hidden europe 42

Into the hills: a Bohemian diversion

by Nicky Gardner

Picture above: Winter in the hills of northern Bohemia (photo © Tomas Simek).


Of course one can speed across Europe on sleek, fast trains. But slow trains, the kind that dawdle along branch lines, are so much more interesting. We ride a rural rail route in northern Bohemia, where fading railway stations reveal a Habsburg history. Join us on the slow train to Dolni Poustevna.

In the very first issue of hidden europe magazine, we reported on travelling by train through the hills of Bohemia. The article recalled a journey from Liberec to Decín on a summer afternoon in 2004. Ten years on, we returned to Decín to find that the trains are nowadays a little smarter, though as slow as ever. A dense network of minor railway lines still serves this region of the Czech Republic. Join us on a journey through the half-forgotten borderlands of northern Bohemia, as we board the train in Decín for the ride to Dolní Poustevna.

The guard on the train has her work cut out. As we climb steeply up into the hills of Bohemia, the woman sells tickets and chats with her regulars. There are passengers with bags full of groceries, heading home after a busy morning shopping in Decín. There are students on their way back from college. Towards the back of the train, there are two lads, a couple of beers apiece, already well-tanked and sharing their music and opinions with all in earshot. The guard is having none of it, and insists they move to the middle of the train where she can more easily keep an eye on them.

The train is new. Smart new rolling stock for a smart new cross-border rail service. Except that the trains do not yet run on beyond the border to Sebnitz in Germany. The guard on the train has a view on this. “Bumbling on the German side,” she says. “It is just a few hundred metres from the last Czech station at Dolní Poustevna to the German railway line on the other side of the border at Sebnitz. The link is pretty well all there. We are still waiting for the Germans to join up the tracks.”

The tale told by the railway guard is a fair reflection of events. The last trains rolled over the border to Sebnitz in the closing days of the Second World War. There has been talk over the years of reopening the route, but only now is that about to become a reality. The first through trains to Germany will run this summer. Until then it’s all stops to Dolní Poustevna and then an uninspiring cross-border hike through a landscape of decay and dereliction.

Heading east, the hillsides tilt ever sharper. At Benesov, the empty tennis courts are covered by last season’s leaves. Further up the line, the tennis court in a trackside village is draped in snow. And as we climb yet higher, the valley narrows and there is no space at all for tennis courts.

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