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   The Myth | Chronology | Belle Époque | World War I | Art Deco | World War II | Decline | The End | Nostalgic Orient Expresses | Travels - - Reisen |
   Orient-Express adieu...

T h e   M y t h

Paris-Carlsbad-Express, a section of the Orient-Express, DR Pacific 18 442, Bavarian class S3/6, CIWL van and diner Stuttgart - Prague and the rare wooden S type sleepers from Paris, Calais and Oostende, near Schnabelwaid, Bavaria, 1927 (Ernst Koeditz)

" On rencontrait dans les couloirs de l'Express une race qui disparaissait avec Abd ul-Hamid, vieux seigneurs osmanlis ou ottomans (mortellement offenses si vous les appeliez des Turcs), pachas a fez, vetus de la longue redingote nommee stambouline ; ils enfermaient leurs epouses voilees dans le compartiment, ou le controleur n'avait pas acces ; des nuees d'agents secrets les entouraient ; ils avaient amene avec eux leur cafedji bachis, qui leur preparaient le cafe, tant ils redoutaient, meme en voyage, quelque " mauvais cafe " envoye par le nouveau gouvernement. "

Paul Morand
"Le voyage"

Orient-Express dining-car c.1883 (contemporary press)

Nostalgie Istanbul Orient Express Stuttgart - Istanbul, Salzburg,
Oct.10, 1977 (WS)

Nostalgie Istanbul Orient Express Pullman, Gala-Diner (WS)

"Orient-Express" - that means the most famous label being of value to railway entrepreneurs, novel writers, movie makers and attorneys fighting for it, while the names of the other Grand European Expresses are forgotten. The Orient-Express however was not always a certain train, it was a multitude of very different expresses.

The original Orient-Express was the first express crossing half a dozen countries and the first train connecting Europe with Istanbul, then known as Constantinople. And it was Europe's first de-Luxe of an all-sleeper train network created by the Belgian Georges Nagelmackers, the European visionary, and his Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits et des Grands Express Europeens. It resulted from the imperialists' desire for a connection with the Osman empire, which they wanted to share up between themselves. As a private enterprise, the Orient-Express must have been a de-Luxe with high fares - rendered possible only by the underpaid working class of that epoch. A test run Paris - Vienna was undertaken in 1882 by the Train Eclair, in German "Blitzzug". In June 1883 started the scheduled services from Paris to Giurgiu in Romania, where the passengers had to change to a Danube ferry, then to a simple train Ruse - Varna and finally to an Austrian Lloyd steamer. The de-Luxe in France was called Express d' Orient, in Germany it was known also as Orient-Blitzzug, but soon it became the famous Orient-Express. Every historic detail has been written down in books and railway magazines and the tabloids continuously are inventing crazy Orient Express stories, from Tsar Ferdinand to King Leopold, from Josephine Baker to King Carol…

Most stories are not true, and the classic Orient-Express has not been as luxurious as suggested. Like the other European expresses its cabins had not even been equipped with en-suite toilets. And the sumptuous "Pullman" day saloons of the twenties, now being the highlights of the nostalgic trains, by some reports praised as the original Orient-Express cars, generally did not run on old Orient Expresses! But the ancient Wagons-Lits, the wooden ones, had its "cachet de yacht de-Luxe" and the all-steel ones, dark blue, nearly black from smoke, showed the majesty of old battleships, guarded by French officers (the Wagons-Lits conductors' look). Sometimes even the kings attached their own royal saloons to an Orient-Express.

The solid menus aboard the de-Luxe trains, always strictly French, were superb and even after World War II the Wagons-Lits diners offered "haute cuisine". The Nostalgic Istanbul Orient Express revived the tradition:
Consommé Xavier
Salmon en Bellevue
Cuissot de Veau "Ecarlate"
Asperges a l' italienne
Souffle " Alaska "
Corbeille de Fruits
This had been a menue by CIWL maestro Falciola.

After lunch or dinner the guests leaved immediately and went silently to their cabins, that's reported at least from the time between the wars, when mostly officials were the few passengers of the de-Luxe trains. No much stuff for "sleeping stories"…

Cosmopolitan were the grand expresses still at the end of the forties and in the fifties, initially with the de-Luxe label, but now including a multitude of coaches from many countries. Though the Orient-Express at that time was already a modest train for everybody, Brigitte Bardod and ex-Empress Soraya used it when they traveled from Paris to Munich. During the own boyhood, the Alberg-Orient-Express in neighbouring Tyrol was the sensation: sixteen or more cars, Wagons-Lits, French, Swiss, Austrian coaches, some rare ones from Czechia or Hungary, the Art-deco type from Northern France and, never seen before, a blue/white Pullman of CIWL. East of Linz it was still steam-hauled, by the huge black 214s, with its malicious staccato and blowing safety-valves thundering through the small stations, roaring into the Eastern night, towards Vienna, Budapest, Bucharest.

What fantastic locomotives hauled the Orient-Expresses! During the first quarter of the century there were the beautiful Maffei S3/6 and the unique S2/6 in Royal Bavaria, designed by Anton Hammel, Leppla and von Biber. A Niagara was their dream, never really designed and therefore there are no authentical drawings (as the competent Bavarian locomotive historian J.B. Krowawitter had confirmed). Or let's think of Goeldsdorf's 310, a 2-6-4 in old Austria, the Hungarian 203 class Atlantic, the sole Pacific number 21, built in Belgium for the Bulgaria of Tzar Ferdinand, who was an enthusiastic locomotive driver… or the huge Mountains of the SNCF, the 241A ex-Est on the Orient and the 241P on the Arlberg-Orient-Express after World War II, the Czech Mountains 498.0 and 498.1 double-heading the Balt-Orient (which in Hungary was hauled by two 4-4-4 tank engines, streamlined in German 05 style), or the Austrain 2-8-4 type 214 (or 12), the similar Romanian 142, three big engines, a 142 or 151 and 150 thundering uphill the Carpathian mountains (the Arberg-Orient-Express was hauled by the DF241, a huge pre-war diesel), or the nice Italian Pacifics 691 and the strange Franco-Crosti 683 with the Simplon-Orient-Express, or the Greek Mi alpha, an immense Italian-built 2-10-2, filling the narrow tunnels with its nearly 200 tons of iron and its black oil smoke, while storming southward through Greece with the Simplon-Orient and the Tauern-Express. There were no projects, but obviously dreams, even of a Niagara for the line facing Mount Olympus and the Parnass.

Gone have the days of steam and of the grand expresses. No regular trains are connecting France with Hungary and Germany with Istanbul, not a single train from Western Europe has its arrival at Athens. Mikis Theodorakis' sentimental song "The train leaves at eight" is only a remembrance of the past. Eight o'clock in the evening was the departure time of the migrant workers' trains from Athens to "Europe", as the Greek used to say, the Direct-Orient, still known as the "Simplon", then the notorious Hellas-Express. The myth survived exclusively by the nostalgic de-Luxe specials.

Athenes-Express/ Direct-Orient Athens - Paris, Nish, Serbia, April 1971 (WS)

Migrant workers' special Germany - Greece, Munich 1971 (WS)

Express Istanbul - Athens shunted by a 2-10-0 type Lambda-gamma, Pireas 1971 (WS)

by the author in German, the only Orient Express books including complete formations, locomotive and CIWL car lists, covering the trains' history of the Southeast of Europe:
Orient-Express, Alba Publikation 1974, 76, 83; rororo Rowohlt, Reinbek 1980 (sold out);
Orient-Express, Alba Publikation 1998 (updated new edition);
Orient-Express im Bild, Bufe-Fachbuch-Verlag, Egglham 1985 (sold out).

The books are placed in the libraries:
Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Munich.
The British Museum, Central Library, London.
DB-Museum, Nurnberg
Deutsches Museum, Munich
Israel Railway Museum, Haifa
Musée Francais du Chemin de Fer, Mulhouse
Museum für Verkehr und Techik, Berlin
National Railway Museum, York, UK
Wien Museum, Vienna.

The extensive collection of original photographs and documents will be for sale. Pictures for a book about romantic travels in the past are kept by the author (cooperation welcome).

For more information about the various Orient Expresses read Orient-Express Glanzzeit, Niedergang und Wiedergeburt eines Luxuszuges, Alba Publikation Alf Teloeken GmbH, Duesseldorf,

© 2007, Germany