Tears In A Museum

I guess it could be said of me that I am like many men, in that I don’t normally show my inner emotions. Sure, I’ll go as bonkers as anyone when I’m at a sporting event and my team are doing well and yes I’m not slow in showing my displeasure if I feel that someone has done my family or I wrong! Other than that, no, don’t expect much else . . . normally.

Certainly the last place that I expected emotions to take hold of me would be in a railway museum.

It’s true that railways and locomotives have shaped much of my life, my late father was a mechanical engineer and much of my career involved actually running railways, you could say that it’s sort of in my blood and something that will never leave me! If I visit a museum like the fantastic Cité du Train in Mulhouse, I expect to be fascinated by the variety of exhibits, in awe of the craftsmanship that has made many of the locomotives and carriages and intrigued by the different operating equipment and practices. Only once have I been rendered numb by an exhibit and that occurred in Mulhouse.

The first hall of the museum is amazing. The different exhibits are each presented in atmospheric and dramatic pools of light, I loved it! The mood captures the drama of a night-time departure.P1040199
The efforts of the French Resistance movement in sabotaging the railways during World War Two. P1040011 . . . and of course lunch on the Orient Express!P1040051

Each exhibit has an audio-visual display that explains the details, what to look for and often the human stories associated, all very well done indeed.
In one dark corner I noticed a relatively small freight car and wandered over to take a closer look. It was the sort of vehicle that was used for carrying general cargo or even livestock, basically a simple ventilated box on wheels. Looking closer I noticed the stencilled lettering on the side of the car.P1040037I froze, stunned, shocked, appalled. I realised that I was looking at one of the vehicles used for the deportation of people during the dark Holocaust of World War Two. The stencil indicated that 40 people could be carried in this goods van of only 18 square metres area. In contrast, 8 horses could be carried instead.
I sat on a convenient bench and watched the accompanying audio/visual screen. The commentary detailed how the deportation of people was carried out by the occupying Nazi forces; the story was very factual and professionally done and although bereft of emotion the horror of what occurred was clear to see. Families torn apart, old, young and infirm pushed by rifle butts into the cattle wagons, photographs of despair and fear. Examples of hastily scribbled letters that the deportees threw from trains were highlighted. Of course most of these poor people were on one way journeys, to the horrific extermination camps at places such as Auschwitz where an estimated 1.1 million were murdered.
The video screen flickered to blackness as the presentation came to and end. I sat numbly looking at the blank screen for a few seconds, then glanced up at the simple wooden bodied freight car. P1040038

In the darkness, I wept.

When in Alsace

Do you remember my old mate Floyd? He of the “to know a country you have to eat a country” mantra!

Well today he would have been proud of me! You see Mulhouse is in Alsace, part of France that has passed back and to between Germany and France so many times over the centuries that the people don’t speak just one of the languages, they speak both and sometimes in the same sentence! It’s the same with food, there’s a lot shared across the River Rhine. 

One of the most famous local dishes is tarte flambée an Alsatian and South German dish composed of bread dough rolled out very, very, thin in the shape of a rectangle or oval and covered with fromage blanc or crème fraîche, thinly sliced onions and lardons. It’s also known as Flammekueche,

One of this trip’s missions has been to track down a genuine tarte flambée and I’m pleased to report that in the rather splendid Cité du Train restaurant I succeeded! Et voila! 


. . . and very good it was too!

No it’s not a pizza either!

Cité du Train

First up, before I forget again, yesterday’s mileage was 343, but it honestly seemed a lot less, such is the ease of riding Baby Harls!

Today dawned a tad damp in Mulhouse, but that didn’t matter at all, because most of the day has been spent inside the wonderful Cité du Train, the French National Railway Museum. I spent the greater part of my working life on the railways, just under thirty years to be exact, and still class myself as a Railwayman. Additionally, I’ve long held a great admiration for French trains and the work of the famous engineers such as De Glehn and Chapelon, so the chance to get up close to some of their machines was too good to miss! Well, ok to be honest, I’ve been planning to visit this place for years and it didn’t disappoint at all.

Top marks to the place for keeping up with modern technology as well, you can download an App for your phone or tablet that gives a much greater insight to the exhibits as you walk around the large collection. On top of that, your admission also gives you a portable audio guide in the language of your choice, no Welsh though 😦 !

The collection is split between two large buildings, one being the old Mulhouse-Nord Engine Depot and between the two is a rather superb restaurant; this is France after all! It claims to be the biggest railway museum in the world, but as the British National Railway Museum at York is five times the size and has nearly four times as many visitors each year, I leave the maths to others! Anyway, I’m not being disparaging, it really is a super place and well worth a visit.

The first hall that a visitor passes into is the old depot, at first it takes a bit of getting used to, the lighting is all subdued and very atmospheric; exhibits are brilliantly highlighted as appropriate. My favourite by a mile was this fantastic 241  “Mountain” Class loco from the Est Company, dating from 1925. I love the blue lighting that gives a night-time feel to the scene. 


Now I realise that this could all get a bit photo heavy and posting from a tablet that’s going to cause me a few problems, so here’s the deal; I’ll whack some stuff on now and when I get home I’ll post more, probably in a few goes, ok? Good!  Otherwise it’s gonna end up a bit like Locomotive Porn!!!

Also in the atmospheric Hall One is a rather nice collection of classic passenger carriages that go back to almost the beginning of French railways. Most recognisable would be this wonderful CIWL Restaurant Car of the type used on the famous Orient Express.  

Hey look where it was built!  In the Second Hall, it’s all a lot brighter if a tad less atmospheric. There are some real gems here. 
 This Buddicom of 1844 is reputed to,be the oldest, original, loco in Continental Europe, built in Rouen by an English engineer, behind it is one of Robert Stephenson’s exports that was built in Newcastle around 1850.

Every thirty minutes Hudson 232.U.1 “Departs” Paris for Lyon in a cloud of steam, actually the engine has been jacked up and the wheels are spun by electric motor, but it still looks great and with some nice sound effects really captures the moment!  


More modern trains feature as well. There’s  a great display of Trans Europe Express equipment, stuff that I remember travelling on like this CC Electric, Number 6575. 


The exhibits continue outside as well, I end this post with one of the original Train a Grande Vitesse, TGV, power cars. 


I remember travelling on these as well, I’ll be in a museum next at this rate!

“Meet Iggy Pop and David Bowie, Trans Europe Express.”