Can I cross Germany in a day for €3.27? #Germany24
Grüß Got! Willkommen sie in Deutschland und auch willkommen sie in Österreich. I'm standing here on the Fellhorn, right on the border of Germany and Austria. In fact, at this very moment, I've got one foot in either country.
Somewhere just to the south west, behind me, is Germany's most southern point, the Haldenwanger Eck. The borders around here are very odd. The valley just down to my left, the Kleinwalsertal Is in Austria.
But unless you're a packhorse or an energetic mountaineer, the only way you can reach it is by travelling through Germany. So what are we doing here? Well, we're by an extreme geographical point, so obviously it's the start of a challenge. Last month in May 2023, Germany launched the €49 Deutschlandticket. A ticket that, for €49 a month, will let you travel on any local train, pretty much any bus, tram, U-bahn, anywhere in Germany. Fantastic offer, fantastic bargain, follows on from the €9 ticket that they did as a cost of living crisis issue last year. So in the next 24 hours, we're going to go back down to that valley, go to the most southerly bus stop in Germany, and see if we can travel in one day, just using the modes we can use using a Deutschlandticket, from here to the most northerly point in Germany, far away, about 800 kilometres or more away on the North Sea.
But first, we need to find a way down off this mountain. At just €49 for a calendar month's worth of travel, the Deutschlandticket works out at about €1.63 per day. Now, I can't do this journey in one calendar day. The buses at either end don't run early or late enough for that to work, but I think I can do it in a 24 hours period starting at about 11:30 a.m.
So that's two days using the pass: €3.27. Except I found a retailer offering a €10 discount on your first month, so hopefully that's €2.60 for most of those nearly 900 kilometres.
One slight footnote to that, but we'll come to that in a moment. So here we are at Germany's most southerly bus stop, Alpe Eschbach, in the Stillachtal. There's a river, some cows, some pigs a dairy, and not a lot else. Here, among the flower-studded meadows, is the most stunning place to start this journey. And it's undoubtedly Germany's most southerly public transport stop. However, it's also slightly awkward.
The Deutschlandticket covers about 99% of buses, but there's a bit of leeway for local public transport authorities. If they say a bus is a purely touristic service, they can exclude it. And that's what the Allgäu says about the only bus to this stop, the number 7. And to be fair, it only runs in the winter skiing and summer hiking seasons. But that exclusion is rather tough cheese for the handful of people who live in the Stillachtal, unlike the succulent cheese their beautiful cows make. We'll have to pay €4.40 for this bus journey.
So if you're a geography purist, we start the challenge now. If you're a Deutschlandticket purist, avert your eyes from this glorious scenery until we reach Oberstdorf and the ticket kicks in. Obviously, Mrs Turtle and I need a guidebook for this journey, and I've come armed with a reliable tome: Karl Baedecker's 1936 Handbook to Germany for Railway Travellers and Motorists. I'm sure it'll prove very helpful once I've got past the bit talking at length about how Germany has eliminated fruitless parliamentarianism.
And here's our bus. To the North Sea! The 11:30 am bus swirls down this most southerly of German valleys. Counterpart bendy buses coming the other way are filled to the brim with seekers of the Alpine fastness, where all but residents' cars are banned.
This is a mountain playground par excellence. We pass ski jumps, nordic walking centres and mountain rescue helipads. And in just 20 minutes, we're pulling up at Oberstdorf's bus station. Oberstdorf is a pleasant, outdoors-y, chalet-y sort of town, "the southernmost market town in the German empire," Baedecker tells me. "A popular summer and winter sports resort." That at least hasn't changed.
Today you can buy both a Tyrolean felt hat that a 1936 traveller would be very familiar with, or a carbon fibre walking pole. We've 20 minutes or so here and we need to head for the station. Inevitably the southernmost outpost of the German network, this is the end of a straggling branchline into the Alps, mainly served by red Deutsche Bahn regional trains, but a couple of times a day, a long Intercity ventures down this rural line to bring seekers of fresh Alpine air from the miasmas of Berlin or Hamburg. It's a smart new station befitting this sparkling town, complete with a cheese shop and a branch of Woolworths. Or is that Vulvurths? I don't know. And our first train is here, the 12:20 Regional Express, heading for distant Munich.
From here on in, the Deutschlandticket is unquestionably valid. And as we're on a speed challenge, most of the journey will inevitably be by train, primarily Regional Express services, rather than the all-station Regionalbahns. And it's on the rails that the risk to this challenge lies.
If they delivered what they promised, German railways woud be among the world's best. A dense, frequent network with well-co-ordinated modern trains. Alas, the reality is somewhat different. The network, suffering from decades of underinvestment, is plagued with chronic delays, a source of some national angst as it slips further from the Teutonic timekeeping stereotype the world holds. €45 billion is being spent to fix the infrastructure over the next five years, but that in turn means further unreliability thanks to short-notice engineering works. The good news for Deutschlandticket travellers like me is that it's long distance trains that we are banned from that have by far the worst reliability stats.
Regional services are somewhat better, but we're definitely spinning the roulette wheel today. We're nearly five minutes late leaving Oberstdorf: the train arriving off the single line has been delayed due to a speed restriction. Nothing much, but up the line at Buchloe we have the shortest connection of the journey, just three minutes, but it's marked in the timetable, the Kursbuch, as a formal connection, in italics.
So they'll hold it a bit for us. Right? Right?? We'll worry about that connection later. For now, the low speeds of this branch give plenty of time to enjoy the lush landscapes of the Illertal. My Baedecker tells me that Sonthoffen is home to a National Socialist school, the Ordensburg, for the training of political leaders. I spent the evening here yesterday on my way south: it seems a more salubious spot these days, thankfully. Before too long, we reach Immenstad, a hub of the diesel network in this corner of Bavaria. Baedecker suggests that winter sport devotees lodge in one of the 50 beds
in the Hotel Hirsch, which is "well spoken of". We are due to lodge here for a few minutes too, in order for a train from Lindau down on the tri-nation Bodensee to couple up to us. A chance make up some time? Except, of course, the train from Lindau is a bit late, too.
Eventually it makes its leisurely appearance and smoothly couples up for the rest of the journey towards the Bavarian capital. Rain, then sun. Forest, then meadow. Village, then lake, as we twist through the Allgäu highlands. We're four units coupled together now. These little diesel trains tilt and tilt quite ferociously, which is great when they're trying to make up minutes on a line as sinuous as this.
We're scooting along in a very purposeful fashion, but the delay is hovering at around four minutes. The Deutsche Bahn app is sticking non-committally with "connecting train may not be caught". As we approach Buchloe, it changes its mind. "Connecting train cannot wait", says the alert.
But as we slide gently into platform 2 at Buchloe, there's an appropriate looking train across the island platform. This is worth a run for it. Made it! To be strictly honest, it wasn't game over if I missed this train. But every broken connection bites into my buffer time and puts crucial connections many miles further north in jeopardy. It's gone very flat now, and it's a short, non-stop sprint to Augsburg, where we arrive as the guard announces proudly 'pünktlich', passing long lines of railroaded Bavarian forests awaiting transportation to their final fate. Augsburg, capital of Swabia is a city where, according to Baedecker, the old walls and towers testifies the glory of golden Augsburg's past.
We've not got time to see any of that. Or maybe we do. We arrive punctually, but our next train is already on the boards as 15 minutes late and ticking upwards, as a procession of other trains clatter past on Bavaria's principal east-west mainline. That's not my train. It's too freighty. Eventually, 20 minutes adrift, our next train north wanders in. It's a nice shade of navy blue because on Germany's regional networks, localised contracting-out has long since seen the red of Deutsche Bahn intermingled with a myriad of other liveries.
This is the territory of Go-ahead Bayern, which is obviously the Go-ahead Bus Company based in Newcastle, who now runs trains in Germany. Not to be confused with the Arriva bus Company based in Sunderland, who were bought by Deutsche Bahn and run trains in Britain and Denmark, because that's how European public transport rolls these days. It's quickly clear why it's late.
It's absolutely packed. It's mid Friday afternoon, a busy travel time anyway, but the Deutschlandticket is having a perhaps unintended consequence. Long-haul regional trains are suddenly a tempting bargain alternative to Intercity Expresses.
This train is doing the best part of 300km from Munich to Würzburg, and will take a long time doing it. But when it's included in your Deutschlandticket, that's still tempting. Problem is, it's only a three-coach train (another three coaches will split off at Donauwörth to meander west to Aalen), which wasn't designed for these loads. With just three doors, loading and unloading the crowds takes ages at each stop and the delay racks up.
You told me that before in Buchloe Deutsche Bahn, and you were wrong. This time, however, I think you might be right. The five minute connection at Treuchtlingen is pretty unlikely to wait for our 25-minute late train. Time for some quick replanning and as after half an hour, I've now got a seat - nay, a window seat - staying on the Go-ahead sardine express to Würzburg isn't the end of the world. North of Donauwörth, three coaches lighter, we climb out of the Danube Valley and at Muhr am See, release a few heavily loaded families off for a weekend camping in the Franconian Lake District.
Things start to look a bit more business-like as we charge across the inland reed beds, but then come to an Adlestropian halt at Triesdorf. The grasses wave, freight trains race past. The conductor, conspicuous in her absence until now, engages in a lengthy argument with a passenger about their bike. Ominous announcements are made about waiting for the Polizei to come and resolve things. Then the doors beep, the sardines sigh with relief, and we're off again, climbing into the 500 metre heights of the Hoher Steig to Ansbach, to Steinach, to Ochsenfurt and Goßmannsdorf. I'm pretty happy to be off that overloaded train, and judging by the crowds immediately forming around the scarce doors, its return journey will be just as bad.
Mrs Turtle is also delighted to be free at last from the hot luggage rack and is seriously considering a dip in the station forecourt fountain. Würzburg, once the home of powerful Prince Bishops, sits on the Main, one of the main tributuries of the Rhine. We're in the North Sea drainage basin and making progress! The smart railway station belies a brief bloody passage here in 1919 when the Bavarian Army crushed the couple- of-days-old Würzburg Soviet, killing around 20 in the battle for the Bahnhof. I've always loved that despite being the station for a major city, Würzburg Hauptbahnhof's backdrop is all hillside vineyards. Baedecker assures me that in this town I can purchase wine from the cask at many baker's shops. Alas, this no longer seems to be the case at the station bakery.
Our next train also refreshes the spirits. We're back on bustling, but far from packed diesel tilting trains, and ahead of us are a couple of hours of twisting backwoods lines through mysterious, remote Mitteleuropa and, crucially, there's space for our picnic dinner of mountain cheese and pretzels. The rejigged timetable is working out nicely right now. Things start out flat out of Würzburg, and in self parodying German agriculture, we hum past endless fields of cabbages. Then at Schweinfurt, the train reverses and we begin to climb.
The train halts briefly at the little junction of Ebenhausen to drop off the rear two coaches which will climb the short, steep branch to Bad Kissingen, a spa which in 1936 was popular enough to have through coaches from Berlin. The waters, according to Baedecker, are prescribed for diseases of the heart, dyspepsia, women's complaints, etc. Beyond Bad Neustadt an der Saale ('aerated salt springs' says Baedecker) the hills and woods encroach.
More astonishingly, we're nearly 8 hours in, and only now are we about to cross from our first Land to the second, or more accurately, from the Free State of Bayern to the Land of Thuringia. Bavaria is big. For more than four decades last century, this was more than an administrative boundary. Bavaria and Thuringia were either sides of the inner German border the deutsch-deutsche Grenze. In fact, most communication links were severed when the barbed wire went up, and only a handful of railway crossings survived through heavily-policed border stations.
Unsurprisingly, this minor single track railway was not one. So it was not until 1991 that trains linked Schweinfurt and Erfurt again. The remains of the border itself are long disappeared, somewhere in this undergrowth. The level of greenery is not uncoincidental. The exclusion zone on the DDR side and the emptying of villages within it created an unintentional nature corridor behind the border, which has been largely preserved even if the fortifications were swept away. In the time before the Weimar Republic united Germany's railways under the eagle logo of the Reichsbahn, Rentwertshausen was where trains swapped locomotives from those of the railways of the Kingdom of Bavaria to those of the Thuringian railways.
Then, post-war, it was where East German trains terminated at the end of what had become an enforced dead-end branch. Now we just slow briefly at its wheaten platforms in the evening light. Deep in the Brothers-Grimm-esque Thuringian forests is the rude awakening of Suhl - 'famous for centuries for the manufacture of rifles' says my guidebook. More recently, it was the DDR district capital and is still marked by the architectural additions that went with that status. Beyond, back into the dark woods, we climb hard, diesel engines complaining beneath my feet to the halt at Oberhof, then plunge into the three kilometre long Brandleite tunnel under the Thuringerwald ridge line. Back in the daylight beyond, we freewheel down through Plaue and Arnstadt into the basin of the Elbe.
The bleak junction station of Neudietendorf is about as far east as we get on this journey. It's drizzly, and the station subway smells of what subways at understaffed stations always smell of. But we've arrived spot on time, meaning we'll easily make the eight minute connection here onto the Göttingen train. From being almost half an hour down at Treuchtlingen, we've clawed back enough time to be almost an hour ahead of schedule.
Another journey leg, another tilting diesel train meandering cross country. We're soon at Gotha, which, depending on your politics, is either famous for the Almanach de Gotha, the Yellow Pages of European nobility, or for the 1875 Gotha programme of the German Social Democratic Party, adopted here and ferociously critiqued by Marx for its revisionism, although, alternatively, it's famous for neither. This evening's claim to fame is that in the course of reversing here, we detach the front or rear, (depending on perspective) two carriages, and we're now a very full two coach train as we turn north to Göttingen. I'm being very reticent about filming on the fuller trains, as I'm well aware of German sensibilities about privacy - coming, perhaps from having experienced two highly intrusive, authoritarian regimes in just about living memory. It's been said the average German would rather have their private parts in full view on the beach than have any of their private data exposed to public view, even the front of their house. Which is why the Google Streetview map of Germany famously looks like this.
Eventually, I'm back in a window seat as we swing westward to tilt along the Leine Valley to Heilbad Heiligenstadt. This town was never content with just being called 'Holy City' (Heiligenstadt), and was determined to obtain spa status. Many outsiders questioned whether there was any geological or health basis to those claims. In the end, Heiligenstadt just took advantage of the general post reunification chaos in these borderlands, unilaterally prefixed themselves with Heilbad and dared anyone to challenge it.
They didn't. Beyond Heiligenstadt, sorry, Heilbad Heiligenstadt, the train re-crosses the former Iron Curtain. Even though this is a much more major double-track electrified east-west artery, this was also sliced in two by the inner German border and the cross-border couple of miles between Arenshausen and Eichenberg only reopened in 1989.
Now goats graze on the former grenze. As we cut through a corner of Hessen, we're rewarded with a fantastic sunset, with extra minutes to view it as the signaller put a slow freight in front of us at Eichenberg. No worries. Right now things are quite relaxed. Arriving at Göttingen just before 10p.m., I could just leap across the platform for the next connection north, but the Deutsche Bahn app is warning me of a cancellation further up the line that would leave me hanging at a minor station for 90 minutes in the small hours. So I'm going to play my joker, use the one hour buffer we've built up, and hop on a bus for a couple of stops into the heart of this handsome old university town.
Göttingen is a lovely old town, relatively unscathed by bombing, with one of the country's largest universities. Baedecker reminds me the university was founded by King George II of England an Elector of Hanover, and that Coleridge, Longfellow and various friends of Bismarck counted it as their alma mater. I love the girl with a goose fountain, where students are carried on graduation day to kiss the girl. Not the goose. Kissing either goose or girl is strictly verboten, but, well, students.
However, it's a Friday evening in a big university town. Where on earth is everyone? Aha, they're all at the International Beer Festival down by the defensive canal and medieval bridge. Well, it'd be rude not to join them, especially as Mrs Turtle has offered to help with a half litre of Croatian dark beer. Sorry, brewers of Germany, it was that or a Spanish lager. Our double-deck yellow chariot into the early hours of the morning is drawn up waiting for us at Göttingen.
Metronom is a partially regional government owned, partially private company running a couple of routes in Lower Saxony, and their mood-lit upper deck, is about as restful an experience as a Deutschlandticket traveller is going to get for an overnight journey. This train and the next are the vital ingredients in making this challenge work, and they run only on Friday nights. I'd expected the 11:11pm to be a bit of a party train, but barring a few sodcasting teenagers who alight two stops down the line, it's very, very quiet. Maybe too quiet. The train seems to think it's coming up to midnight on Halloween 20 years ago, and I think that's how a bad horror movie starts. Blood Train. Tracks of Terror, Walpurgisnacht Express.
Despite the risk of terror, we safely cross the witching hour and arrive eleven stops down the line at Hannover. We pause for breath for 15 minutes at this major city and junction, and I go in search of hydration from any passing vending machine. According to Karl Baedecker, the principal manufacturies of Hannover include ledgers, biscuits and rubber goods. Everything you need to kit out an office can be sourced from this Lower Saxon town.
There's a station name on the timetable for this line, which resonates in all the wrong ways. At 01:15, we pull up at Eschede where, 25 years ago this month, Germany's worst postwar rail accident took place, killing 101 people when an ICE derailed and slammed into an overbridge. So etched is this tragedy into the psyche of the German railways that the main trade union, considering dates for a strike earlier this month, immediately and publicly ruled out industrial action on the anniversary. Twenty minutes further on, halfway across the high plain between Hannover and Hamburg, our train terminates at the little Niedersachsen town of Uelzen. On Saturday nights there's a workable connection here with a half hour wait until another Metronom train appears from the depot to take us onto Hamburg.
The first surprise at Uelzen is how many of us are making this connection: a good 40 or so passengers decanted onto the Uelzen platform. And not partygoers from the fleshpots of Hanover, but proper travellers. Once again, I'm surmising the Deutschlandticket is causing some interesting travel choices. The other surprise at Uelzen station is it could easily be plonked down in Barcelona and not look out of place, Thanks to a millennial remodelling by celebrity Viennese architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser it's a riot of multicoloured pillars, random towers and wavy mosaics. It is apparently one of Uelzen's biggest tourist attractions, so I'm delighted to get to do some 2am sightseeing.
Because we're all cheap-skate Deutschlandticket travellers, the entire platform full of Hamburg-bound travellers pretends not to notice the ICE which pulls up opposite, unaccountably making an early hours stop in this little town on its way from Switzerland to Hamburg. Never mind. A nice, fresh Metronom double-decker has put in an appearance and we're off towards the Elbe estuary. We put in a short stop at Lüneburg, once a Hanseatic town whose salt kept the Baltic herring trade functioning, and where just outside town on the Lüneburger Heide, the first signing of the instrument of surrender took place in Montgomery's tent in 1945. Then onto the Hamburg periphery, where huge marshalling yards hold the fruits of those German car manufacturers, lined up on trains ready for delivery across the continent.
i adore the vast steampunk train shed of Hamburg Hauptbahnhof. Like many of Europe's great stations, it's a bit younger than you might think, built in 1906 to amalgamate services from four smaller termini. And again, like many other great stations, there was political influence in the design. Kaiser Wilhelm II insisted on the removal of many of the Paris-inspired Art Nouveau elements and their replacement with more militaristic Neo Renaissance styles.
As befits Germany's busiest railway station and Europe's second busiest, even at 3:30 in the morning, it's bustling with people and trains. Most crucially, that means there's a stall open selling a huge variety of local pastry speciality Franzbrötchen. The name is allegedly due to their being inspired by French pastries - sorry, Kaiser Bill - but this is a very Teutonic response to a croissant. I grab a plum variety for breakfast number one. It's very hard to tell when dinner ends and breakfast starts on these journeys.
For our next train, we're back with Deutsche Bahn and their reassuring red livery. Oh, I think that's desperate pressing of a fully graffited coach into service, not a new funky paint job for Schleswig Holstein. Departure from Hamburg, in what I'm pretty certain is the wrong direction leads to some hurried consultation of the rail atlas for reassurance. it turns out there's a single track freight line that loops right around the north of the city, which we will be enjoying as a diversionary route in the pre-dawn. Freight line + single track + diversion all equals a pretty slow affair.
We get a gentle tour of the docks, some prolonged stops, and lots of S-bahn trains overtaking us. It's no great surprise when the Deutsche Bahn app starts counting up our delays. Eventually, the long, cautious looping of Hamburg comes to an end and we're back on the main line north, racing over the flatlands towards the misty dawn.
I may be imagining it, but the approach to Scandinavia seems to mean everyone's getting taller, or at least nearly everyone's hitting their head on the low luggage racks in the upstairs saloon. Of course, if your answer to the Schleswig Holstein question is different to the one generally settled upon, we might already be in Scandinavia. Kiel Hauptbahnhof is the first time we've been at a dead end terminal station since Oberstdorf. And there's a good reason for that: we're at the sea. I mean, it's the wrong sea. We're heading for the North Sea and Kiel is on the Baltic.
But that's got to mean progress, right? Kiel is, in fact, only sort of on the sea. It's at the head of the Kieler Förde. Yes, that is German for 'fjord'. But as a sheltered harbour, it's long been hugely important to Germany, commercially and militarily.
In my mind, it's inextricably linked with the 1919 High Seas Fleet mutiny here, which sparked the revolution and the end of the Kaisers. Oddly, that gets no mention in my 1936 Baedecker, despite its very strong views on Versailles. I guess it's too complex a narrative for a publication of that era. Anyway, the sun is breaking through the fog and it's a gorgeous morning on the dockside. Today marks the first day of Kiel Week, Germany's biggest sailing regatta and one of the biggest cultural events in the national calendar. They even change the railway timetables for it.
Judging by the business of the street cleaners, the celebrations started early and there is a slightly hungover air to the town this morning. The next train feels a bit forgotten, lurking out on the furthest platform in Kiel, a humble two car local train that will dog-leg us across the peninsula. We're a small band of early morning travellers in this noisy, slightly vintage railcar, though that doesn't stop two passengers getting into a wordless battle over whether the window should be open or shut. I think the pro-open window guy may have had the aforementioned hangover. No sooner have we left the outskirts of Kiel behind than the fog is down again, like a slightly ragged curtain. In the curtailed foreground, the undulating fields of wheat rise and fall in gentle waves.
Unfortunately, the fog means we get little of the impact of crossing the Rendsburg High Bridge. Somewhere 68 metres below us is the town of Rendsburg and, crucially, the Kiel Ship Canal, which links the Baltic and the North Sea. The bridge was built in 1911 when the Imperial Navy realised their strategic military canal shouldn't have a series of railway swing bridges where ships had to give way to trains, so the railways were stuck high up in the air instead, in Rendsburg's case with a gondola hanging off the underside for cars and pedestrians.
To get back down to Rendsburg station at the northern end, trains describe a huge spiral passing back under the high bridge. But today is not the day for much of a view of such engineering feats, alas. We pass through the old county town of Schleswig in a pocket of sunshine. Schleswig's name may live on in its region's title, but it's long since been eclipsed by greater cities.
Then at Jubek, we swing off the main line to Denmark and begin a single track sprint across almost the whole width of the Schleswig Holstein Peninsula through hare-haunted pastures and rich arable fields, the fog's thickness changing at every hedgerow, the train hooting lonelily at ungated level crossings. it's an easy and punctual cross-platform connection at the little junction of Husum. 'Der echte Norden', it says on the side of my next and final train, 'the true north'.
I think Denmark might have something to say about Schleswig Holstein's appropriation of that title. Nevertheless, we are clearly in something of a land apart. The station names are now announced bilingually in German and North Frisian. North Frisian is a language that has 10,000 speakers and ten dialects, which seems well supplied. The most fascinating thing about this train, however, is we're headed to an island - and no train ferries are required. On this coastline, the geographical deductions are easy.
You can see immediately where the old east coast was, where the sea broke through and flooded the land behind to create the shallow Wattenmeer and a line of residual islands. The largest and most popular of these is Sylt, where we are headed. Baedecker describes the main town of Westerland as 'a much frequented seaside resort', and a decade earlier, in 1927, the Hindenburgdamm causeway had been built to link it to the mainland.
Then and now, it only carries the railway. All vehicles headed for Sylt have to be loaded onto car-carrying trains at the mainland town of Niebüll and hauled across the causeway. Sylt is as close as Germany gets to its own Riviera and the class of passenger on our train goes up a few notches at Niebüll, plenty who look deeply unfamiliar with using public transport and spend a lot of time brushing the seats. Maybe the Deutschlandticket will convert them.
it's ten minutes or so to cross the seven mile long Hindenburgdamm, including a halt at the loop in the middle to let a long car train off the island. On a day like today, with the tide out in this shallowest of seas, it's hard to distinguish between muddy water, mud flat and salt marsh. It's an otherworldly place, and that doesn't really stop as we reach Sylt and cross the island in what feels like a bit of a time warp. Station names still in Gothic script and semaphore signals still controlling train movements. But soon enough we're at the end of the line, if not of our journey. Westerland's buffer stops are the northern extremity of the German rail network, but the Deutschlandticket will take us a little bit further still.
The larger than life statues that greet you out front of Westerland station suggest Sylt is literally leaning into its reputation as a windy resort. Baedecker reports that 'the sea breeze is usually strong and the waves high'. It also tells me I can take a light railway north. Alas, that option ended in 1970, so instead we're hopping on the number 1 bendy bus from the old post office, picking our way out of Westerland. For the benefit of anthropologists, we pass several examples of the German Saturday morning holiday routine of queuing at the bakery. Then we're speeding along through Kampen and on towards List, through a landscape that is astonishing even in this mist.
Every heath and garden sprinkled with the bright pink Sylt roses or Kartoffelrosen, every house, bus shelter or building thatched with the dense scrub of the island for want of local tiling materials. Along the inland coast, beside the barely-there Wattenmeer, and into Sylt's famous sand dunes, like miniature mountain ranges. For a short local bus ride, this is quite a journey. List may be Germany's most northerly town, but we're still not quite at journey's end. This is one of the few places in Germany where you're north of parts of Denmark, and frankly, List still seems to have a few doubts as to which country it's in.
It only became Prussian after the German-Danish war of 1864. Its allegiance to Germany had to be confirmed by plebiscite. And of the two kindergartens operating in town today, one is Danish-speaking. The ferry sailing across to the Danish island of Rømø, just to the north, seems as important as any transport lin south. List was heavily fortified by the Nazis thanks to its strategic location, and was later used as a training base for early Lufthansa pilots. Today it lives off tourism, a ghost of a fishing industry and commercial oyster farming.
It's coming up to 10am and we're back at List's thatched bus terminus for the first number 5 of the day and our final bus. The number 5 is a Strandverkehr, the beach bus, a one-way circuit running only from spring to autumn. It's pretty clearly a tourist service, but luckily, unlike their counterparts in the Allgäu, Syltbus has no qualms about accepting a Deutschlandticket on it. Out of List, this is as remote and wild a landscape as where we started this journey. Just the dunes, the heathland, the sea hidden by the fog and some sheep who rightly see the road as their own. And ten minutes from List and 22 hours, 38 minutes from Alpe Eschbach, the number 5 deposits us at Weststrand, Germany's most northerly bus stop.
The end of a journey of 866 kilometres as the crow flies, or 1330 kilometres as we actually travelled, all bar the very first bus using the Deutschlandticket. And as the bus disappears off into the mist, it's time to go and climb a sand dune. Guten Morgen! Welcome to the Ellenbogenberg, a huge moving sand dune here on the North Sea coast of the island of Sylt.
Just below us, Weststrand bus stop, the most northerly public transport stop in Germany, where we arrived 23 hours and 28 minutes all the way from Alpe Eschbach, the most southerly stop down in the Allgäu Alps, using only the Deutschlandticket. Been a fantastic journey, pretty much worked as expected. I had to make one change en route to the original plan, but given the reputation of Deutsche Bahn at the moment, I don't think that's bad at all. It's a fantastic spot. There's cuckoos.
A rather angry cuckoo, in fact. There's sheep, there's beautiful flowers, the silver sand. And there's an off chance that the mist is going to lift soon. So thank you so much for coming along.
I hope you enjoyed the journey as much as I did. Goodbye from me and goodbye from Mrs Turtle.