Seeing that Margo is right-hand drive, other motorhome owners sometimes ask – does it make it difficult to overtake etc with the wheel on the steering wheel on the wrong(?) side. Driving on the left for us Brits apparently stems from the traditions of the English knights in the Middle Ages. Mostly right-handed, in case of attack they rode on the left side of the road to be able to defend themselves with their sword in their stronger right arm.
The issue of which side do trains run on was raised during our visit to Hamburg’s miniature railway which we’ll get to in a bit.
In Belgium the trains normally run on the left hand track. This is in contrast to their roads where cars & lorries etc, drive on the right. This allegedly stems from the British involvement in building the rail network in the 19th century. Unlike the roads, railways in Sweden use left-handed traffic for trains and Sweden drove on the left until 1967…
Leaving Poland we needed an overnight stop not too far from the border. Finding this stellplatz on a marina was just the job. For the first time in 10 days we had some sunny weather, so it didn’t take us long to wind out the awning, get our shorts on, pour a G&T and wind down. The perfect camping idyll was enjoyed for a while until at 7 o’clock when the peace and quiet was spoilt by pulsating drum and bass from an open-air event next door. Fortunately on the dot at 10 o’clock the noise stopped, the teens went home and everyone could enjoy a good night’s sleep.
A chance conversation with a German couple in Lithuania and the question; “Where’s your favourite place in Germany”? led us to Lüneburg. At bit like Northwich, Cheshire this place is famous for salt mining, which is the source of the city’s medieval wealth.
The main stellplatz is very close to the centre of the pretty town and unsurprisingly it’s a popular location for motorhomers. We fortunately arrived early and were able to watch vans coming in until after dark trying to squeeze themselves in one of the 60 chaotically marked places.
Reading the town’s website it says “it’s noticeable that some of the buildings in the historic quarter have a jaunty lean due to centuries of nearby mining”. I am not sure I would have noticed but the oldest church is St John’s and has a slight lean to it unlike the Lüneburg Chamber of Commerce building that is very black and white and straight and upright!
During construction of St John’s spire around 1384, the tower leant 2.20 metres to the west from the vertical. It should be leaning a bit because steeples were always angled slightly into the wind, but not by so much! The legend is told in Lüneburg of the architect who erected the leaning tower: after construction he saw what he had done. He climbed the stairs to the church tower and plunged in shame through a window into the depths.
However, just at that moment a hay cart drove past. The architect landed softly and survived the fall. He thought to himself, “If I’m still alive after this jump, then it must be God’s will that the tower is so crooked.” With this certainty he wanted to celebrate the event, got drunk in a pub, fell from the bench, broke his neck and died.
We had seen the port cranes on the river Elbe from the A7 motorway as we zoomed past Hamburg on our way north, 80 odd days ago. However, we hadn’t appreciated that it was one of the busiest ports in Europe after Antwerp and Rotterdam. In addition to sea going traffic, the port services the many large (1,000 ton) barges plying its 1,094 km length from Czech Republic to the North Sea.
Leaving Margo under the tram line in the city Wohnmobilhafen, we set off on the network of bike lanes for a tour around the city. Aiming for Alster lake the cycle paths took us around the lake which is fringed with expensive looking houses and modern apartments, many with ‘small parks’ as frontage to the lake.
Keeping a watchful eye for other cyclists, we found our way via numerous parks to a coffee stop at the riverside close to one of Hamburg’s institutions the famous Fishmarket. (sadly closed today). Suitably refreshed, a short detour took us through St Pauli and the infamous (think Soho) tacky in daylight, Reeperbahn.
Cranes are not the sole preserve of the port. As we cycled across the many canals, along the former wharfs laced with old warehouses, we were amazed how many building sites there were with their tower cranes each competing for space with its neighbour.
The city has clearly gone through some big changes recently, especially in HafenCity district where dozens of waterfront apartments now give the area an ultra-modern feel with Elbphilharmonie concert hall’s unique wave-like roof dominating the skyline.
Our friends Paul and Lesley gave us the tip “if you’re in Hamburg you must go to Miniature Wonderland”. I would like to pass on the same recommendation to you.
If you read the Miniature Wonderland pamphlet it shouts about lots of impressive numbers 263,000 figurines, 1,040 locomotives or 15,400m of track etc, but this place is so much more than the world’s largest model train set.
Yes it is a large, very large model railway, but it’s way more than that. I could describe the impressive well laid out scenes like the airport, Venice or Hamburg, but it’s more than that.
Lesley spotted before I did. It’s about the little things, the tiniest detail, the humour and tragedy to be found in some sets. And the skill, patience and FUN the model makers must of had in creating it. We loved the authenticity, the real to life scenes showing accidents, rows, traffic jams or couples doing what couples do!
As we started to leave we walked past an area which is in the process of being built and got a glimpse of the hidden stuff behind the scenes. This place has comes to life because of the people who made it. The craftsmen and women, the geeks, the techies and the train buffs, all working together sharing their love for what they do.
I suspect some of the people that work here would come to work whether they were paid or not. The control room is like NASA’s mission control. 50 computers run the show, supervised and monitored by the technicians, managing the lighting (night & day), the trains, planes and everything else that moves. What a great job…
The small kids and the big kids will leave here with their favourite part, mine was the fire brigade. In Wonderland the city’s central computer system fell prey to arsonists years ago, now there is a fire somewhere every 15 minutes, with tenders arriving from all directions.
Finally I mentioned at the top Sweden’s RHD to LHD conversion.
In September 1967 all Swedish traffic switched from driving on the left to the right-hand side of the road. The decision to move to the other side of the road was not taken lightly. In fact, the idea had repeatedly been voted down during the preceding decades. In 1955, a popular referendum showed that 83 percent of the Swedish population was opposed to the change.
Preparing the country for “högertrafikomläggningen” the change was a costly and complicated endeavour. Traffic lights had to be reversed, road signs changed, intersections redesigned, lines on the road repainted, buses modified, and bus stops moved. And so on the 3rd September 1967 at 5pm all the cars, vans and motorcycles switched sides. A day later all the coaches, buses, lorries and trucks followed suit…. 😉
Just a thought, I wonder how the Swedes coped with having the steering wheel on the wrong side?
Dave & Lesley