Kaliningrad 2004 - Day 5
May 3, 2004
The fifth and last day of our event starts. We go to Chernyakhovsk along the same line, which we ran through yesterday in the opposite direction. On the way, we stop in two former hubs - Gvardeysk (Tapiau) and Znamensk (Wehlau). In both we meet regular trains. From Chernyakhovsk (Insterburg), we continue to "Railroad City" Zheleznodorozhny (Gerdauen). This city probably should have been an important transfer station to Poland, but it may soon lose all railroad connection. Only one pair of passenger trains runs here. Originally, it was possible for standard-gauge trains to reach Chernyakhovsk. This connection has disappeared in recent years - an almost unused standard-gauge line ends on a dumpground of steam engines at Krasnovka (Birkenfeld). A network of connecting lines around Chernyakhovsk, which used to allow a direct passage from Kaliningrad to Zheleznodorozhny or a southern bypass of Chernyakhovsk, has also been abandoned. Shortly before Zheleznodorozhny, we have a short photo stop on a bridge over Masurian Canal. In a distance, we see an unfinished lock.
After coming back to Chernyakhovsk, we have about an hour and a half to tour the city. In the downtown, we find a half-ruined Teutonic castle, surprisingly open to the public. A small museum is hidden in one of the rooms. A guide-painter tells us, how he with other young people from the area organizes cultural events and tries to restore pre-war monuments. They have also noticed some remains of narrow-gauge railroads. Their task is not easy, but at least they are free to do it after fifty years of systematic devastation of everything German.
We carry on to the East, through Gusev (Gumbinnen) to the border station of Nesterov (Ebenrode). Originally, there was also a station in Chernyshevskoye (Eydtkau) directly on the border, but it was closed after the war. Why maintain a station, if everyone can get easily to Kybartai in Lithuania? Nowadays, they may have appreciated having it, but closing is always easier than building. We will therefore miss the last 10-km segment. Instead, we turn to the South, on a freight line to Krasnolesye (Hardteck). This part is very scenic. There are small hills and valleys spanned by bridges. We make two fotostops. There were several stations on this line, including a hub. This is all gone. We run slowly as the condition of the track is bad. In a heavy rain, we come to Krasnolesye as scheduled. We are surprised to see a train dispatcher working here, even though there is never more than one freight train a day (sometimes not even that). The main customer is the local quarry.
Who thinks that everything is now over and we will just simply leave back to Poland, that makes a mistake. Remember, we are in Russia. We are waiting for our bus, and in a few moments see three passenger cars coming. Soon we learn that border patrols did not let our bus to Russia and it waits for us on the other side. They will take us gradually by cars to the border. The Czech group is taken by an Armenian taxi driver from Karabakh. On the way, he tells us how he managed to escape from his country so that he does not have to fight in a civil war. Now he is very happy to be where he is.
In about an hour or two, all of us are on the border and wait what will happen. Pedestrians cannot cross this border - only vehicles. You can cross it on a bike, but not on foot. The bus still waits on the opposite side. What next? The organizer tells us, that "whatever will happen, do not laugh and do not take pictures". We soon learn why. Apart from vehicles, organized marching squares can also cross the border. Organizer asks us to stand in four and walk toward the border. A Russian officer counts us - there are exactly 40 of us - and we march under his leadership towards the customs house. Some less trained participants cannot keep the speed and the square gets somehow longer at the end, but nobody cares. At the customs house, it looks almost like at an airport. All of us have to put our baggages to an X-ray, put away all metal objects and walk through a security frame. Whoever made the alarm sound, he had to search the forgotten key or coin and walk again. After a passport check, we are free to leave Russia at 11:45 pm, 15 minutes before the expiry time of our visa. We have to make squares again - this time, by three - and again walk to the border under an officer's supervision. Polish patrol waits on the border line and has fun looking at us. A bus is taking us to a hotel. The next day in the morning, some of us take a charter bus to Suwa³ki and a narrow-gauge railroad in P³ociczno. This is the real end of an unforgettable five-day vacation in another world within Europe.
How to summarize the event? Pawel Plesniar again proved that he was among the best organizers of nostalgic trains in Poland. Kaliningrad Region is not very attractive for tourism, it is difficult to get there and even more to arrange a special program with a chartered train. All this worked perfectly. An individual tourist could not see so much in such a short time. He could not even get to some places at all. Congratulations to organizers, who managed to organize the program in such a flawless way.
Nobody, however, could influence the Russian environment this trip operated in. We did not mind "folclore" such as buses falling apart, potholes in roads, bouncing streetcars or a marching parade on the borders. Many of us even enjoyed this. What really bothered us was an almost Prussian order in some respects. In Czechia or Poland, for example, chartered trains make fotostops when and where organizer requests and can depart before schedule if there are no conflicting trains. In Russia, however, our train followed a pre-determined schedule to a minute. As a result, we had too few too long fotostops, some of which on unremarkable places. All requests for adjustments were strictly rejected by our Russian guide, who accompanied us all the trip. Was it the intention of KGB (or FSB, or perhaps other similar authorities) to prevent us from seeing something? Hard to say. It was perhaps rather a general respect of authorities and lack of experience of RZD with organizing such events. All future organizers should expect this - but I doubt anything can be done about it.
A five-day trip behind the new iron curtain, where the bureaucrats seem not to care about tourist, at an affordable price with a full service was worth it. If you are interested in railroad adventure in Poland and surrounding regions, take a look at the web site of PTMK¯ in the beginning of the year. You will find something for yourself.
Railroad curiosities (historical map):
Local lines used to branch from several stations on our route: Komsomolsk (Löwenhagen), Gvardeysk (Tapiau), Znamensk (Wehlau), Gusev (Gumbinnen), Nesterov (Ebenrode) and Chistye Prudy (Tollmingen). The biggest abandoned network was however around Chernyakhovsk - two lines to the south-east from pre-war times and several post-war connecting lines. Only parts of trackbeds are sometimes visible nowadays. The last archaeological curiosity we saw from a bus was a former narrow-gauge line Olecko (Treuburg) - Garbasy (Garbassen) in Poland, with many remains of bridges.
© Jan Peula, 2004