Europe's Kulturstadt for 1999

Four years ago, when I made a trip to Naumburg to attend a philological symposium devoted to Nietzsche, I was told by one of the participants that, until recently, West Germans traveling from Frankfurt on the main west-east railway line had been forced to dismount when the train reached the "frontier town" where the Federal Republic ended and Erich Honnecker's DDR (German Democratic Republic) began and to climb into another train in order to reach Leipzig. This inconvenience was a sickly symptom of a systematic Abgrenzung (demarcation) policy, pursued with pathological single mindedness by a "satellite" regime that was determined to prove its Marxist superiority over its bigger, wealthier, capitalistic neighbor to the west. Today, this absurd anomaly has disappeared, along with so much else, and now trains regularly travel back and forth with no arbitrary impediments between Frankfurt, Leipzig, and the Saxon capital of Dresden.

The train on which I traveled this time from Frankfurt, via Fulda, Eisenach—famous for the Wartburg Castle in which (in 1522) a carefully hidden "heretic" named Martin Luther translated the New Testament from Greek into German—and on past the old university town of Erfurt to Weimar, was called the Johann-Sebastian-Bach Express. The unlucky Deutsche Bundesbahn, recently plagued by several embarrassing railway accidents, may be a utilitarian instrument...

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