Flooding in the Elbe Valley west of Berlin has affected the Wawel in recent weeks. In a new timetable that takes effect today, the train runs only between Berlin and Wroclaw. Deutsche Bahn say that this is an interim timetable, valid only until 19 July 2013. We shall see what happens then.
In Europe by Rail, we described the Eurocity 248 / 249 trains as plying Europe’s “least-loved rail route.” This train pair has historically linked Hamburg with Kraków, and it is this latter city which gives unto these train services the name Wawel.
The Wawel is an impressive aspect of Kraków topography. It is no great mountain, but this hill on the north bank of the River Vistula figures mightily in Polish history. This modest limestone outcrop is home to the Royal Castle and Wawel Cathedral. The hill was until 1611 the seat of the Polish monarchy.
For many years, the Wawel Eurocity service has given a daily link along the following route: Hamburg — Lüneburg — Berlin — Wroclaw — Kraków. This is a train that dawdles. The current timetable allows more than five hours between Berlin and Wroclaw. Cast back 100 years, and the train journey between the two cities took just four hours. In those days, Wroclaw was more familiarly known by its German name of Breslau. On the eve of the Second World War, trains dashed from Berlin to Breslau in just three hours.
In recent months, the train route has been topped and tailed. In December 2012, the eastern end of the route was lopped off, so that the service merely ran between Hamburg and Wroclaw. Passengers bound for Kraków must now change at Wroclaw for an onward connection. Yet the train still retains the name Wawel, a ghostly echo of a route that once was.
Last month, the Hamburg extremity was lopped off. Since early March the service has started in Lüneburg, just running from there to Wroclaw via Berlin. The word is that this curtailment is just for a few months due to engineering work on the stretch from Hamburg to Lüneburg.
Are the days of this train now numbered? We think they might be, for the Deutsche Bahn today announced a new express bus service which from later this month will ply the route Berlin — Wroclaw — Kraków. The new service will run daily in each direction, with a travel time of just over eight hours from Berlin to Kraków. Deutsche Bahn say that the bus journey between Berlin and Wroclaw will be faster than the train.
Tucked away in this tale is a indication of how things at Deutsche Bahn are changing. Perhaps the Inter City bus (rather than the train) is the brand of the future. IC Bus could catch on — even in Germany. Indeed, yesterday Deutsche Bahn launched its first IC Bus route in the domestic market: a service linking Freiburg im Breisgau with Munich.
You can read an account of a journey I made on the Wawel from Berlin to Wroclaw in November 2011 here (it was published as part of hidden europe’s “Letter from Europe” series). At that time the route from Berlin to Wroclaw was via Zielona Góra and the journey took a very leisurely six and a half hours.