When the Orient Express stopped at Karlsruhe Central Station for the last time on its last great journey from Paris to Istanbul in May 1977, the BNN wrote an emotional obituary. “The aeroplane has overtaken the legendary train,” the editor says regretfully, recalling the history of the “train of kings and the king of trains” with flowery words. Strictly speaking, however, not everything was over in 1977. As Euronight 469 “OrientExpress”, a night train continued to run from P aris (later only from Strasbourg) to Vienna. It was not until the timetable change in December 2009 that the meagre remnants of the proud railway legend were sidelined. For 126 years, the connection with the illustrious name had existed in different route variants. From the glamorous maiden voyage of the luxury train in 1883 to its unspectacular end as a functional night connection, Karlsruhe had always been a stop along the way. Also thanks to the “Großherzoglich Badischen
State Railway”, which in the 1980s had helped to make the dream of the Belgian mobility visionary Georges Nagelmackers come true. During a
During a stay in America, the millionaire’s son had enjoyed the comforts of a ride on the luxurious Pullman trains. Great idea, the young man thought, and set about implementing it. But problems abounded: The German-French War had just ended, many states along the route were anything but green to each other, each national railway company had its own rail widths and without customs duties, fees, stamps and papers, virtually nothing worked in border traffic. Nagelmackers was not deterred. Against much opposition, not least from his old master and financier, he founded the “Compagnie Internationale des Wagonslits” (CIWL). He bought several railway wagons and had them converted into a luxury hotel on wheels. It couldn’t be more modern and the young entrepreneur spared nothing. The bar chairs were made of Spanish leather,
the bed linen was made of silk. On board there was a library, iceboxes and an on-board restaurant where star chefs processed what was delivered to the train fresh every day from the respective region. Nagelmaker’s business model looked like this: The railway companies of the countries, kingdoms and principalities provided their tracks, stations and locomotives, while his company attached the sleeping and dining cars, complete with staff, to the respective train engines for a well-heeled international clientele. The railway companies shared the money from ticket sales, and the luxury surcharge levied on passengers went to the CIWL. The OrientExpress became the sensation
at the turn of the century. Nagelmakers promised journeys through at least seven different countries with virtually no annoying border controls. For the first official journey, the clever young entrepreneur invited journalists who had always been critical of the modern means of transport, the train, in their reports. Now they were thrilled: “The silver helmets of the champagne bottles dazzle the crowd and give the lie to the mournful expressions and implausible regrets of the departing passengers,” enthused the Paris correspondent of the “London Times”, Henri Opper de Blowitz. In the years to come, kings and courtesans, agents, rich widows and men of letters would toast each other in the salon car. Little by little
more stops and new routes were added. The core OrientExpress stopping in Karlsruhe was joined by a whole series of sibling trains carrying passengers from London via
the Channel ports to Paris and then on to Eastern and Southern Europe. After the First World War, the Kern train only ran as far as Bucharest. The connection via Milan and
Venice was given the name SimplonOrientExpress. It was probably on this route that the British writer Agatha Christie was inspired to write her world-famous crime novel “Murder on the OrientExpress”. The decline from a travelling grand hotel to a normal night train connection began with the world economic crisis. In order to remain profitable, the CIWL also had to introduce second-class compartments from 1930. After the Second World War, luxury trains were no longer in demand. Most of the original CIWL carriages have since been sold all over the world.
sold all over the world. Occasionally, exclusive travel companies still offer nostalgia trips for well-heeled customers under the name OrientExpress. The train legend is currently making headlines again. The French hotel group Accor is reviving the luxury of the old days. Under the name “OrientExpress La Dolce Vita”, the refurbished carriages will travel on various routes through Italy from 2024. That fits in well with today’s times. In view of flight shame and climate change, many believe in the future of rail transport. Especially in Karlsruhe.
Nagelmacker’s dream of a smooth West Os train connection, which neither political nor technical obstacles could stand in the way of, has its headquarters here. The city’s mayor is chairman of the “Magistrale for Europe” founded in the 1990s. This association of municipalities, regions, business associations and
and federal states is campaigning for the extension of a railway line from Paris to Bratislava and Budapest. Annika Hummel is the managing director. She confirms what the inventor of the
OrientExpress had realised early on: “Karlsruhe is a great hub from which you can travel the entire magistrale for Europe between Paris and Budapest/Bratislava by night train.” Looking back at the beginnings of the luxury train, she does not want to accept that Nagelmacker’s ideas were easier to realise 140 years ago than they are today. The Magistrale is not just a single construction project. It consists of a multitude of new and expansion projects in various stages of development.
“However, we need a stronger commitment on the part of the nation states to the expansion of the railways. For a long time now, it has not only been about high speed on the line.
line. “The interaction between local and long-distance traffic, the upgrading of various access routes to the main line, but also freight traffic play a major role. All
We are doing all this to promote climate protection and the transport revolution in Europe,” says the Magistrale Managing Director. She is convinced that the issue of rail transport will once again gain political
will gain more political weight in the coming years. The recent expansion of night train connections shows that something is happening. “Travelling by train is sexy again,” she says.
Source: BNN from 30.01.2023