Joel from Far Outliers, who is traveling through Europe to visit his academic relatives flung throughout the continent, was kind enough to leave this observation about crossing the Rhine from France into Germany:

I just tried booking train reservations to Bucharest in the SNCF office in the center of Grand Ile. They couldn’t confirm anything past Wien. International airlines do much better in that regard.

And when we crossed the “border” to Kehl, the DB travel counter agent would only use German or English, forcing the French speaker ahead of me in line to struggle along in German no better than mine. EUnification seems to have a long way to go on the ground.

Yep. I’ve had those experiences. Once I was one of two links between a SNCF agent and a pair of Moldavians (he spoke French and some English, I translated into German for a Russian woman, who translated into Russian for the Moldavians). The French still don’t speak German (or English, for that matter), though SNCF agents should. Germans don’t speak French (though DB agents should), but ply you with their English at the drop of a hat. (To be fair, I’ve also translated for Swiss border agents from French and German into English so they could speak to a Japanese woman.)

What I think is more ironic is that it is still really hard to cross the Rhine by rail, whether internationally at Strasbourg or within Germany at Cologne. Since the construction of the railways in the mid-19th century, the rails on the left side ran one way (generally toward Belgium), the rails on the right another (generally northeast). From the records I’ve read from the Rhenish Railroad, businessmen stalled as much as possible when it came to linking their cities to thos in Central an Eastern Europe. The East held no economic interest for them. Year after year, rail officials hesitated to invest in right bank projects, claiming that the terrain was poor or incentives were low, and connected more of the left bank together instead. The Alsatian Railroad was almost no better.

Nothing that has happened since has improved the rail infrastructure connecting both sides of the river. Crossing is a slow process. The technology can often be less sophisticated. As the right side is underdeveloped, traveling east-west leads to convoluted courses. Why did it take so long to go from Strasbourg to Mannheim or Stuttgart, when Basel was a short trip? EUnification hasn’t built many real bridges.

Well, I hope Joel filled up on Flammkuchen when in my beloved Strasbourg.

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