Exploring cultures and communities – the slow way

The prospect of an overnight train journey should be something to savour. But Paul Scraton’s thought upon boarding his train in Aachen is to ask “Where, oh where are the beds?” Paul endures a memorable, though not very comfortable, overnight ride to Berlin.

article summary —

By the time I climb aboard the train at Aachen, hurrying to make the connection from one side of the platform to the other, I am resigned to my fate. I should be almost in Berlin by now, having left London early this morning, but instead, thanks to an exploding e-cigarette on the Eurostar before we even left St Pancras, I’m settling into a well-worn seat on the last carriage of a train that will travel through the night to drop me at Berlin’s Zoologischer Garten station with the last of the late-night stragglers.

Normally I wouldn’t mind. I think back to previous overnight journeys on the rails. Prague to Budapest. London to Fort William. Hamburg to Trieste. They are some of my favourite rail travel experiences. But as we move through the Aachen suburbs and I look down into the back gardens of the houses, with their barbecues and trampolines, plastic tables and sun umbrellas, I am wary of what’s to come, for the 21.48 from Aachen is a night train without any beds.

The list of stops along the way seems to be never ending. Düren and Cologne. Düsseldorf and Duisburg. Oberhausen, Essen, Bochum, Dortmund… This train appears to be like Harry Potter’s night bus, crossing the country to pick up waifs and strays. Who is catching a train from Bielefeld at 01.23? Who is making their way to the station in Braunschweig at 03.16?

And yet, as we travel through the night, there are always people waiting to board. Lonely, shadowy figures on the platforms of otherwise deserted stations. As I move through the carriages in search of coffee, I realise that the train is packed. There are hundreds of people dozing, curled up on their seats, or else staring down at backlit screens with headphones to block out the low conversation and snoring, and I cannot help but ask the question: Deutsche Bahn, where oh where are the beds?

This is just an excerpt. You can read the full text of this article in the European Rail Note and News (ERNN) section of our Europe by Rail website.


Paul Scraton was born in Lancashire and has lived in Berlin since 2001. A writer with a particular interest in landscape, memory and place, he is the editor-in-chief of Elsewhere: A Journal of Place. He is the author of a number of books including The Idea of a River: Walking out of Berlin (Readux, 2015) and Ghosts on the Shore: Travels along Germany's Baltic coast (Influx, 2017). His debut novel Built on Sand was published by Influx in 2019. Find out more about Paul on his website.

This article was published in hidden europe 61.