‘Sleeper trains’ put to sleep

By Dan Bloom

Danny Bloom

Danny Bloom

CHIAYI CITY, Taiwan — Michael Lederer is an American novelist living in Berlin and he often travels around Europe by train: trains to Poland, trains to France, trains to Italy.

When news reached me theother day that Germany’s Deutsche Bahn railway company had decided to end the sleeper service between Berlin and Paris, I asked Mr Lederer– the son of the late Ivo Lederer who was a refugee in a group of European Jews given special passage by ship to the United States by President Franklin D. Roosevelt during World War II — if he had ever taken the sleeper trains between Berlin and France and if he had any interesting stories or memories of the night trips.

In other words, I wanted to know how he felt about the Deutche Bahn putting the iconic sleeper trains to sleep.

“I took the Paris-Berlin sleeper train in the spring of 1999,” Lederer, 58, told the San Diego Jewish World. “It wasn’t just a way of getting from point A to point B. It was a time machine in more ways than one. Moving at a slower pace in such a fast world allowed one to keep company with…oneself. No Wifi or even mobile phone on that trip. Instead, something they used to — and may still — call thinking. Also dreaming, and not just in one’s sleep.”

Lederer said that was he sad to learn that the sleeper train service was being shuttered,

“In a way, every night train was and is the Orient Express,” he said.

“The adventure and romance of travel, imagining this and that, fantasy and fact as one like love making, not sure where one begins and the other ends. The clickety clack, the shadows, glimpses of villages out the windows, and later the memories.”

“And now such trains squeezed out by budget airlines? Just try to smile remembering a budget airline flight,” he added. “Yet 15 years later, that night on the Paris-Berlin train still brings an ear-to-ear grin.”

Lederer, whose new novel is titled Don Quixote Saving America, knows a thing or two about trains, especially trains in Europe. He published a collection of stories in 2012 titled The Great Game: Berlin-Warsaw Express and Other Stories in which several of the stories deal with train travel.

“Those aren’t sleeper trains, they are dream machines,” he laments. “Next time you book a budget airline ask yourself: How efficient is a dream?”

The sleeper service saw its best days in the 1980s, but now, with convenient and bargain-rate air travel between Berlin and Paris, the last caboose has pulled into the station and it’s game over.

The long tradition of Europe’s night trains might be coming entirely to an end across the whole continent. Train fans who hope to save the sleeper routes say they offer an ecological and family-friendly way to travel, but — cue the sad music — it looks like it’s the end for that old-fashioned way of night travel.

But don’t forget the romance of trains, where Hollywood and European movies set dozens of classic movie scenes. I am sure you have your favorite train movie, too.

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Bloom, based in Taiwan, is an inveterate web surfer, cli-fi enthusiast, and word connoisseur.  Your comment on this article may be placed in the box below or you may contact the author directly at [email protected]

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