steppe.

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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 6.