Europe’s choo-choo mecca
The German city of Meiningen is a bustling centre of railway enthusiasts.
The Meiningen Steam Locomotive Works is a mecca for lovers of old-time trains.
Dozens of visitors arrive on the first and third Saturdays of every month to admire the last of these old iron horses that still run and to examine their exposed innards. In the small city of Meiningen, situated in the southern part of the German state of Thuringia, the engines undergo safety inspections to ensure that their boilers, pistons and other component parts are in good working order.
"About 35 steam locomotives a year are renovated here," said Manfred Ziegerath, spokesman for the German Railway's vehicle maintenance department, which operates the Meiningen works. Some of the locomotives -- and some of the visitors as well -- come from other European countries. Austria's narrow-gauge Mariazell Railway sent its "Locomotive No. 11" to Meiningen this year for an overhaul. Locomotives from Norway and Switzerland also came in for repairs.
A steam locomotive is seen in the eastern town of Wernigerode as a driver teaches how to handle the narrow-gauge engine, on December 5, 2008. The engine is part of the railway network in the "Harz" region, that was built at the end of the 19th century and is now mainly used for tourism.
Martin Weinert, a mechanical engineer and railroad aficionado from Graz, Austria, has been to Meiningen three times already. "In the workshop you can closely study the mechanics of the partly disassembled locomotives, look into the boilers and admire the wheel-set lathes," he said.
Expert guides take visitors on an approximately hour-and-a-half tour of the locomotive-building hall, roundhouse and boiler shop.
There are still about 160 operational steam locomotives in Germany and more than 500 in Europe. Many of them regularly roll into Meiningen for a check-up. Meiningen technicians also renovate antique carriages. More than 100 specialists are employed in the workshop.
A new beginning
Repairs and renovations are not the only business of the Meiningen Steam Locomotive Works. "The first new steam locomotive in nearly 50 years is being built in Meiningen," the works' director, Juergen Eichhorn, said proudly. The client is the narrow-gauge Mecklenburg Spa Railway (MBB), affectionately known as "Molli."
Based in the German state of Mecklenburg-West Pomerania, which borders on the Baltic Sea, MBB runs a passenger service between the resort towns of Bad Doberan and Kuehlungsborn and needs a reinforcement for its three, nearly antique steam locomotives. The new engine, which costs about 2.5 million euros (3.2 million dollars), is scheduled to pull MBB's old-fashioned carriages beginning this summer.
The annual high point in Meiningen for old-time railway enthusiasts arrives on the first weekend in September: the Meiningen Steam Locomotive Days, which have been held since 1995. Nearly 15,000 people attended last year, according to Ziegerath.
But Meiningen is worth visiting apart from the steam locomotive works. A former ducal seat, the city has a theatre, museum and art collections in its Elisabethenburg Palace. So while railway geeks gawk at locomotives, their unimpressed partners can soak up some culture.
Horst Heinz Grimm/DPA/Expatica
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