Early Memories of Train Rides

Early Memories of Train Rides

By Roger Heid


Here are some early memories and impressions of riding on trains during my childhood. The location is in West Germany, right after the end of WWII. Naturally, some of these episodes are fragmented, split up in more than one particular train ride.  All of this would have been in 1946 and 1947. The images shown in this blog I was not at all unfamiliar with, even though I did not know what to make out of all this, at the time.


At first, to me, all of that rubble seemed to be the normal state of affairs, but later on I had my doubts about the correctness and validity of it all. Well, let me not go into certain prevalent issues of the time. Let me try to tell it the way I experienced it from a child’s point of view, trying to avoid any political innuendos. This was during the beginning of Era III.


On a cold day, my Mom and I got on board of a passenger train. I cannot recall from where to where. I do recall it was crowded. I had never before been exposed to so many people in such a small space. We wound up standing, as there were no seats available.

During a station stop, a few uniformed GIs came aboard. Immediately, a few seemingly able-bodied people stood up to cede their seats to the GIs. One of the GIs forced someone to get up to let my Mom sit down. I tried to figure out the rules of behavior of adults. It was enigmatic. I could not understand.

Myself, well, I wound up sitting on the lap of a big black GI. ( Negro? African American? ) He kept stuffing my mouth with chocolate and chewing gum and such, a big friendly grin on his huge face.


During some other trip, during a cold night, I had to go. My mom told me to go and find a toilet, indicating that if she stood up to accompany me we would lose our seat. So I got on my way.

In front of the privy on the car we were in, there were too many people standing in line. So I went on to the next car, making my way across the connection platforms between the two. This was a cold and windy adventure.

Entering the next car, I noticed that only about half the ceiling lights were lit. Some of the windows were made of cardboard or wood, instead of glass. Nobody was waiting in front of the toilet door. I managed to open it, but some type of chicken wire fence contraption stopped me from going any further.

Looking inside, I noticed that where the commode should have been, there were wooden slats nailed across the floor. The outer sidewall was covered by corrugated sheet metal. No luck here either.

So I crossed the planks to enter another car. That was different. Hardly any light bulbs were lit, and the whole thing was like a steam bath. (Radiator Leak) Again, there were too many people bunched up in front of the privy.

I tried to reach the next car, but there was no connecting platform. Therefore, I turned around to go back into the opposite direction. Hopefully, there I would be able to access a toilet, somewhere along the line. However, by the time I came back to where my Mom was, I had wet my pants. Let us ignore this, please. This is certainly not the best of my memories.

During a different train trip, the train suddenly stopped, in the middle of nowhere, it seemed. We were herded out of the train and squeezed into US Army buses which took us across a crude pontoon bridge to the other side of the river. There, another train was waiting for us.


On yet a different occasion, Mom and I were on a lengthy trip from here to there. During this journey, I was afflicted by the ‘Are we there yet?’ syndrome. I could not sit still anymore. So I decided to play with my newest toy, using the floor in the middle between the rows of seats.

This toy was a fairly large model of a US Army Jeep, beautifully executed in wood, metal, plastic and rubber wheels. A US Army officer had given it to me. He was the one my Mom married, soon after. My real father had been declared KIA in 1944. I never knew him. He was a German-American, originally from Heidelberg. For some reason, he had followed the call of the ‘Fatherland’ and returned to Germany in 1939, dragging my Mom, originally from Stuttgart, along with him. So the story goes. Why she never went back to the States is beyond me.

Well, I was busy pushing my Jeep up and down the floor. The conductor came through, ordering me to get back to my seat. After he was out of my hair, I resumed my activity. This Jeep had not completed its mission, you know.

The conductor came through again. This time around, he reached down to the floor and grabbed my Jeep. Before I had a chance to go into a bawling fit, some GI got up and yanked it out of the conductor’s hands. Smilingly, he gave it back to me. My Jeep was able to complete its mission. I must have fallen asleep on the floor, after my Jeep had fulfilled its dispatch orders.

Finally, here is a short story of the train that never arrived. It never came because a bridge had collapsed. Fortunately, nothing was on it when it gave up the ghost. As a result, Mom and I never went on that particular trip. It was not possible.



I may be able to come up with some more of these memories, but I think this is enough. Some of these episodes, I do not wish to share. They were outright ugly, unsuitable for blogs like these. My real early and very fragmented memories stem from a time when I thought machine gun bullets ricocheting from concrete sounded cute.

If any of you German born Old-Timers have similar memories to share, please leave a comment or two, if you want to.

Thank you.

Please, don’t ask any questions. If you were there, you already know the answers. If you weren’t, you would not be able to understand the answers.

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