My mother and I on the first trip to Germany, September 1972
The journey of my dreams… dreamlife, for me there is a strong connection between the two. The journey of my dreams would always involve a train; and I can think of nothing better than being gently rocked to sleep on a train, nowhere are my dreams more vivid. And as my dreams transport me to other worlds, to parallel universes; my body is simultaneously transported through an ever-changing landscape.
As I’m writing this I am rushing north through an increasingly wintry landscape on board a train bound for the town where I was born. And as much as I always cherish this particular journey, it isn’t the one of my dreams. The most dreamlike of journeys is not one but a series of trips I did with my mother as a child to visit my grandmother in Germany. We made the journey from Falun to Bonn every summer from the year I turned three until I eventually begged to be left at home some ten years later. The journey took 24 hours and was infused not only with vivid dreams; but with magic, exhilaration, a little bit of fear and a generous pinch of stress.
The most magical time would be in evening, by which time we’d reached Helsingborg, in the south of Sweden. Here the train would board the ferry to take us across the strait to Denmark. My mother and I would sit in the darkened cabin by the window, eating the most delicious sandwiches I can ever remember tasting; made almost twelve hours earlier, the bread would be slightly stale, the cheese sweaty and the salami pungent. They were glorious. My mother would drink coffee and I would get a Pepsi as a special treat. And we would sit there, watching the train being shuttled back and forth, listening to the familiar yet alien shrieks of the wheels against the rails as car by car was slowly moved up onto the ferry. There was something so comforting about the sounds of the men shouting, and once we were on board, the sudden cold, white light of the ferry and its incessant droning.
We usually left the safety of our train cabin so my mother could do some duty-free shopping. When I was young this seemed a tremendous adventure, leaving me both terrified and exhilarated. Once we’d climbed down from the train we’d have to squeeze between the train cars and try to locate the door that lead to safety. There, in the bowels of this big white beast, everything was loud and harsh and I would desperately cling to my mother.
Some hours later there was another, longer ferry crossing from Rodby to Puttgarden, but by then we were both deep asleep and neither of us would notice. But sometimes I'd wake in the night as we stopped at a station somewhere, and embraced by a feeling of absolute safety and protection I would sleepily peek out from behind the curtain and watch as people hurried back and forth along the platform.
In the morning when we woke we’d be in Germany. The conductor would eventually arrive to fold away our beds, but by then I would have already been up for hours, crouching on my bed by the window watching the countryside rush past.
We always had to change trains at Hamburg Hauptbahnhof, an enormous, bustling station curiously devoid of lifts or escalators to help us get us from one platform to another. My mother, being a woman after my own heart, always packed too many bags which she then had to lug up and down the impossibly steep steps, whilst simultaneously trying to keep an eye on me at various ages and various stages of awareness and cooperation. Being a stylish lady she naturally insisted on wearing high heels. Once we were safely onboard again, she’d find the smoking compartment and calm her nerves with a well-deserved cigarette. A few hours later we’d arrive in Bonn, and even though this would be where the summer holiday began in earnest, I couldn’t help but feel that the best part was already behind us.