Steered by his 1913 railway guide, Michael Portillo explores Germany and learns how tourists in the early 20th century would have been visiting quite a new country.
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I'm embarking on a new railway adventure that will take me
across the heart of Europe.
I'll be using this, my Bradshaw's Continental Railway Guide,
dated 1913, which opened up an exotic world of foreign travel
for the British tourist.
It told travellers where to go, what to see,
and how to navigate the thousands of miles of tracks
crisscrossing the continent.
Now, a century later, I'm using my copy to reveal
an era of great optimism and energy
where technology, industry, science and the arts were flourishing.
I want to rediscover that lost Europe that in 1913 could not know
its way of life would shortly be swept aside by the advent of war.
I'm travelling through Germany,
powerhouse of today's European Union.
100 years ago,
it already looked muscular, industrially and politically.
If I'd been travelling on these tracks in 1913,
I'd be visiting quite a new country.
The Kingdom of Prussia had merged with or absorbed
various principalities and duchies
to form the thoroughly modern industrial state of Germany.
British travellers here a century ago viewed its power
and success with a mixture of admiration, envy and fear.
On this journey, I'll discover how Kaiser Wilhelm II's
militarism threatened Europe's fragile balance of power.
The Navy built two battleships a year.
So, that was really a tremendous fleet.
I'll let Bradshaw's steer me towards Germany's music and culture...
HE SPEAKS GERMAN MENACINGLY
..attempt a 1913 equivalent of a Jane Fonda workout...
-And up and down... Come on!
..see model railway making on the grandest of scales...
This is an absolute paradise for model lovers,
for anybody who loves trains.
..and sample Germany's favourite tipple...
-What does your expert palate tell you?
-It is perfect, isn't it?
It's pretty good, isn't it?
My journey starts in Dresden,
close to the border with the Czech Republic,
then heads north on Germany's oldest long distance railway,
through the eastern states, to the musical city of Leipzig.
Continuing north into Lower Saxony,
I'll travel to Braunschweig
before arriving at the prosperous port of Hamburg.
My journey will end at the home of Germany's Imperial Navy.
In the years before the First World War, the British King had
the title Duke of Saxony.
My first stop is its capital, Dresden.
My Bradshaw's says it's always been one of the most frequented
cities in Germany.
There are English and American quarters.
As a city for art, music and good society, Dresden cannot be excelled.
If only I'd known it in those days.
Fortunately, thanks to the railways in 1913,
thousands of British tourists could enjoy this jewel of a city
when it sparkled at its brightest.
Dresden, on the river Elbe,
is the birthplace of Kings, Queens and Consorts.
Queen Victoria's mother was German and in 1840, Victoria married
her German first cousin, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha,
strengthening further the dynastic bond between Britain and Germany.
As though to demonstrate German engineering prowess,
at the end of the 19th century,
Dresden was given a superb station on two levels -
one with a terminus and one for the through trains.
It was, of course, destroyed by bombs in World War II
and then for the 45 years that East Germany was a Soviet satellite state
the station was neglected,
but it was restored at the beginning of the 21st century
and the British architects, Foster and Partners,
designed a roof, which is Teflon coated
and covers 30,000 square metres.
Dresden is now home to more than half a million people.
At the time of my Bradshaw's the city was as important
a cultural destination as Prague, Paris or Berlin.
Dresden's golden age had been the 18th century,
when its beauty was captured in a painting by Canaletto
and it became known as Florence on the Elbe.
Dresden is a place of great cultural interest for me.
A favourite opera composer, Richard Wagner,
spent nearly 20 years here.
When my Bradshaw's guide was published in 1913, the world
was celebrating the centenary of Richard Wagner,
so he was born just over 200 years ago in nearby Leipzig.
Now, many people don't like Wagner, they find him long and loud
and certainly he's politically controversial, but I am a fan.
I think for his understanding of humanity,
he is one of the greatest artists of history.
I think his most absorbing work is his Ring Cycle of four epic operas,
which took him 26 years to write and which I find extraordinarily deep.
But Dresden is associated with one of his very early pieces.
In 1842, Dresden's famous Semper Opera House invited Wagner to
premiere his grand tragic tale about two rival Roman families -
I'm meeting Cosima Curth to find out how it was received.
It was a success then, Rienzi?
It was a great success.
He didn't like it very much, said it was like crying around.
It made him popular.
Rienzi is more or less very similar to the Grand Opera
like they had at the time.
Wagner then stayed in Dresden after that?
Yep, first of all, he liked the town,
because it was the first town where he had a lot of success.
And he wanted to present a second opera here a few months later,
which was the Flying Dutchman.
Wagner was also a fine conductor,
likened by his contemporaries to a general in battle.
He was the first who conducted directly to the musicians.
He used to like to use the baton as well.
There's a nice story about it. Sometimes he forgot it.
So, he took a ladle that was given to him by a musician
and broke the handle and conducted with that.
But even nowadays we have fantastic conductors,
but they use two sticks to conduct.
But nobody's done it with a ladle.
Never again! Never again!
In Dresden, Wagner briefly helped to organise a military operation.
In a period of revolutions across the continent,
people in Dresden took to the streets.
Wagner became very actively involved in politics, didn't he, in 1849?
What was it that happened?
In the 19th century, Dresden was a really international town,
open to many countries, but the living conditions for the workers
weren't at the highest condition
and that's why Marx published his thesis of a new world,
and this caused a lot of trouble, and started a movement of a revolution,
which started in Dresden in 1849.
And Wagner was drawn in to that, wasn't he?
Yeah. He was a great enthusiast about these changes in living conditions.
He himself was especially interested in the way that musicians were paid.
That maybe the opera shouldn't be owned by the king,
but owned by the masses.
The authorities sought help from Prussia, which used a new invention,
railways, to send troops.
And what job was given to Wagner in this revolution?
He had a fantastic job.
He had to climb up to the tower of one of our churches,
and to watch where the army is coming from.
And to announce it to somebody else.
And because it was such a hard job, he asked to send
-a bottle of wine to him.
-And that would help with his work!
Over 200 rebels were killed in the fighting
and although Wagner escaped, a warrant was issued for his arrest.
So, that was bye-bye, Dresden, for Richard Wagner.
Yeah. Not for ever. He came later on back to Dresden because
his wife stayed in Dresden,
and she herself tried to make him
apologise to be accepted again as another member of society.
She could do so and she succeeded in doing.
And it's not just in the opera house that Wagner gets an airing.
Hello. Excuse me. That was charming. What's the song about?
Actually it's a warning of not having sex before marriage.
It comes a little late for me, but thank you, anyway. Bye.
The now beautifully restored Lutheran Church of Our Lady -
the Frauenkirche - is symbolic of what the Germans have experienced
since British tourists first followed my guide here.
Destroyed by allied bombing in 1945, for decades its ruins constituted
an anti-war memorial.
When East and West Germany were reunified in 1990,
the church was painstakingly reconstructed.
The Frauenkirche manages to be both pretty and overpowering,
which is perhaps why the people of Dresden love it so much.
In 1843, it was the scene of an extraordinary choral work,
with an orchestra of 100 and a choir of 1,100.
The conductor was one Richard Wagner, the composer was one
Richard Wagner and the subject was the Last Supper of Christ.
Today, the Frauenkirche symbolises the rebirth of Dresden
following the destruction of its buildings and population.
DRAMATIC CHORAL MUSIC
Early travellers to Dresden I'm sure would have remarked
on the romantic look and feel of the place.
In 1913, the city was in the grip of a health craze -
a new philosophy of well-being called Naturheilkunde,
or naturopathy, had taken hold.
And its mantra was,
"In einem gesunden Korper wohnt ein gesunder Geist", or as we would say,
a healthy mind in a healthy body.
Like the rest of Europe, Dresden had experienced industrialisation,
bringing with it smoky factory chimneys
and polluted atmosphere and water.
But the fresh air of the hills around the city
became a magnet for international health tourists.
I'm headed for Weisser Hirsch. Bradshaw's tells me it's a
well-known health resort that's grown from a village in recent years
and now has villas, hotels and sanatoriums of the highest repute,
reached by electric car from Dresden.
I wondered what an electric car might be?
It turns out to be a thoroughly original suspended railway.
It's one of the oldest suspension railways in the world.
It climbs 84 metres and is 274 metres long.
In 1913, it also provided an easy escape for Europe's wealthy and
leisured elite, intent on improving their physical health and fitness.
Prussian nobility and Russian royalty rubbed shoulders with
well-heeled merchants and military top brass, actors,
singers and writers.
I'm meeting author, Eckhard Bahr, at the once grand and famous
spa resort, Der Weisser Hirsch, now decidedly faded and overgrown.
I get the impression at the beginning of the 20th century
there was a new interest in health.
-Coming up to the top of the hill people wanted to get
away from the industrial cities?
That's right. There was a sense of back to nature
and Dr Lahmann who was a physician of that time, he combined
this new feeling, this new style of thinking with a great new idea.
So, he combined health care and treatments
with a new sense of fresh air,
good portion of diet
and also a good sense of humour.
Dr Heinrich Lahmann, a pioneer of food and health treatments,
was a man ahead of his time,
recommending diet and exercise instead of prescription drugs.
-The buildings were clearly very impressive.
And la toura sanat... Latin for what?
Nature cures all, is that it?
Yes, nature cures, water cures and also fresh air,
baths in the sunshine.
This, I take it, is the bath house?
That's true, yes. The bath house.
There was a female bath for the ladies
and a bath for the gentlemen.
What sort of treatments did Dr Lahmann propose?
They got showers,
extremely pointed at different parts of the body
and then again different kinds of light,
warm and cold, so it was a strange combination of types.
For instance, they were sitting in a box
and this was full of electric lights.
So, they got even small electric shocks.
Then he sent them out to the forest nearly naked.
They wear very small piece of clothes and then
they stood still in the surroundings
and listened to the voices of the birds.
I'm sure that would be very good for you!
By 1913, more than 7,000 guests had visited Der Weisser Hirsch.
And many of them were already wedded
to the latest physical exercise regime.
The Mr Motivator of his day was famous Danish athlete JP Muller.
His bestselling fitness book, My System,
was designed to turn parlour dandies in to iron men, in just six weeks.
Fitness instructor, Grit Buechner, is going to put me through my paces.
This person here isn't wearing many clothes.
What was the appropriate clothing for the Muller?
Muller said you need not a lot of clothes.
You go outside and if it's cold or it's hot,
that's enough to make you harder if you don't have a lot clothes.
And so can you show me the system?
Yes, I can show you, but please not in this clothes,
sports clothes or less clothes.
I'll go and get less clothes, yah!
# Keep young and beautiful
# It's your duty to be beautiful... #
Muller's magical formula consists of 18 different exercises,
practised daily during a 15-minute workout.
Right. I think I'm ready.
-OK, bend, short and sharp.
-Short and sharp.
Yep. Stretch your knee. What's with your leg?
-Look at Ticha. She do it right.
The more you do over the six weeks,
the stronger and fitter you should become.
Last three, do as high as you can. One.
-Are you warm?
-Yep, warmed up.
-And you feel it in your legs?
-Oh, gosh, yes.
-We do the next.
-Wow, well, if I get a figure like that,
it'll be worth it.
What's with your legs?
-I can't reach my toes.
-You must stretch.
Have we done our 15 minutes yet?
With sales of over 2 million,
My System was endorsed by doctors and kings.
The Czech writer, Franz Kafka, swore by it and fitness regimes today
owe much to his once radical ideas.
Right leg, left leg.
This is quite tiring.
And up and down. Come on!
NO! No more!
Kafka wrote really extraordinary stories.
He gave a word to the
English language for things that were really bizarre - Kafkaesque.
If you're ever asked if you saw something Kafkaesque, say yes.
Michael Portillo doing gymnastics!
On this new day,
I'll be embarking on a highly historic railway line,
which first opened in 1839.
My next stop is Leipzig, which my Bradshaw's tells me
is a town of great commercial importance.
It's the seat of the Supreme Law Courts of the German empire and its
university is ancient and renowned and I'm travelling on tracks that
are pretty significant too, as this was the first major long distance
railway made in Germany and it's almost as British as my Bradshaw's!
In the 19th century, the main industry in Saxony was textiles -
linen and woollen cloth.
Economist Friederich List,
seeing the great possibilities the railway had offered British
industry, conceived in the 1830s
a railway unifying the states of Germany.
And who better to build it than British engineers?
Rail historian John Lace is an expert on the line.
-Hello, Michael. Good morning.
-Good to see you.
So, this railway line from Dresden to Leipzig
plays a very important part in German railway history.
How did the railway actually come to be built?
The Leipzig directors approached James Walker, who then was President
of the Institute of Civil Engineers in London
and he came across with his young assistant, James Hawkshaw,
who was 23, to survey the line between.
Walker took two weeks, at the end of it said,
I've done all I need to do, there is more work for me back in Britain
and he left Hawkshaw to walk the route endlessly.
Without modern surveying equipment and no GPS, engineers like Hawkshaw
faced a huge challenge, getting 116 kilometres of route just right.
I'd like to show you this map actually,
which gives a really good overview of the entire line
and shows what John Hawkshaw had created.
It's a very detailed map and it shows every bridge
and every crossing and all the cuttings there were
and the one tunnel that was built at Auber.
It's a relatively simple line.
It doesn't have a lot of ups and downs?
No. James Walker had been one of the developers of
the Leeds-Selby line, which is a very flat line
and when he proposed this line, the directors were overjoyed.
To complement the British construction know-how,
the Leipzig Dresden Railway Company ordered 16 British locomotives.
Its first coal-powered steam engine was called Komet.
John Robson, who was a driver with
the Liverpool-Manchester railway line,
accompanied the first Komet from Bolton to Liverpool docks to Hamburg,
down the Elbe. 15 crates.
Robson was skilful enough to re-assemble those 15 crates
into a working locomotive.
An extraordinary thought. How fast was Komet in those early days?
Oh, between four and six miles per hour,
it didn't travel at the speed that this train is travelling now.
With Friedrich List's ambition fast becoming a reality,
the people of Saxony flocked to experience train travel.
There were up to six trains per day passing up and down
on the Leipzig to Dresden line.
Commercially it was also a success,
finally giving businesses a quick way to move goods to the River Elbe.
Leipzig is a city made of music.
It was home to Johann Sebastian Bach and Felix Mendelssohn
and is famous for its Opera House and the St Thomas's Boys' Choir.
But as well as being a centre of culture, thanks to the
railway, it's also one of Germany's leading commercial cities.
The railway station in Leipzig according to Bradshaw's is
the largest in Europe, and it's still thought to be
the biggest on our continent by floor area.
With its 24 platforms and six railway sheds,
and now since the fall of communism, vast parts of the station
have been converted to a shopping complex.
In 1913, Leipzig was at the heart
of one of the most productive areas in Europe.
Germany's late industrial revolution
meant that entrepreneurs could take full advantage
of new technology and manufacturing methods.
To appreciate how productive and self-confident
Germany had become,
I'm heading by tram to the west of the city, to the suburb of Plagwitz.
It's home to what was one of the largest cotton spinning mills in Europe.
I've arranged to meet Bertram Schultze,
who runs the Spinnerei today.
-Hello, very welcome.
We're walking along tracks.
Were the railways very important to the development of this place?
Actually, it was essential.
They bought this property of about 100,000 square metres,
because the developer over 100 years ago, whose name was Dr Karl Heiner,
had arranged that the tracks were brought in to the big properties so that the goods
could come in, the raw materials, and the goods could go out again.
Well, they founded the place in 1884, based on this market research
that it would be profitable to create a big inner German
cotton spinning mill producing mainly the thicker threads.
It meant that the mill could spin the cotton itself,
rather than rely on foreign imports.
So a visitor coming here in 1913 using this guidebook
would have found the factory in full production?
Yeah, full scale, very lively, I guess.
Working a three-shift system, so going through all the time.
The Spinnerei's 1,600 workers
were processing 20,000 bales of cotton
into 5 million kilograms of thread.
Bertram wants to show me
what's left of just one of the huge spinning rooms
where productivity reached unassailable levels.
This is the old elevator.
We just put in very new technique into it. You should feel safe.
Wow, what a vast space.
This is where we still have the full scale 4,000 square metres
on one layer where you can still have the feeling of how
it worked with machinery in here.
So they had the machinery actually going in long lines like this
between the columns.
You must imagine a 20 metre machine and people working on it.
Now it is quite hot,
so with the machinery it must have been hotter, so they had
a very early air conditioning and air moisturing system in here
which was in the middle where you can see the walls back there.
While the air conditioning is testament to German engineering prowess,
the mill also illustrates what Germany regarded as a great weakness - a lack of colonies.
As the imperial powers of Europe
scrambled to carve up Africa between them, Germany was late to the table,
securing only a few colonies in the south and west
and modern-day Tanzania in the east.
This paucity rankled the Kaiser,
who wanted new markets for goods and new sources of raw materials.
Germany was able to use the territory in Tanzania
to grow its own cotton.
Germany, yeah, but especially the cotton spinning mill.
I think Tanzania was used for different reasons as well,
but this company had their colonies down there, about 30,000 hectares,
so it was really quite a big space,
which they turned into farmland and tried to grow their own cotton.
Cotton growing conditions in Tanzania were hard. Pests put paid
to two-thirds of the harvest in the second year and the scheme failed.
Today, the cotton machines are long gone and in their place is art.
Historically, the most renowned artists of Leipzig were musicians.
My guidebook directs me to the Thomaskirche, or St Thomas's church,
with its lofty roof -
very distinctive - and its monument to Johann Sebastian Bach.
Now Bach was the so-called Thomaskantor here at the church
and more to the point, he wrote several cantatas
while he was in charge of the boys' choir here.
And he effectively established Leipzig as the musical capital of Saxony,
arguably of Europe.
I'm heading to a remarkable music school,
where the creativity of Bach
could be sustained and nurtured,
and one generation of genius could inspire the next.
I'm meeting conservatory librarian Barbara Wierman
at the Hochschule.
My Bradshaw's tells me
about the famous music conservatorium of Leipzig -
why was it so famous?
Oh, actually it was the first music conservatory in Germany.
Especially our founder, he's really famous -
that's Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy,
and it was his idea to have a conservatory,
a music school in Leipzig.
He was a really good music politician.
He made politics here in Leipzig so that it became in his time,
the music town, Leipzig. Music city Leipzig.
The students of this elite music school were privileged indeed.
Not only did they study under a great composer, they were
also taught by the musicians of his Gewandhaus Orchestra.
I've brought you to the library to tell you about some
of our famous alumni and to show you some of the archival materials.
You must have had so many, I imagine.
Who are the most famous?
I think one of the most famous is Edward Grieg and Leos Janacek
and of course of interest to you is Arthur Sullivan.
# Three little maids from school are we
# Pert as a schoolgirl well can be
# Filled to the brim with girlish glee
# Three little maids from school... #
Arthur Sullivan, the composer half of Gilbert and Sullivan,
won the Royal Academy of Music's
first Mendelssohn Scholarship to study here.
Barbara wants to show me how the young Arthur fitted in.
If we have a look at our reports, there are two reports left.
He came here in 1858 and he left in 1861.
The reports say he was really good at composing.
He was a first violinist of the Gewandhaus Orchestra
and you must know the first violinist is also responsible for conducting.
He was very talented at conducting.
What's this here?
These are the programme notes of his final exam.
He played and conducted his own composition.
The Tempest, by Shakespeare.
Do you know how that was received?
It was very well received.
Here in Germany and when he returned to Britain.
I should think it was hard for the people in the conservatory
to imagine that Arthur Sullivan, such a gifted conductor and composer,
would one day become famous for satirical operettas.
It was surprising, let's say!
Just like Sullivan, the current crop of talented students
benefit from Mendelssohn's legacy.
You're studying here.
Do you have a sense of history about the place?
Yes, there's a sense of history.
I can feel the history when I go through the city and see the houses.
And Bach is a great inspiration?
Yeah, every time I'm looking for a good
programme for my semester, Bach has to be in it.
-Maybe a little more Bach?
In a city of so many students,
the 1913 traveller might not have been surprised
to find a jolly good pub.
In this most famous subterranean Leipzig haunt -
Auerbach's Keller - they could enjoy a hell of a good evening.
-Thank you very much.
-This is a typical Saxony food.
Beef roulade with dumpling potatoes and red cabbage.
That does sound typically Saxon.
The dumpling potatoes are very solid.
They're chewy, but they really absorb the gravy.
The beef is stuffed with olives and other vegetables.
A very good meal.
MAN SPEAKS IN GERMAN
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the Shakespeare of Germany,
set a key scene of his tragedy Faust here.
Faust sells his soul to the devil, in return for knowledge and worldly pleasures.
Together, they visit the Keller,
where Goethe used to drink as a student.
MAN SPEAKS IN GERMAN
Well, I assume that those were lines from Goethe's Faust,
but I must say, this devil wouldn't tempt me to very much.
'After devil and dumplings, I'm ready for heavenly sleep.'
I'm up early, heading north from Leipzig station into Lower Saxony.
I'm approaching the halfway point of my journey through
Germany from Dresden in the east to Kiel in the north.
You can get a nice cooked breakfast on the German railways
but on this train, it's strictly self-service.
My destination today is Braunschweig or Brunswick,
and I'm changing at Magdeburg.
I'm supposed to have six minutes to make the change.
But this train is arriving late, so it's going to be a real chase.
The train for Koln, or Cologne,
stops at Brunswick, but it's three platforms away.
Relief. Now that I'm on the Brunswick train,
my journey should just take me just 45 minutes.
Helmstedt is an interesting station because in the old days,
this was the border between East Germany and West Germany.
Now of course there is no border and the trains go through smoothly.
And to the uninitiated like me, you can't tell the difference
between East and West Germany - it is now an entirely seamless country.
Brunswick was the birthplace of Caroline of Brunswick,
who became known as the Injured Queen of England.
In 1795, Britain's future King George IV agreed to marry her,
although she was described as "short, fat and ugly",
because Parliament agreed to pay off his gambling debts if he did.
Caroline duly bore him an heir and George then duly left her.
So it seems rather surprising that Bradshaw's specifically notes
that Brunswick residents are happy.
My book says the people from Brunswick are cheerful, happy?
-I heard it.
-Is it true?
-I would say half and half.
Some people are very cheerful and some people are...
-Sie sind frohlich, ja?
-Why not be happy?
Braunschweigers, yes. They're smiling.
You have a lovely smile.
-Let's see that smile.
Let's see that smile. That would make everybody happy.
There may be another reason for the "cheery" comment.
Brunswick is home to one of Germany's oldest breweries.
The Hofbrauhaus Wolters dates back to 1627 and by the 1880s,
they were brewers by appointment to the Duke of Brunswick.
Meike Bluhm is the brewmaster.
Hi, Michael, nice meeting you here.
I notice straightaway that there are railway tracks here.
Historically, were the railways quite important for the brewery?
They were important for us to bring the raw materials on to site,
but also to transport the finished goods to all over northern Germany.
Curiously, the railway also contributed
to the taste of the beer.
The steam locomotives running on this line
needed soft water in their boilers.
But Brunswick is a city of hard water,
so it had to be piped in from the Harz mountains, 40km away.
And the brewery was quick to use it,
giving their beer a purer, softer taste.
This is called the mash tun, where the malt grist
and water are mixed, stirred and heated up to about 75 degrees.
-Which explains why it's so hot in here.
And what happens when you mix the grain with the water like this?
What happens is that the enzymes in the grains
break down the starch into sugars.
And that sugar is later fermented into alcohol by the yeast.
Forgive me asking you, but is it quite unusual these days still
for a woman to be a master brewer?
It is still quite unusual, although times are changing
and there are a few to be found now in some breweries,
but I'm...a rarity.
A master brewer has to have a very good palate.
Is that true?
Are you born with it or are you trained to it?
That is true. You can be born with it. Some people are not.
There is a lot of training you have to undergo to develop
a palate for beer.
Tasting is still our most important quality check,
so we sample every batch, every day.
Were you born with a fine palate?
I do have a bit of a palate, yes.
And how did you discover that?
Don't want to answer that question!
I carry a guide book from 1913 and I'm wondering what would beer
have tasted like at the beginning of the 20th century, do you think?
It would have tasted more bitter than it tastes now,
and also a bit sweeter, that means more body.
I can give you a sample of beer that comes pretty close to what
beer would have tasted like 100 years ago.
It doesn't taste very bitter to me, it does taste a bit sweet.
Actually, it's pretty good. What does your expert palate tell you?
-It's perfect, isn't it?
-It's pretty good, isn't it?
Wolters produces around 270 million bottles and cans of beer a year,
all now transported by road.
But with nearly 200 kilometres between me and my hotel,
I'm definitely letting the train take the strain.
Hanover - I have to change trains here.
My next stop will be Hamburg.
According to my Bradshaw's, it's situated on the River Elbe
60 miles from the mouth of the river,
the second city of the German Empire.
It ranks in commercial importance
before any other town in continental Europe.
By 1913, the Great British ports of Liverpool
and London had to regard Hamburg as a serious rival.
Its huge port, that gives Hamburg this access to the world,
is situated in the heart of the city.
And as Germany's second largest city,
it's also one of Europe's most affluent.
Hamburg's main station is really awe-inspiring.
It was built in 1906,
apparently replacing four different terminal stations.
So for the traveller with the Bradshaw's Guide in 1913,
it would have been new.
It is, they say, the busiest station in Germany,
the second busiest in all of Europe after Paris' Gare du Nord,
and this evening it really feels like it.
Time, I think, to find the quiet sanctuary of my hotel.
When I think of Hamburg, I picture a busy industrial port.
Its beauty is an unexpected bonus.
The Bradshaw's Guide loves to list major engineering feats.
"Under the Elbe is a double tunnel for pedestrians and vehicles,
"490 yards long, made at a cost of over £500,000."
With that tone of enthusiasm, this has to be worth seeing.
By the early 1900s, Hamburg's traffic problems were chronic.
The roads were hectic, and the river even worse.
Congestion and currents made life difficult for workers
crossing from the city to Hamburg's bustling docks.
The solution was to dig the Sankt Pauli Elbtunnel,
and this grand entrance hall is the way in.
Well, this is built on an extraordinary scale.
But it's not just the size of it, it is the architectural grandeur.
It's been built like the Pantheon in Rome and it's beautifully tiled
and here I see reliefs - I imagine these are the engineers
and the architects immortalised in statues, and quite rightly so.
Four huge lifts on either side of the river carry pedestrians,
cyclists and motor vehicles to the bottom...
..where they enter two narrow tunnels
taking traffic backwards and forwards.
-Hello, Michael. Welcome to the Old Elbe Tunnel.
-Thank you very much.
-I'm finding it impressive and beautiful.
-Yes, it is.
'Hartmut Graf is the head engineer responsible for keeping the tunnel running.'
When was it actually built?
It was built up to 1911 and it was planned up to 1905.
And the planning was heavily influenced by the Glasgow tunnel.
The decision to build a tunnel, rather than a bridge?
The port was too active for a bridge and the ships were too big.
Let's step out of the way here.
It's built quite narrow.
Was there a lot of traffic in the early days?
Yeah. There was quite a lot of traffic, mostly by horses.
And I suppose the early motorcars, in 1911.
Yeah, there are some pictures with very old cars here.
Why do you think it was built so grandly,
in the style of the Pantheon and with such beautiful tiles?
At this time, 1900, Germany still had an emperor
and he wanted to be proud about this.
So perhaps this was the reason it was built in this way.
I mean, everywhere we look, there are beautiful ornaments, decoration.
Yeah, and also Hamburg wanted to show what it was able to build.
It's a pretty active tunnel, isn't it?
But at just over 100 years old, the tunnel is showing signs of age.
'And major restoration work is being carried out on the second bore.'
This is amazing, because you have obviously taken the tunnel back to its original skin.
What is the job you are doing now?
The main job we are doing here at the moment is to renew the lead.
How long will this job take you?
It's taken already nearly two years and it will take us up to 2016.
So why is Hamburg spending the money on these tunnels, do you think?
Because this is a thing which is very important to all Hamburg people
and they don't want to miss it.
Well, thanks to you, they're not going to miss it.
This might seem like a DIY job,
but this is to protect future generations from lead poisoning.
I'm delighted that this engineering heritage
is being celebrated and restored.
My next stop isn't old at all,
but if Bradshaw's was to be republished today,
this place would secure an enthusiastic mention.
Hamburg is home to the greatest model railway in the world.
Miniatur Wunderland has 13,000 metres of track,
covering an area of 1,300 square metres,
divided up into eight huge sections representing different countries.
I'm meeting one of the model's founders, Sebastian Drechsler.
Sebastian, this is an absolute paradise for model lovers,
for children, for adults, for anybody who loves trains.
It's fantastic. How long has it been here?
It's here for 12 years. My two older brothers had the idea when I was 18.
Back in the day, they had a club and a record label and they decided
that they don't want to get old at the nightclub and came home with strange idea,
and one was to build the largest model railway of the world.
It was very hard for me to imagine to change the guest list
of a club to the guest list of a model railway!
-I'm astonished you have only been doing this for 12 years.
In this 12 or so years, we spent about 560,000 working hours
just on the layout, to create all of that.
And you have now established the largest model railway in the world?
Already, since we opened up Switzerland,
we are the largest model railway.
Now, where is the United Kingdom? I thought I might go there.
It's only in our heads.
No United Kingdom?
Not now, because we need the perfect space for the motherland
of railways and we need to have such a huge space.
We want to build a spectacular United Kingdom.
This is our control room,
the core of everything in Miniatur Wunderland.
It's so impressive.
It looks like the control room of a real railway, just astonishing.
We have 265 cameras on the whole layout
because there are train accidents all over the layout.
Because someone is running and searching for the train, where exactly it is.
We first localise the train with the cameras
and then go to fix the problem.
So the guys working here, I imagine if one day they were asked
to go and work for the German railways,
-they could do the transition.
The wonder of this miniature world is its attention to tiny detail.
Every one of the 250,000 inhabitants has a story.
And model maker Sonia Schroder
is going to show me how they come to life.
-Well, I hope you have your spectacles?
So, first you should dip your brush into the water. Just slightly.
And you definitely should start with the pink shirt.
'If you haven't worked it out yet, Sonia is coaching me
'to paint a mini me.'
Try to paint around your hand and booklet.
You're doing well.
Just do little, little paint strips.
'Now I begin to understand the high standards they set themselves.'
My Bradshaw is about 2% of the size of me.
So this is quite a small target.
Not bad. You know what, Michael?
I can tell you did neither party last night
or drink coffee this morning.
Is that right? Does my Bradshaw look big in this?
Eagle-eyed tourists in Wunderland can now spot
a brightly-coloured fellow clutching a red book.
He's marooned in perpetuity in the middle of Hamburg Station.
There are uglier places to spend eternity.
Although I could quite happily linger with my alter-ego,
the tracks are calling, and the scent of the Baltic Sea.
At the time of my Bradshaw's,
Kaiser Wilhelm's Germany sought colonial and naval power.
Locked in a naval race with Britain,
he'd already built a fleet of 39 warships based at Kiel.
And as tensions grew, the Kaiser's navy needed a quick and safe route
from the Baltic to face the British in the North Sea.
To sail north round Denmark's Jutland Peninsula
was dangerous and a diversion of 250 nautical miles.
But the Kiel canal was too narrow for warships.
So the Kaiser undertook a massive widening,
all along the canal's 100km.
And today, that feat of German engineering is still in use,
with close to 35,000 ships a year passing through.
Now to test my sea legs.
-Ahoy, skipper. Happy to receive boarders?
What a wonderful vessel!
Yes, a racing yacht from the turn of the last century.
It's absolutely beautiful, thank you so much for having me on board.
With Andreas Neubau, president of the Kiel Sailing Association,
I can experience why the Kaiser was so captivated by yachting.
So, Andreas, we've left the British Kiel Yacht Club behind us.
-Where are we now?
-We are right in the middle of the Kiel Fjord.
And, of course, it's one of the most important sailing areas in the whole world.
So this is very much the equivalent of Cowes.
You have a Kiel Week as we have a Cowes Week.
Yes, and the Kaiser had a special interest in Cowes Week
and so he really copied it.
This international racing attracted some impressive competition.
The Kaiser's biggest rival was his uncle, British King Edward VII.
But the yachtsmen couldn't have failed to notice
the significance of the growing presence of warships.
The navy built two battleships a year,
so in the end they had 39 battleships.
So it really was a tremendous fleet.
Now declassified documents show that by 1913,
British intelligence was already monitoring the growing threat,
using British yachtsmen to do the surveillance.
I feel a little bit like Carruthers in that novel,
you know that novel The Riddle Of The Sands,
which is about a couple of guys who go spying on the German navy.
Oh, there were many spies.
For instance, the Sunbeam from Lord Brassey came here one year.
And the old lord let himself row into a submarine pen.
Of course, they didn't make much of it but this was, of course, a little spy tour.
The intelligence conveyed the stark news that by 1913,
Britain faced an ambitious rival with a formidable navy.
And as the yachts gathered for Kiel Week a year later,
Europe was slipping towards war.
The spark was the assassination by a Serb in Sarajevo
of Archduke Franz Ferdinand,
the heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian empire.
And the Kaiser heard the news aboard his yacht.
Over the fjord came the little boat of Admiral von Muller.
He said, "I have an urgent message here."
He put it into his cigarette box and threw it on board.
And there, the Kaiser had it.
That was the last weekend in June
and by the beginning of August, Europe was at war.
Events in the Balkans set off a chain reaction.
Germany encouraged its Austro-Hungarian ally
to strike back against Serbia.
The alliance of Russia and France prepared for war,
as armies mobilised across Europe.
Germany marched through Belgium to strike at France
and Britain was obliged to act in her defence.
British Foreign Secretary, Lord Grey, lamented,
"The lamps are going out all over Europe.
"We shall not see them lit again in our lifetime."
Over the next four years,
Europe squandered the benefits of peace and progress
in a savage, mechanised war.
During the 19th century, the railways helped to bring together
the culture of Dresden, the musicality of Leipzig,
the trading power of Hamburg, and the economic might of Berlin.
The new Germany was an industrial, scientific and artistic giant,
elbowing Britain aside in the European league tables.
Sadly, statesmen did not appreciate
that the enviable prosperity and civilisation of Germany
depended on the absence of war.
Next time, I lose my inhibitions in a Swedish sauna...
On the whole, I don't take my clothes off with people I don't know.
..ride one of the world's oldest fairground attractions...
..have a Highland fling, Scandinavian style,
and brave a white knuckle ride
based on a winter sport invented by Norwegians.
One of the great experiences of my life!
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
Steered by his 1913 railway guide, Michael Portillo explores Germany, the powerhouse of today's European Union and learns how tourists in the early 20th century would have been visiting quite a new country, which they admired and envied but also feared.
Beginning in Dresden, Michael explores the city of one of his favourite opera composers, Richard Wagner. He learns about the health craze of the time and attempts the equivalent of a 1913 Jane Fonda workout. He travels to Leipzig on a historic railway line built by British engineers in 1839. In Brunswick, he learns how the arrival of the railway added its own flavour to the local beer before moving on to Hamburg, where he discovers model railway making on the grandest of scales.
In Kiel, Michael learns about the intense rivalry between Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany and his uncle, Britain's King Edward VII, at the Kiel Week yacht races. Michael boards an early 20th-century yacht to experience the thrill for himself and learns how British yachtsmen spied on the German navy.