Belgium goes into extra time

Those who are familiar with the weather in Belgium will understand why everyone here wants to leave for vacation as much as they can. That creates an enormous demand for house sitters and cat carers.

Hence, immediately after house sitting in Antwerp, I was hired to take care of two cats in Brussels, our beloved European capital.

On the last day in Brussels, the doorbell rang. Contrary to my worst fears, it was neither the Jehovah’s Witnesses, nor Belgian counterintelligence (luckily, they had already gone on holiday, too), but a gentleman who introduced himself as representative of the “Belgian Royal Federal Commission for Ensuring the Equal Consideration of all Regions and Communities in Belgium”. He had a business card that I needed to fold out in order to read everything – in three languages, of course.

“Guten Tag, bonjour, goedendag,” he began, and I will henceforth only translate him once, “it has come to our attention that a world-famous blogger is currently in Belgium, looking after Belgian cats.”

“Yes,” I admitted, as denial would have been pointless.

“You have been to Antwerp?”

“Yes.”

“And now in Brussels?”

“Obviously,” because that’s where we were.

“Have you already made the acquaintance of the German-speaking part of Belgium?” he asked sternly.

“Yes,” I explained happily, “I have been to Kelmis for a few days. And to Eupen.”

“And don’t you think that something is missing?” One could see that he would have loved to have become a teacher, just to pester pupils who couldn’t recite Pelléas et Mélisande by heart.

“There is a lot that’s missing. Of course I also want to visit Mechelen, Ghent, Leuven, Bruges, and so on. There are so many fascinating places in Belgium.”

The gentlemen lost his composure: “What would you think if someone was writing about Germany, having visited only Bavaria?”

“I am from Bavaria myself,” I explained.

“Or only in Saxony?”

I understood.

But, to make sure that the dumb foreigner really got it, he explained: “Belgium consists of three communities and three regions: the Flemish Community, the French Community, the German Community, the Flemish Region, the Walloon Region and the Capital Region of Brussels. As far as I can tell, you have been to the Capital Region, to the Flemish Community, the Flemish Region, the German Community, the Walloon Region, because the German Community is part of that one,” – he had lost me by then – “but not yet in the French Community.” It sounded like someone reproaching a father of six children who had never bothered to care about one of them.

“But people also speak French here in Brussels,” I interjected.

“The Capital Region of Brussels has a special status! It’s the only bilingual region in Belgium. Anyway, as Commissioner for Ensuring Equal International Coverage about the Regions and Communities in Belgium, it is my duty to suggest to you, politely but unequivocally, that after Flemish and capital cats, you have to take care of Walloon cats, too.”

“Oh, I would gladly do that,” I replied, relieved that my unintended discrimination of almost half of the country could be straightened out in such an agreeable manner. “Could you help me find such a placement? I am available from tomorrow afternoon.”

“For the unity of Belgium, we do everything!” The commissioner, who, as it turned out, due to the delay in forming a government was only the provisional pet commissioner at the time, became very friendly and helpful. After the experience of two large cities, I asked if I could work in the countryside next, for a change and for recovery.

The same evening, I received notice that I should report to Chastre, a small town in Wallonia, the next day. Until the end of September, I will be taking care of two cats named Rock & Roll, cleverly transcending all linguistic policies.

Garten Chastre

The cats are hiding in the garden and playing guitar.

I am happy to oblige.

And even happier that the Congo is no longer Belgian.

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Just a Cup of Tea

It’s really mystifying how Aachen could once have been such an important city. Charlemagne, Holy Roman Empire, coronation place of kings, and all of that in a city without a river. I am only here for a few days, not enough to ascertain whether the nonexistence of a waterway has negative effects on Aacheners’ romanticism, but I can imagine that the lack of opportunity to stroll up and down along something that flows straight into the Baltic or the Black Sea, totally and obviously unencumbered and unimpressed by sorrows, plans, dreams and other pranks played on humans, may not be conducive to a healthy state of mind and heart.

The proud citizens of Aachen claim to have a stream, at least. As I walked into the street where it allegedly flows, I didn’t recognize anything at first, then I had to laugh. A trickle like a sewage channel runs between road and sidewalk to somewhere, but into no sea. No wonder that the Romans felt superior over the Germans as soon as they saw this.

Along this wannabe-Venice, there is Café Einstein, which appeared just in time to provide some rest for my feet which had become exhausted on a German-Belgian-Dutch cross-border walk. And the name of the establishment promises a meeting of geniuses and intellectuals. At least it’s none of those annoying bars meting out unsolicited ultrasound treatment, with the sounds being all the louder for their askewness. Rather, it is one where patrons are having a beer at unstable tables, discussing everything from Aachen’s woeful absence from the Bundesliga to the role of tuberculosis in Soviet literature.

At another table outside of the café, there sat a lady, also alone, and ordered a cup of tea. That was a quite comprehensible request, for temperatures had dropped noticeably that last evening in July. The otherwise ubiquitous moaning about the weather only failed to materialize because in the weeks prior, Central Europeans had felt that global warming would not only turn out to be lethal for people on some islands off the coast of Bangladesh, which, if we are honest, most people in this country aren’t really concerned about, but that it now dares to become inconvenient to them as well.

Maybe the lady also felt a bit chilly because she was only wearing a dress, a very elegant one, not obtrusive at all, but all the more attractive. She looked like an actress, but she wasn’t, at least not a well-known one, because if I had ever seen her, I would have memorized her name to watch everything that she had played, even if it was vampire films or a doctor series, although I would, without knowing her, have deemed that to be below her dignity.

She was dressed in black, so maybe she had just been widowed, although she was not of the typical age for widows, but rather stood in the prime of life. Probably, her husband had just been shot and she had to spontaneously spend the evening outside while the blood stains in the apartment were being quickly painted over. But I would never find out, because it was obvious that I couldn’t address her, wearing hiking boots and an unironed shirt.

Only now, writing down what happend days ago, but which hasn’t left my memory since, I notice that she did not practice the infuriating habit, recently en vogue, of ordering something which sounds as complicated as possible, is imagined as mightily individual, and pretending to be suave, like “cherry blossom tea with ginger salt, but in a ceramic pot please, and with an infusion time of exactly three and a half minutes”. No, she had simply ordered “a cup of tea”. Nonetheless, the waitress tartly declined that wish.

“I have already cleaned the coffee machine.”

Why this is done hours before closing the restaurant can probably only be understood by people in a mostly beer-consuming country. The connection between the coffee machine  having fallen victim to excessive cleaning mania and a cup of tea, however, cannot be understood by anyone.

Even the uncomplicated customer tried again, very unobtrusively, as if to imply – certainly against better knowledge – that she may have expressed herself in an ambiguous manner.

“Oh, I didn’t want any coffee. Just a cup of tea.“

Now, the server, who preferred not to serve, explained why this was absolutely not an option.

“The water for the tea runs through the same machine, you understand? This is not possible anymore today.” She had become surly, maybe upon reflecting, while on the subject of water, how beautiful it would be to live by the Rhine or the Volga.

“This is Germany,” I thought. A country where professional waitresses who probably had to undergo a three-year training, pass exams and acquire diplomas, don’t realize anymore that putting a pot with water on the stove would suffice, and that nobody needs to push buttons of a complicated and overly expensive machinery. Or who don’t understand that even a recently cleaned machine doesn’t get soiled by boiling water, quite the contrary, it may become even cleaner. And why does a tavern not buy an electric kettle for a few euros? Every student has one in their room.

I felt sorry for the lady who was not served anything hot. She didn’t allow her discontent to show, which once more signaled her cosmopolitanism, for I was sure that someone of that appearance and effect did not come from here, but probably from Paris, from Milano or out of a fairy tale. But as our eyes met, just once, but in such a momentous manner, she emitted a brief smile, appreciating the absurdity of the situation, which electrified me so much that I needed no more tea to get warm and no more coffee to stay awake. She was really extremely enchanting, but she carried her beauty with a nonchalance as if she simply woke up that perfect every morning. And these dark eyes – but wait, you actually wanted to learn more about tea.

Tea is really the most simple thing in the world: hot water and a teabag. I have prepared it high in the mountains, on a fire. One of the first things you learn in prison is to build an immersion heater from wires to boil water. Railway carriages have a samovar dispensing hot water at all times. Even in Vorkuta, there was tea.

Since then, I have to think of the unknown lady each time I prepare myself a cup of tea. And soon, it will be autumn.

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Does the Federal Republic of Germany even exist? A discussion with a “Reichsbürger”.

Many years ago, someone walked into my law office, showed me a notice about some traffic fine and explained, confusing our respective roles in the attorney-client relationship, why he definitely wouldn’t need to pay the fine. According to him, the notice was issued by an authority without authority because the Federal Republic of Germany didn’t really exist, was merely a corporation belonging to the Allied Powers, which are still occupying our country. The Provisional Reich Government would not recognize this and we would need to act against it swiftly and vigorously.

Admittedly, I am a bit older, but this was not in 1946, but around the year 2006. “An eternally malcontent troublemaker,” I thought, happy on the the one hand because such clients provide a regular income. On the other hand, from painful experience (which almost every attorney makes in the first years on the job), I knew that those troublemakers also strain the nerves. Therefore, I quoted an exorbitant fee, which was the first thing that stopped his flow of words. “I can’t pay that much right now, but soon we will assume power again. Then, we will appoint you as Reich Commissioner for Justice!” That was the end of the negotiation for me, because I had never been interested in a government job.

As time went on, the so-called Reichsbürger movement (“citizens of the Reich”) became louder and more dangerous. They like to stock weapons, annoy government agencies with never-ending letters and faxes and kill police officers. Since the recent radicalization, the problem of those flat-earthers among political conspiracy theorists is being taken somewhat more seriously.

With their numbers increasing and thanks to the internet, it is ever more likely that you too will have to deal with one of those Germany denialists. Even as far away as Bolivia, the phenomenon received the attention of a whole page in Página Siete, as I discovered to my great surprise one morning as I sat in a café on Plaza Avaroa in La Paz.

Reichsbürger

The best approach is to ignore those weirdos. But if you cannot escape them, for example because they have infiltrated your family, or if you know someone who is showing an interest in the Reichsbürger movement, but who might still be saved, the following article will give you the answers to their arguments.

If you are not a regular reader of my blog, I should mention that I am a German lawyer currently persuing a degree in history. And I would like to extend my thanks to Ralf Grabuschnig, a historian, blogger and author, who invited me onto his Déjà-Vu History Podcast for a show about the historical and legal aspects of the Reichsbürger movement. If you speak or at least understand German, you may want to listen here. (If not, you may want to learn German because everyone needs a challenge from time to time.)

Podcast Ralf Grabuschnig Andreas Moser-001

The podcast and the following article are not identical, by the way, so it’s still worth to listen and to read, preferably consecutively, not simultaneously.


Reichsbürger: The German Reich never ceased to exist. The Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) is no legitimate state, but a corporation or a puppet regime controlled by the Allied Powers. Germany is still occupied by foreign powers, which means that the Hague Convention on the Laws and Customs on War on Land applies instead of the Basic Law (Grundgesetz), which is not even a valid constitution anyway…

Me: Stop, stop! There are so many issues, we need to address them one by one. Of course the Basic Law from 1949 is a constitution. Why shouldn’t it be?

If it is a constitution, why is it called Basic Law and not “Constitution”?

Ah, I recognize the formalistic thinking which is characteristic for non-lawyers. The title that a document is given is irrelevant for its content or validity. If you agree on a lease contract with your landlord in which you agree on the premises, the monthly rent and the duration of the rent, but call it an insurance contract, you still have a rental contract. The same remains true, by the way, if you don’t give it any title or make up a new name for it.

The content is relevant. (Like on my blog.) The Basic Law governs the different state organs like Parliament, Chancellor, President, their authorities, how they relate to each other and the relations between the state and the citizens. It includes all the elements of a constitution.

But all other countries call such a document “Constitution”. Why not Germany?

That’s not true. Based on Montesquieu’s terminology of “loi fundamentale“, many countries call their constitutions “Basic Law”, for example Denmark, Estonia, Ireland, the Netherlands and the Vatican City State.

Ah, the Vatican is always behind everything!

And I thought that was the Jews, the Freemasons and the Bavarian Illuminati?

Yes, but everyone knows that they control the Vatican.

OK, back to the constitutional question. There are even countries that don’t have a written constitution at all, most famous among them the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Nobody would therefore deny that it is a country or claim that it didn’t exist.

But Paragraph 146 of the Basic Law itself says that we don’t have a constitution.

First of all, the Basic Law doesn’t have paragraphs or sections, but articles. Article 146 reads:

This Basic Law, which, since the achievement of the unity and freedom of Germany, applies to the entire German people, shall cease to apply on the day on which a constitution freely adopted by the German people takes effect.

This is merely the Basic Law (as a constitution!) showing the way how it could be replaced by a new constitution. The historical basis for this article lies in the situation of 1949, when there was still hope for a quick German reunification and nobody could imagine how long the West German Basic Law would remain in effect. After all, German entities of state had not always existed for a very long time, even if politicians liked to spout 1000-year nonsense.

Article 146 never became relevant. Before German reunification in 1990, it was briefly debated whether it should be applied, but then Article 23 as it was worded back then

For the time being, this Basic Law applies for the territory of the states of Baden, Bavaria, Bremen, Greater Berlin, Hamburg, Hesse, Lower Saxony, North Rhine Westphalia, Rhine­land Palatinate, Schleswig-Holstein, Württem­berg-Baden and Württem­berg-Hohen­zollern. In other parts of Germany, it shall apply from the respective date of accession.

was applied, which permitted new states to accede to the territory of the Federal Republic of Germany.

But did you know that this Article 23 was abolished by James Baker, the US Secretary of State at the time? This rendered the German Basic Law invalid.

What?

Yes, during the negotiations for the 2+4 Treaty in July 1990, James Baker suspended Article 23. This removed the article about the territorial applicability of the Basic law, rendering it invalid.

Oh dear! First of all, I doubt that Mr Baker really said that.

Second, foreign secretaries of country A cannot change the constitution of country B by a throwaway remark. The Basic Law can be amended by a joint decision by Parliament (Bundestag) and the representative body of the German states (Bundesrat), requiring a two-thirds majority in each house (see Article 79).

Third, of course the Basic Law could continue to exist without Article 23. The territorial applicability is undisputed. In the meantime, it is also listed in the preamble:

Germans in the states of Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria, Berlin, Brandenburg, Bremen, Hamburg, Hesse, Lower Saxony, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, North Rhine Westphalia, Rhineland-Palatinate, Saarland, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, Schleswig-Holstein and Thuringia have achieved the unity and freedom of Germany in free self-determination. This Basic Law thus applies to the entire German people.

You fail to see that Germany is not sovereign, but is still in a state of war and is occupied by the Allied Powers. Hence, the Hague Convention on the Laws and Customs on War on Land applies and …

Say, do you sometimes leave your house and travel around Germany? Where the heck do you see a war?

Currently, combat operations have ceased because the Reich government is not able to act and is therefore unable to organize any resistance against the occupiers.

Which occupiers?

There are still Allied Forces on German soil. That alone shows that we are occupied. We Germans are being held as prisoners of war.

You mean the NATO forces? They are not here as occupiers, but based on the North Atlantic Treaty and the NATO Status of Forces Agreement, basically by German invitation. If Germany wanted to, it could kick out the foreign troops (as it did with the Soviet Army). But then we would need to spend more of our own money on defense, which is why having the US Army here is not such a bad deal.

By the way, the German military (Bundeswehr) is also stationed in other NATO countries, for example in Lithuania. That’s no occupation either. Until recently, the German Air Force even had a base in the USA.

But the German Reich never signed a peace treaty. That means that World War II is not yet over.

There it is again, the formalistic thinking. This is how laypeople imagine the law, but that’s not how it works.

Wars cannot only be ended through peace treaties, but also by completely subjugating the opponent or, as was the case with Germany, by unconditional surrender.

In addition, most Western Allies ended the state of war by statute or by royal proclamation in 1951, the Soviet Union followed suit in 1955.

The Reich government never surrendered! The unconditional surrender of 8/9 May 1945 was only signed by the High Command of the Army (Wehrmacht).

I would actually interpret the Reich Chancellor’s suicide as the ultimate act of surrender.  And the short-lived government under Admiral Dönitz had granted the generals power of attorney to surrender, proclaimed the end of World War II itself, and did nothing else to counter the impression of Germany’s unconditional surrender.

For there to be peace, you don’t necessarily need a treaty that says “peace treaty” on the first page. You can achieve the same through other treaties, like the General Treaty between West Germany and the Western Allies, the accession to the EEC and to NATO, the 2+4 Treaty and lastly by the normative power of the factual, diplomatic relations, trade and simply by the enduring absence of war.

I also don’t understand the connection between the allegedly missing peace treaty and the allegedly non-existent statehood, because states can exist very well without peace treaties. Between 1939 and 1945, the German Reich wasn’t non-existent either, was it?

But even the Federal Constitutional Court has said: “The German Reich still exists.”

Do you recognize how ironic it is to quote the Constitutional (!) Court of the Federal Republic of Germany, which you don’t recognize, as evidence of your theory that it doesn’t legally exist?

Well, sometimes the usurper regime makes mistakes.

And you are the only one who notices it?

But let me explain that. You refer to the Federal Constitutional Court’s decision about the Basic Treaty between West Germany and East Germany, signed in 1973. This is indeed a very unfortunate ruling, with which the court wanted to approve the treaty with the German Democratic Republic without recognizing it as a state. The situation was so schizophrenic that for West Germany (the FRG), East Germany (the GDR) was neither a foreign country nor part of the own country, that West Germany claimed to be the only Germany, and that the West German constitution made it illegal to recognize the factually existing division of Germany. All of this could only result in a verdict that is impossible to read without turning crazy.

The part which the Reichsbürger like to quote continues as follows:

The German Reich still exists and still has legal capacity, but due to lack of organization, in particular the lack of any institutional organs, it cannot act by itself. […]

The establishment of the Federal Republic of Germany did not establish a new West-German state, but reorganized a part of Germany. The Federal Republic of Germany is therefore not the “legal successor” of the German Reich, but as a state it is identical with the state “German Reich”, – although only “partly identical” regarding the territorial extension, meaning that insofar, the identity lays no claim to exclusivity. Accordingly, the Federal Republic’s people and territory do not include the whole Germany, irrespective of it recognizing one people of “Germany” (German Reich), which is a subject in public international public law and of which its own people is an inseparable part, as well as one territory “Germany” (German Reich), of which its own territory is an inseparable part, too. Constitutionally, it limits the exercise of its state powers to the “territorial jurisdiction of the Basic Law”, but also feels a responsibility for the whole Germany (cf. the preamble of the Basic Law). […] The German Democratic Republic is part of Germany and cannot be regarded as a foreign country when it comes to its relations with the Federal Republic of Germany.

It goes on like this for pages, and everyone can pick out the sentences that suit their needs. The better approach however is to ignore this ruling as the low point of constitutional and public international law dogmatics, as my professors at law school chose to do.

In the ruling itself, the Constitutional Court indicates that it didn’t deem it a very clever idea that the State of Bavaria (the eternally malcontent troublemaker state) had brought the lawsuit against the treaty with the GDR:

A proper legal appreciation of the treaty requires it to be put in a wider context.

In any case, in the meantime all of this is history, because since 1990 the Federal Republic of Germany has become fully identical with the German Reich again or the German Reich ceased to be forever due to lack of effective power. The constitutional approach of East Germany was more logical. According to their view, East Germany was simply a new country, which also had the advantage of not being liable for old debts and other financial and moral liabilities.

I do recognize that the German Reich is temporarily not able to act because of the occupation. That’s why our government is a provisional one.

This is something that I really don’t understand. Even if you were right on all points, from where do YOU personally take the authority to represent the German Reich?

We are only doing this as temporary regents until a new government of the Reich will constitute itself.

But who will then know which of these governments is the legitimate one? There are the Kommissarische Reichsregierung, the Freistaat Preussen, the Exilregierung Deutsches Reich as well as the similarly sounding but different Exil-Regierung Deutsches Reich and the Regierung des Deutschen Reiches, the Volks-Reichstag, the Volks-Bundesrath, the Interimspartei Deutschland, the Staat Germanitien, the Fürstentum Germania, the Republik Freies Deutschland, the Königreich Deutschland, the Bundesstaat Bayern, the Heimatgemeinde Chiemgau and hundreds more.

I have the impression that this is more of a business, because all of these organizations sell identity papers and driving licences, which are of course invalid, pointless and worthless.

So what? The FRG is merely a GmbH (the German Ltd.) as well. And we have resigned from that limited liability company, so that it cannot control us anymore.

No, a country is not a limited liability company. This myth is based on one company, called Bundesrepublik Deutschland – Finanzagentur GmbH, which is a state-owned company carrying out the sale of bonds on capital markets. But this doesn’t turn all of Germany into a GmbH.

By the way, you can’t simply resign from being a shareholder in a limited liability company. That’s another point where one can see that your theories are not even coherent in themselves.

Have you never wondered why our identity cards are called Personalausweis? Because we are all personnel (“Personal” in German) or employees of the FRG Ltd.

I just noticed that my driving licence is called Führerschein. And as Führer, I am ordering you to shut up now.

You also overlooked the fact that the Roman Empire never capitulated and thus continues to exist. So you better prepare yourself for a provisional Caesar taking over.

Oh damn. We hadn’t thought of that.


Whew. Conversations with conspiracy theorists are quite exhausting, because they simply posit new claims all the time, ignoring facts and logic, and they subordinate all counter-arguments to their theory. For example, the presence of the German military in other NATO countries is then viewed as a diversionary maneuver with which the sly Allies mess about with the German public. Because one thing is for sure: only the conspiracy theorist is smart enough to see through everything, while everyone else is too dumb. This feeling of being part of an elite seems to be pretty alluring.

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Posted in German Law, Germany, History, Law, Military, Politics, World War II | Tagged , , | 10 Comments

A Date at the Library

– Let’s meet at the library!
– Which section?
– If we have similar interests, we will meet. If not, we shouldn’t.

As always, I went home alone.

Well, not really alone, for I had found some interesting books.

Pembroke College Website Photography

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How to cope with the Heatwave (3 steps)

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This is Sisi, my friends’ cat that I am currently watching in Vienna. She is clearly suffering from the heatwave, too. Her advice in this kind of weather: “Don’t move. Sleep as much as possible. And don’t go to work.”

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Next trip: Antwerp

Another cat has contacted me, requesting me as her sitter. This time in Antwerp in Belgium.

I am happy to oblige, because I have never been to Antwerp. And hardly to Belgium either, to be honest, where I have only visited the EU institutions. Now, from 2nd to 17th of August, I will have the opportunity of getting to know one of the most important trading cities in Flanders.

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Loes, the cat, has planned everything so perfectly that I will be in town for the Night of the Museums as well as for the “Summer of Antwerp”.

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And as a history student, I naturally want to visit the memorials and museums at Fort Breendonk and at Dossin Barracks, too.

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I can already see that the two weeks won’t be enough by far. After that, I have to hope for a job in a remote village, so I can write the articles about Antwerp and Flanders without further distractions.

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A Walk along the Semmering Railway

At first glance, the landscape in the Vienna Alps looks idyllic.

Alpen1Alpen2Alpen3Alpen4

But the expert’s eye realizes immediately that something is missing here: a railroad!

Because how are the people supposed to enjoy the picturesque landscape if they can’t get there from Vienna main train station? This discontent about the lack of public transport boiled over into the revolution of 1848. Emperor Ferdinand I, himself a railway fanatic, was happy to heed the calls and initiated an engineering competition. The lucky ticket was drawn by Carl von Ghega, of Albanian descent, born in Venice, graduated with a doctorate degree at age 17 and thus a typically multicultural Austrian with the required academic title in front of the name. The only problem was, he had never built a railway. But more on that later.

As an avid train traveler, I could of course enjoy the way from the luxury and comfort of the train, but for people who are fit and have time all day long, there is a better option: a hiking trail along the railway line. If you are thinking,”what a stupid idea, walking along the railroad embankment all day and getting run over in the end”, I hope that this report will convince you of the opposite.

I start the hike in Semmering, the village that lent its name to the project and which is surprisingly small for its importance. But I guess there used to be more activity, as the overdimensioned hotels in Magic Mountain style suggest. Now, they are being used as retirement homes or not at all.

Semmering.JPGKurhaus Semmering.JPGak-ansichtskarte-semmering-niederoesterreich-hotel-panhans-kat-semmering

At Semmering railway station, trains are leaving to Mürzzuschlag, Payerbach, Graz, Vienna, Ljubljana and Prague. For a village with just over 500 people, train connections to three European capital cities are quite good.

But the heyday of tourism seems to have left Semmering with a one-way ticket, because as I approach Kurhaus Semmering, I notice that it is deserted and uninhabited.

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In the lounge, neither hot chocolate nor Almdudler is served. Only a few mice scurry away.

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The railway, on the other hand, is shaped by progress. The old trains have long been replaced by modern ones and are only left by the side of the tracks for their museum value.

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As if to confirm that the ambitious timetable is no chimera, the first hyper-modern train whizzes past just as I am leaving Semmering, having taken a last gulp from the water fountain.

Zug in Semmering.JPG

Soon, I learn that the hiking trail does not simply run parallel to the railway tracks. In quick succession, I find myself walking below the tracks, on the other side of the valley, and then I look down on the railway from a mountain or a panoramic lookout, just like Peter Rosegger in his story Als ich das erste Mal auf dem Dampfwagen saß:

We walked across the Stuhleck Mountains to make sure to avoid the valley, in which, as people said, the devil’s carriage was going up and down. But when we were high up on the mountain and looked down to Spitalerboden, we saw a worm creeping along a sharp line, smoking tobacco.

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I have already lost any sense of orientation, because the Semmering Railway runs like a knotted ball of wool. The reason lies in the chief planner’s aforementioned lack of railway experience. Ghega didn’t know that railway lines are best built in a straight line or at least in wide curves that allow the engine to maintain a high speed. He was fascinated by the landscape and wanted to integrate the tracks into it, creating an artwork on a grand scale. His declared goal was to build the first railway to be recognized by UNESCO as a world heritage site.

Thus, the Semmering Railway extends over 42 km, although the linear distance between start and end point is only 21 km. The line covers 14 tunnels, 16 viaducts and more than 100 bridges. Some curves are as narrow as hairpin bends on an Alpine pass. The combination of slopes and narrow arc radii was deemed to be insurmountable by most engineers at the time.

But it looks beautiful.

Viadukt1Viadukt2Viadukt3Kurve bei Gegha-Museum mit Zug.JPG

Construction work began in 1848 and finished in 1854. That’s only six years, which is an impressive speed for such a grand project. It’s an even more impressive feat once you consider that sleepy Alfred Nobel only invented dynamite in 1866 and thus far too late for the Semmering Railway. (Because of the lost bet with Ghega, he had to donate the Nobel Prize.) The tunnels were still blown into the rock with gunpowder. The resulting rock debris was then used to build bridges, viaducts, train stations and tobacconist shops. That way, Ghega not only invented recycling, but by constructing the buildings along the railway with material won from the immediate surroundings, he reinforced the interaction between nature and design. (This would have been worthy of a Nobel Prize for architecture, but Nobel was mean enough not to set up a prize for that discipline.)

One of these residences for signalmen now houses the Ghega Museum, but sadly, I have planned such a long hike that I don’t have enough time for a visit.

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The hike is very beautiful and varied, but also quite a challenge. Without any steam engine, I go up the mountains, down the mountains, up the mountains, down the mountains. Each stop is a temptation, because I could simply take the next train back to Vienna. On the other hand, I am worried about missing spectacular views. Through the trees or on the other side of the valley, I keep spotting cute little houses.

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Ok, maybe more than cute little houses in most cases. The location on the trade route between Venice and Vienna seems to have paid off for the robber knights residing in the valley. Just like the people collecting the highway toll nowadays.

Speaking of traffic, I would have expected to see only a few local trains all day, but every 15 minutes, a train is passing by. Passenger and freight trains non-stop. We all know that we need to move more traffic onto rails, here it is already fully in progress.

At the 20-schilling lookout, I meet a gentleman from Nippon who bought every photographic equipment that Nikon produces. He came here all the way from Salzburg, just to take this shot. To say something different from what I am really thinking, which is that I find his long journey for a photo a bit over the top, I mention: “There are quite a lot of trains passing by, aren’t there?” Unimpressed, he retorts: “You  think so?” Well, when you are from Tokyo, you probably have different expectations.

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The place is called the 20-schilling lookout because the view from here was proudly displayed on the banknote of that denomination. When Austria adopted the euro, it was so sad to lose this banknote, it insisted that henceforth all euro banknotes need to show images of bridges.

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20 Alpine dollars also happens to be the price for a return ticket to Vienna, which I would of course like to save. And topography is my friend. Because the hiking trail runs above the railway tracks from time to time and because the trains have to slow down in the narrow bends, I should be able to jump onto a freight train, just like Jack London.

Hopping a train would be easiest during a stop, but the freight trains all rush through from the Austrian Adriatic port in Trieste to Vienna. If I jump down onto the moving train from a bridge, I have to time it really well because I don’t want to land right between two wagons and get crushed to death. I need to hit the roof or the bed of the carriage.

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I have no experience doing this, but I did have physics in high school. Education really makes life so much easier. From Galilei, Brecht and Newton, I remember that objects fall at the same speed irrespective of their weight, given the same aerodynamic drag. So I collect a few stones and let them drop from a bridge onto the moving train. That way, I am trying to ascertain where exactly the carriage needs to be when I jump off, making sure that the stone or I safely land in the center of the wagon.

Because I am even smarter than a physicist, I also calculate that I have a similar air resistance to a stone, but a higher mental resistance. So there will be a longer delay in my jump, increasing the danger that I won’t land exactly in a wagon full of cozy mattresses or Slovenian Christmas trees.

And then the train is gone.

I guess I am more of a theoretical person, after all. So I walk the last kilometers to Gloggnitz quite conventionally, where I law-abidingly purchase a ticket to Vienna, having waved goodbye to my audacious plan. “But one day, I am going to jump onto a freight train and ride across Mexico, I swear,” I am still thinking, as I fall into my bed at home, exhausted from real and imaginary adventures.

Practical advice:

  • The railway trail from Semmering to Gloggnitz is signposted quite well, and there are plenty of interesting boards with information along the way (both in German and in English).
  • There is an alternative route from Semmering to Payerbach or in the other direction from Semmering to Mürzzuschlag. Naturally, all places can be reached by train. Even between these places, you could cut the hike short and catch a train at the closest village.
  • Here you find the essential information (in German only) and a map. If you read German, there is also a guidebook.
  • The walk from Semmering to Gloggnitz (23 km) took me 9 hours, but with plenty and long breaks. If you want a shorter hike, I recommend to walk only to Klamm, which is 15 km from Semmering. That way, you would cover the most beautiful part of the hike, because after Klamm, there is really not much more spectacular scenery.
  • There are only a few places offering food and drinks, so you better take enough with you. If you come by the Blunzenwirt in Breitenstein, only get something to drink. The food there was the worst I have ever tasted in Austria. (And I have cooked myself here.)

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