Story
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STORY

 

 

In 1883 the "Orient-Express" first traveled twice weekly from the Gare de Strasbourg in Paris to Bulgaria where the passengers then continued to the Black Sea coast by carriage and finally by ship to Turkey. Not until 1889 did the train steam all the way to Constantinople - known since 1930 as Istanbul.
 

 

 

By now, in 1914, the "Orient-Express" has long offered daily service between the renamed Parisian terminus - Gare de l'Est - and Constantinople. Every evening at 19:14 hours, the train begins its journey through eastern France until it arrives at Avricourt, the gare de la frontiere, or Reichsgrenze, of the German Empire. Avricourt is in Lorraine, much of which was seized by Germany along with all of Alsace at the end of the Franco-Prussian War. French passengers traveling into Germany aboard my "Orient-Express" cannot fail to be reminded that, from the moment when the German Empire was created at Versailles in January of 1871, the lost French provinces have been seen as trophies of the German victory. As if to twist the knife in that wound, French trains entering Germany are required to switch from "left-hand running" to "right-hand". In other words, the trains must now travel on the right-hand track as they do in Germany, not on the left as they have - and still do - in France.
 

 

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At that frontier and all of the others the train crosses, the locomotive is changed to one of the local railway administration. When the "Orient-Express" was first proposed by the Belgian entrepreneur, Georges Nagelmackers, a separate treaty had to be negotiated with France, the sole republic on the original route, together with each of the empires, kingdoms and grand duchies through which the train would travel - a total of 12 separate agreements. Thus, at Avricourt, French locomotives are replaced by German ones carrying, on the sides of their cabs, the imposing eagle of the German Empire in bronze beneath which is inscribed: "Els.-Loth" - the German abbreviation for Elsass-Lothringen - Alsace-Lorraine. The French people have never got used to seeing and hearing their two lost provinces referred to in German. More about that in the HISTORY link.
 

 

France

 

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From Avricourt to Strassburg, as the capital of Alsace is spelled in German, the train passes through delightful farming landscape and vineyards until the grimy industrial silhouette of Strassburg itself appears, a symbol of the dynamic energy of the young German Empire. After a halt there, the train crosses the Rhine at Kehl where it enters the Grand Duchy of Baden, one of the founder states of the German Empire. The train doesn't stop at Kehl but continues to Baden-Baden (a name like New York, New York) where aristocrats and titled people along with a few wealthy Americans alight to "take the waters", to gamble, to flirt and to arrange auspicious marriages and other types of mergers. Considerable inconvenience awaits the "Orient-Express" on this particular afternoon; the Imperial Court Train of Kaiser Wilhelm II stands at the single platform in Baden-Baden. (There has never been more than that one platform at the original Baden-Baden station.) His Imperial Majesty has called a Kaiserkonferenz to be attended by all of the kings and grand-dukes of the Empire. And so the "Orient-Express" must wait until His Majesty's train is backed out before it can enter. Aboard the "Orient-Express" are a number of people who are not accustomed to being kept waiting, even by the German Emperor. His arrogant behavior is a well-known trait along with an unpredictable and meddlesome personality that constantly exasperates members of his court, his parliament, his advisors and his household. To say nothing of the governments and peoples of neighboring nations. More about him in the HISTORY link.
  

 

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Near the Baden-Baden station, on a rooftop, stands a mother holding her two-year-old daughter in her arms. With them is her eight-year-old son. They're waiting to wave to the husband and father who is due to pass the house in three minutes, driving a train of the Grand-ducal Railways of Baden on its way to Basel. The mother is a servant in the house where she and the children wait. It's a daily ritual much enjoyed by all; a charming scene played out before the children's bed-time. We shiver in the summer warmth knowing that the young boy will die, a Feldwebel in the Wehrmacht, at a place far away called Stalingrad.
 

 

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Seated on a wall below the Baden-side tower of the Rhine bridge, is a man who is fishing. Behind him is a carriage of Baden's Grand-ducal household, its coachman, dressed in the heavy, ornate livery of the House, dozes in the warm evening sunlight. The elegantly dressed man seated on the wall is Prince "Gustav", a member of the Grand-ducal family. Earlier this afternoon he quietly slipped out of the palace and went to the river. His absence was noticed by the Kaiser when he arrived at Baden-Baden station. The Grand Duke and his heir were there to welcome him but where was Prince Gustav? A cousin of the Kaiser, Gustav so dislikes His Majesty that he cannot stand to be near him and so has taken himself off to fish rather than having to make pleasantries with someone the very sight of whom he cannot tolerate.
  

 

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The bridge over the Rhine - twice blown up before 1914 - is a model made with brass sections photoetched in England to my specifications by Scale Link. While not a true representation of the original, the model fairly well recalls the bridge as it appeared at the time. Scale Link did a masterful job of extrapolating the scale of the overlapped ironwork from photographs taken while the bridge was being built in 1859.
 

 

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In the driveway of an aristocratic villa outside Baden-Baden, a young Leutnant on leave from his regiment - the Body-Guard Hussars garrisoned in Potsdam - rewards his horse with carrots after returning from a ride with his father. The carrots have been brought from the kitchen by Frau Müller, the family's cook. The soldier's father, still on his horse, Frau Müller and the groom wait patiently while the pride of the dynasty offers a last carrot to his horse. We shudder, knowing that in fifty-eight days the Leutnant, an accomplished musician and watercolorist, will be blown to bits by French artillery fire on a beautiful summer morning during the Battle of the Marne. And we are startled to see his sister, on a balcony at the side of the house, exposing her body to public scrutiny, if only for a moment, before her red satin evening dress falls to cover her. While dressing for dinner, she is all too aware of her exalted position - her father is a wealthy baron - and she's accustomed to flaunting her beauty and status. Beside her, her mother's maid scolds her for such behavior to no avail. Like many of the European aristocracy in the twilight of the Old Order, she is concerned neither by the restrictive mores of the era nor the opinions of people whom she considers to be "beneath" her.
 

 

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And so the "Orient-Express" leaves Baden-Baden uncharacteristically late because of the exceptional delay that afternoon and steams on toward Stuttgart, the capital of Württemberg, another founder state of the German Empire. The train is now in a part of Germany that views the Empire skeptically. Hard-working, independent-minded Swabians, the citizens of the Kingdom of Württemberg neither like nor trust the Prussians - the core population of the Empire. Like most non-Prussians, the Württembergers feel no deep loyalty to the Empire, preferring simply to be left alone. More about that in the HISTORY link. 
 

 

 

Stuttgart is represented by a charming reproduction of a paper model of the city's Hauptbahnhof - main station - as it appeared before 1860. Houses and factories as they would have appeared in 1914 surround the quaint old station as they did at that time. The streets throughout the layout hold little traffic; it is 18:45 hours on a Sunday and most people are at home preparing to rise early to begin their new work week. Only in Paris is there a bustle outside the Gare de l'Est where trains arrive constantly, bringing huge numbers of passengers home from a day in the country.
 

 

 

The final German state on the train's route is Bavaria, a proud, fiercely independent-minded Catholic "country" which, to this day (2005) considers itself to be more like an independent nation than a contented component of Germany. It was Bavaria's lunatic King Ludwig II who was maneuvered by Bismarck into writing the "letter of invitation" that induced the King of Prussia to accept the crown of German Emperor, thus becoming Kaiser Wilhelm I. More about that in the HISTORY link.

My "Orient-Express" doesn't visit München, the Bavarian capital where the real train stopped. Instead it visits Feldafing, the town near Starnberg lake where Elizabeth, the Wittelsbach princess who married Kaiser Franz Joseph of Austria spent many summer holidays with members of her Bavarian family. The Feldafing station is still "dressed" for royalty in 1914 as it was in 1889 when Her Majesty was assassinated in Geneva.
 

 

 

The last station on the route - until the layout can be expanded - is Salzburg. The first station in the Austro-Hungarian Empire where the "Orient-Express" stopped is represented by the huge Pola HO scale model, close to resembling the real thing, a standard architectural design used for several stations between the frontier and Vienna. In front of the station are members of the k. und k. - Imperial and Royal - Army. They are Preiser figures extensively altered to become an infantry officer and two other ranks in cavalry regiments waiting for local trains. None would ever have been passengers on the "Orient-Express", even the officer could not have afforded the fare. Officers of all European armies were, in 1914, required to travel first-class. A first-class ticket on an ordinary Austrian train from Salzburg to Vienna would have cost about half what was charged to travel the same distance aboard the "Orient-Express". The "O-E" was an "all first-class" train although special accommodations and rates were sometimes available for servants traveling with their masters.

 

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There is, of course, more to the story of my collection. There are characters all over the layout - French, German, Austrian, Hungarian - each with their own story, people who help to define the age that ended with the First World War. They are poor or rich or gracious or pragmatic or foolish, beautiful, ugly or ordinary in a world seized at all levels by dynamic change. The world as it was in 1914 is the world we now understand to have been the real threshold of the 20th century.

 

 

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The “Sarajevo 1914 Collection”, begun in 1979, has been and continues to be assembled
in partnership with Ingrid Bitter, Director MC W. Schueler, Stuttgart

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