While General Motors and others quickly penetrated the US and then Western Europe with their diesels and electrics, the Russians did rail fans a favour by leaving Eastern European economies in poor shape. This resulted in steam trains surviving much later than on the other side of the wall. Express trains were operating at regular speeds of 140 kph in East Germany until 1980, and there was a feast of steam power, providing you could find a way to reach it.
East Germany had an iron clad rule by the Stazi. We discovered you could photograph trains in stations and depots, but not on the main line. In Poland stations were forbidden as were bridges and tunnels, but other places were OK! Every country had their won rules, officials were often looking for bribes to supplement their inadequate wages. Film was ripped out of cameras, and there was much frustration dealing with officialdom. The weather didn’t help either, so we are pretty pleased with the results of many photographers who took the risk.
Let’s face it, most of Poland is like a billiard table. This meant the OK1 or P38 class, the most prolific passenger engine in Europe, survived until quite late. They had many loco designs unique to that part of the world, and plenty of steam action in 1974, when we visited.
Czechoslovakia was living in the past. Tuxedo wearing waiters, and in the cafes you could order beers, ticking off the number on a coaster before paying on the way out. They are truly a proud people. The magnificent 475 1 class passenger engines still hauled crack expresses in some parts, although they were elusive and we had to pay $15US each per day to go there, an amount that was virtually impossible to spend.
We have photos from Hungary, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and Romania, with some amazing scenery and many old world features, not a forgotten memory.
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