Shortly after we moved to Germany, I jokingly told my wife that the moment we get interested in trains, we can consider ourselves completely assimilated. Fast forward seven years, and we're getting up at 05:00 in the morning to catch a train ride organized by Fränkische Museums-Eisenbahn e.V. Nürnberg (FME).
Here's what happened. When my wife bought an issue of the Eisenbahn Romantik magazine for her family back in Denmark, she also got a flyer advertising an upcoming train ride from Fürth to Utting am Ammersee organized by the collective responsible for maintaining the Dampflokomotive 52 8195-1 steam locomotive (click the link to geek out on its tech specs). The flyer promised an unforgettable ride in a vintage train set, an optional bus tour to the Andechs monastery (the home of arguably the best beer in Bavaria), and a dinner onboard the train. All of this for a very reasonable price. How can you say no to an offer that tempting? You can't. And neither could we.
It was a long day, for sure. We got up at 05:00 on Saturday morning, and we returned home at 01:00 in the morning. We were actually supposed to be back at around 21:30, but there were several delays: first there was a medical emergency, then we were hit by technical problems. The latter was expected — the steam locomotive dates back to the 1940s after all. But we're hardened enough by regular Deutsche Bahn delays and cancellations, so nothing could ruin the day for us.
The trip introduced us to a breed of train geeks that we didn't know existed. A handful of guys in their teens and twenties rode the train wearing goggles and sticking their heads out of the carriage windows. Their dedication was slightly comical and yet admirable. And let's not forget the photographers along the train's route, who did their research and waited patiently for the train to pass by. Heck, at some point we whizzed by a photographer who had his camera mounted on a three meter-high tripod to get the best vantage point.
Geeks or no geeks, it's impossible not to succumb to the charm of steam locomotives. It seems that these smoke-belching machines hold universal appeal. People were waving to us along the way, and crowds were flocking and taking photos on each station.
Speaking of photography, I have never tried my hand at photographing trains and locomotives, so it has been a novel experience, too. It was tricky, to say the least. The steam locomotive is so huge that I kind of felt lost in the beginning: how do you even photograph such a beast? I did take a couple of ho-hum wide photos, but in the end, I decided to focus on the details. And let me tell you, on the complex machine that is a steam locomotive, there is no lack of interesting details to photograph. As you'd imagine I was hardly the only one interested in taking photos of the locomotive. This made the entire endeavor much more challenging, because 1) finding a good spot was rather difficult, 2) once I'd found one, I couldn't linger, 3) it was difficult to stay focused with so much going on around me. In short, I was totally outside my comfort zone, but it was fun nevertheless. And I even bagged a couple of decent photos, too.
One thing didn't pan out, though. We thought that we'd have a relaxing walk around the Andechs monastery, complete with a sumptuous lunch and copious amounts of good beer, but it wasn't meant to be. Because on a sunny Saturday around lunchtime, the place was absolutely packed. And the prospect of suffering in line for food and then in yet another line for beer sucked the whole fun out of the idea. Good thing then that we had brought sandwiches with us, and we managed to find a quiet and shady spot in a garden to enjoy them.
All in all, it was a fabulous outing. But the most remarkable thing about the entire adventure were the volunteers. From the train drivers to the people serving food, everyone was cheerful and helpful, and they did their best to make the trip a great experience for us all. And for that, they have our utmost respect, deepest gratitude, and endless admiration.