Even now, after thirty years of German unification, it still feels eerie to ride in a train as it barrels through the town of Gerstungen without even slowing down.
Gerstungen used to be the border stop between East and West Germany, and every train had at least a one-hour stop there while the GDR People’s Police checked everybody’s passports and searched the entire train with dogs to make sure no one was trying to sneak out of the country. They also did this on the way in, for whatever reason.
Now it only takes four hours to get from Frankfurt to Leipzig on a direct InterCity Express (ICE) train, with a two-minute stop in Erfurt on the way, and you don’t even have to change money or have a visa. Times have changed.
In the 1990s the huge Leipzig railroad station, one of the largest in Europe, was completely refurbished and modernized, and an attractive shopping center was created on three levels, just a few meters from the end of the tracks. There are about 140 shops of all sorts, including numerous cafés and bistros.
Leipzig is one of those fortunate cities which has a bicycle station right at the main railroad station. Here you can leave your bike for safe and dry keeping while you go off on the train somewhere, and you can also have it repaired, or rent or buy a bike.
A well-functioning railroad system needs not only the high-speed express lines between major cities, but also regional lines like this one to bring passengers in from the countryside. (The management of the German Railway System needs to be reminded of this from time to time.) The photo on the right is one I took out the back window of a regional train when I was on my way from Hoyerswerda to Leipzig.
My first visit to Leipzig was in December 1969. The only thing I remember about that visit is a large grimy restaurant late at night in the Leipzig Central Station. During the time it took me to have a meal and a couple of beers, three different squads of People’s Police came through and checked everyone’s identification. Fortunately I had the proper visas and permits, which I had obtained at the East German embassy in Prague.
I guess I must have stayed at the InterHotel, as all foreigners were required to do, but I don’t remember anything about it. At some point my cousin Manfred drove over from Nordhausen in his Trabbi (this was before they got the Lada) to pick me up.
My photos in this post are from 2004 and 2005. I revised the text in 2020.