If you want to miss Calcutta, Magdeburg offers you numerous excuses; the easiest excuse being the trams. I come from Calcutta, the only city in India where trams still run. The “heritage trams” in Magdeburg was a crazy reminder of how much I miss Calcutta.
Often sluggish, slower than you would expect it to be, but the warm tones of the incandescent bulb on the wooden seats and the floor, the ting-ting ringing of the bell signalling the driver to stop or to slow down, people jumping into the tram or off it. Trams in Kolkata are slightly more than just a way of commuting. It’s an emotion.
Why this blog post all of a sudden? – I’m glad you asked. A couple of weeks back, my friend told that old heritage trams were exhibited near Alt Markt, Magdeburg. By the time we could finish our lunch, he texted: “I just travelled in the first electric tram of Magdeburg, build in 1899.” We ate as fast as we could and boarded the next bus to Alt Markt!
As per Wikipedia, during 1873, horse-pulled trams were introduced in Calcutta, and in Magdeburg, it was introduced in 1877; perhaps one of the first ten cities to get a tram network. Frankfurt, Hannover, Dresden, Leipzig were the first ones in 1872. Bremen, Munich in 1875 and 1876 respectively.
Subsequently, during 1902, the electric trams were introduced in Calcutta. After the independence of India, the number of routes has come down considerably but it is far from being extinct. Calcutta/ Kolkata is the only city in India which currently has trams and is perhaps Asia’s oldest network of trams! Only very recently, Calcutta has a tram museum being built (link) and newer air-conditioned trams (link) have been put to use.
In Magdeburg, I’m told and shown – is slightly different. Electric trams were introduced in 1899 and one of the earliest trams continue to exist; albeit as historic memorabilia. There is a Tram museum in Sudenburg (link) and this is their Facebook page!
About the Heritage Tram exhibition in Magdeburg!
I am not sure exactly why, but I was very excited the moment I saw a series of old trams lined up at the Alt Markt. For a fraction of a moment, I was the younger Anirban with a camera in his hands, standing in the middle of Calcutta with old trams surrounding him. I took a couple of shots and thought that the trams were stationary. I had no clue what was happening inside the trams.
On opening the door I realised it was pretty packed inside. Not that I was unwelcome but I wasn’t prepared to see so many people, mostly really old people filling the tram! I’m sure they did not expect an overtly enthusiastic brown kid to jump in as well! Haha. The person, who was explaining things about the first electric tram realised he might need to also talk in English. He started talking the same things once in German and once in English. It was very considerate of him and was a pleasant surprise!
It was such an old-world charm! The yellow bulbs, the wooden chairs and the string to ring the bell from anywhere near the door of the tram! The sudden jerk when the old tram starts were uncannily familiar.
But wait! I realised that the tram was moving. The rest of my friends remained at the Alt Markt, while I was travelling all the way to Opernhaus and back to Alt Markt!
The oldest tram went back to Alt Markt, where we got down and looked at the other trams. One of the trams that came during 1968 (Treibwagen 1001) had drivers with a uniform. One of them particularly interesting! A young brown boy jumping around with a camera was definitely interesting him and he obliged! When I asked him if the Tram could stop in front of the Magdeburger Dom, he said he would make it stop till I am done photographing it!
My excitement showed a bit too much I guess! Haha. As a gesture, the old man came and put his cap on my head and started laughing! That’s all for now. Little events like this, keep the life in Magdeburg going.
A very special mention of my friend Carl Stermann-Lücke needs to be there in this blog post. He is two times geekier than I am, and he informed me about this!!