My main characters are about to leave Berlin for Leipzig. What was it like to travel in Germany in the summer of 1945?
The Third Reich boasted an excellent railway system that allowed moving large masses of people and cargo speedily and efficiently. Wehrmacht troops could be shuttled between the Eastern and Western fronts, Jews deported East, Soviet forced laborers moved West. The Reichsbahn, as the railway system was called, made all this possible.
It was only to be expected that the railroads and stations became the prime targets for Allied bombing attacks.
After the capitulation of Germany, the national railway system was in shambles. At the same time, Europe was a continent on the move. According to Wikipedia, it is estimated that from 11 million to 20 million people found themselves stranded after the end of the war. For comparison, the modern population of Portugal, the 12th most populous country in Europe, is about 10.5 million, and the population of Romania, the 10th most populous country, is about 22 million.
Liberated Allied and released German POWs, former inmates of concentration camps and forced laborers, refugees who fled from the Soviet Army, ethnic Germans expelled from Eastern European countries, citizens of Germany proper forced out by bombing raids and battle action – everyone scrambled to find a way home or a place to live.
These Bundesarchiv photos show what it was like to travel by train in 1945-1946. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
A railway station in Thuringia, August 1945. Note how close to the railway tracks the people are sitting. They are ready to storm the overcrowded train the second it arrives.
Nowadays a train ride from Berlin to Leipzig would take less than an hour and half. Traveling the same distance in 1945 could take more than a day. How complicated could it be for my characters? Would they have to wait for hours at a station to change trains if there were no direct train? What station could it be then? Would my characters have to travel on foot through some areas because of destroyed railroads?
To answer the questions I have ordered these books through an inter-library loan:
The most valuable asset of the Reich: a history of the German National Railway. Vol. 2, 1933-1945 by Alfred C. Mierzejewski
The collapse of the German war economy, 1944-1945: Allied air power and the German National Railway by Alfred C. Mierzejewski
Die Chronik der deutschen Reichsbahn 1945-1993; Eisenbahn in der DDR by Eric Preuss, Reiner Preuss
Zehn Jahre Wiederaufbau bei dei Deutschen Bundesbahn, 1945-1955 by Deutsche Bundesbahn
Hopefully, I will have them in two or three weeks.
My ROW80 progress:
- Ordered books on German railways but postponed ordering books on wartime Leipzig because of the 4-book inter-library loan limit;
- Inching my way through The Turbulent World of Franz Göll: An Ordinary Berliner Writes the Twentieth Century;
- Still re-writing the Berlin part.
This week’s ROW80 goals:
- Move on to the part covering the trip from Berlin to Leipzig;
- Finish reading The Turbulent World of Franz Göll: An Ordinary Berliner Writes the Twentieth Century by Peter Fritzsche;
- Make a book review post.