ROW80 Check-In: Train travel in 1945 Germany

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.

Eberswalde railway station, 1946

Refugees from Pomerania, East and West Prussia at Lehrter railway station in Berlin. 1945

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.

ROW80 Check-in

The last three days  I was going in circles. I have an episode in which the two main characters finally have a chance to talk one-on-one and tell about themselves. The first version of the dialogue sounded stilted and forced. It was too unnatural for two strangers to reveal incriminating details about themselves in a casual chat.

In the second version of the episode I brought in a bottle of Bordeaux. It helped a bit, but the female character was still wary and refused to drink more than one glass. The male character consumed most of the wine and was unhappy.

On the third re-write I added a bottle of Riesling to the Bordeaux, and the ice broke. The conversation flowed, albeit a bit incoherently, but the girl ended up sitting in the man’s lap. Now I am throwing out the old “morning after” part and writing a new one with the hangover factored in.

No modern history research is possible without period photos. Bundesarchiv picture database is a treasure trove of photos and posters from the Third Reich era. Another fabulous archive is BPK (Bildarchiv Preussischer Kulturbesitz) . It has a great collection of color photos of Nazi-occupied Ukraine. However, since those are German archives, you will need to use German search terms and German spellings of geographical names. For example, Kiew instead of Kiev, Charkow instead of Kharkov or Russland instead of Russia. Ukraine is spelled the same in German.

Since one of my main characters is an Ostarbeiterin, a female forced laborer from the Soviet Union, here are a couple of Bundesarchiv photos showing such women.

At a factory in Berlin these women workers ate their lunch in a separate room to prevent mixing with Germans. Note the OST badges that they were required to wear. Some of them are very young. Many of the forced laborers were teenagers and children as young as 1o years old.
Forced laborers from the Soviet Union at an automotive repair shop in Berlin.
Goals for this week:
  • Rewrite the part leading up to the Battle of Berlin, and, if time allows, the part covering the Battle of Berlin;
  • Finish Harvest of Despair by Karel C. Berkhoff;
  • Post a book review.