Close your eyes and picture the following...
Somewhere in Bavaria, December... It is Christmas Day in the evening. You
and your family have just finished putting away the dishes from a wonderful
Christmas dinner. Your in-laws are talking up a storm with your wife, and
the kids are busy playing with their newly-gotten loot of Märklin cars. You
have some time to yourself...
You decide to take a stroll out into the snowy landscape. There is only a
sliver of moon, obscured tonight by clouds heavy and dark, but the
streetlights glow through the large flakes of falling snow. You walk
briskly from your house down the street and the hill, towards your favorite
destination, the train station. It's not much, really, just a pair of
passing sidings on a double-track mainline. It sees its share of traffic,
though, with daily freights and passenger trains headed in and out of
Munich, some twenty miles distant.
A chill breeze causes the snowflakes to dance about your face. With hands in
pockets, you pull your shoulders forward to keep the wind out of the back of
your coat. Your feet crunch in the fresh snow. At the bottom of the hill a
lone car glides almost silently by on the main road. Picking up the pace,
you cross the road, barely looking both ways, secure in the knowledge that
almost noone is out this evening. Ahead, between two apartment buildings
lies the footpath to the station, a shortcut for schoolchildren. The path
is unplowed, and you feel like a pioneer as you put the first set of
footprints into the fresh 4 inches of snow.
A minute or two later your eyes pick out the silhouette of the snow-covered
rails down the path. You step down past the thicket of bushes and find
yourself on the platform. To your left the tracks run along the platform
for some distance, then disappear into a long tunnel. To the right sits the
station, a handful of windows glowing warmly. You pick up the sounds of
children's laughter from inside. A piano begins playing, and the air is
filled with the faint sounds of "Es ist ein Ros' Entsprungen", a favorite
Christmas carol from your childhood. The singers are lousy, appear to be
somewhat drunk, and are not very good. No matter, their cheer brings a
smile to your lips. You listen for a moment or two more, then turn to your
left and walk slowly along the platform toward the tunnel's entrance.
As you walk past the last of the platform lights and towards the end of the
platform, the wintry night around you fades to shadows. The snow you looks
warm and inviting, and you reach out and brush some off the handle of an
abandoned baggage cart. Leaning against the cart you look out across the
tracks to the valley beyond, then to your right at the faint light of the
station and the empty platforms in front of it. Nope, no trains tonight.
You remember too late the timetable and realize this was a walk in vain.
Well, maybe not. Maybe it's enough to just appreciate the absolute
stillness of a quiet winter night, or the silent majesty of a deserted train
station on a snowy Christmas night. And it is quiet. You close your eyes
and feel the snowflakes as they gently caress your cheeks as they fall.
After what seems like hours, you open your eyes. It is snowing harder now.
You turn to walk back towards the path and the warmth of your home and
family beyond. Then you hear it. You stop to listen- still uncertain, that
your ears might be playing tricks on you. There it is again, the rhythmic
sounds of a steam engine and the clatter of freight cars. Certain now, you
strain to hear more clearly. It a steam engine all right, a big one from
the sound of it. You are only barely aware that your heartbeat has doubled.
The sound of the train fades, but you know well it is the obstruction of a
small hill some 3 kilometers down the line. She is coming from the north,
and you stop walking, lest the station lights ruin this magical moment. The
train should pass you and disappear into the tunnel in about 3 minutes.
Suddenly warmed, you walk back to the luggage cart, throwing an occasional
glance over your shoulder to make sure the train hasn't appeared yet through
the blinding snow. Arriving at the cart, you lean against the handlebar,
turn and wait.
The "tsh-tsh-tsh" sound grows more urgent. She's really flying, you
surmise. Finally a trio of lights pierces the falling snow. Brighter and
brighter, the train heads towards you. In the distant glow of the station
you catch the silhouette of the monster. She's a BR52, and the fireman must
be shoveling coal for all he's worth! "TSH TSH TSH TSH" the engine roars
towards you. It rocks back and forth a little over the tired rails, now
almost upon you. The sound is deafening. You are unable to move, awestruck
by the spectacle of black iron, steam, belching smoke, and that trio of
bright lights. You look up as the engine roars past. You feel the warm
blast of steam against your face as she goes by. Looking up through the
cloud of snow that follows, you throw a wave at the engineer, his figure
outlined by the orange glow of the firebox next to him. There is a shrill
scream from the whistle which echoes eerily in the tunnel. The tender
thunders past you, accompanied by another blast of snow blown from the
tracks. Then the freight cars, clamoring along the rails and across the
joints, a cacophony of sounds from the squeal of wheel flanges to the
crashes of empty boxcars as they bound along the rails. Again and again the
freight cars thunder past you. Then, as quickly as it had appeared, the
train vanishes, disappearing into the tunnel.
The mechanical symphony fades, and soon the station is quiet again, all but
for the ringing in your ears. Through the settling snow you take a deep
breath. You are sure your face will be contorted with a smile for the
entire walk home. Before you take the first step you pause and wonder: How
can someone not believe in Santa Claus? As far as you are concerned, he was
shoveling coal on a BR52 tonight. And he sure knew EXACTLY what it was
that YOU wanted for Christmas...