hidden europe 29

Hungarian rhapsody

by Nicky Gardner

Picture above: Budapest Keleti station (photo © Attila Vörös / dreamstime.com).


Sometimes we travel to really get somewhere. But occasionally a journey is worthwhile merely for its own sake. Sit back, relax, and from the comfort of a corner seat watch all the world go by on the train from Berlin to Budapest.

So what really are Europe’s greatest train journeys? A splendid new book sheds some light on the question. Just published in October 2009 by Time Out Guides Ltd, the volume is an excellent compendium of essays on the most characterful rail journeys, not just in Europe, but worldwide. 'Great Train Journeys of the World' is available from all good bookshops.
The volume is edited by Andrew Eames and there are some two dozen contributors. Within the book you will find texts and images provided by Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries (the editors of hidden europe). One of the routes that Andrew asked us to research for the volume was that from Berlin to Budapest. The text is reproduced here by permission of Time Out Guides Ltd.

Four capital cities in one day may sound exhausting, but there is an easy way of doing it without having to stir from the comfort of your seat thanks to one of Europe’s most illustrious daytime trains. The Hungaria leaves Berlin early every morning, just as it has done for over forty years, and twelve hours later the train slides into Budapest Keleti station. The train links the German and Hungarian capitals, taking in Prague and Bratislava along the way.

This is a train with a dose of history. Throughout the seventies and eighties, party officials used the Hungaria to travel between East Berlin and Budapest, as often as not stopping off for a night or two along the way in one of the several Czechoslovak cities served by the train.

If a train is large and comfortable you don’t even need a destination; a corner seat is enough, and you can be one of those travellers who stay in motion, straddling the tracks, and never arrive or feel they ought to.
from Paul Theroux’s ‘The Great Railway Bazaar’ (1975)

But this was not just a train for apparatchiks. For a generation of Cold War Berliners, the Hungaria was inextricably linked with holidays. An early morning departure from Berlin meant that families could be on the shores of Lake Balaton in Hungary by late the same day. The Hungaria was a chance to swap Prussian austerity for the fiery warmth of paprika and a fortnight or more of sun.

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