The Station Master

Nothing, absolutely nothing worth mentioning about the village... town...? No, one should have some memories of an abode of six months? Dusty roads, one shop, a few hills. I used to fancy myself in the thought that I had power to make things happen... because every day I would set off too late to catch the train. Cursing the dusty bumpy road (under construction perhaps?) I would focus on my feet and send my thoughts ahead, slowing down the train, deliberating intensely that by some “miracle” the train would wait for me to get there. And it did. Almost every day. Miraculously so. Until I told the station master about it and he broke out into a huge laughter. “Trains here are late by nature” he said...

The station master was really the only – thing – worth mentioning about St. Andrä-Wördern. He looked smashing, gorgeous, ravishing, oh, think of superlatives, it was him. If any railway company ever had any decent uniform, this man was worthy of wearing it. Tall, slim, dark hair, perfect smile, and – cave in, girls, – the very smooth and nonchalant Viennese accent. No doubt they can be the nastiest lot, but if a Viennese man kisses your hand and says “Gnädiges Fräulein” for no reason in particular, you won't doubt for one instant that you are a perfect lady and he's a perfect gentleman. He's a natural and Prince Charming is his middle name. Max was bored. You could tell. Once an hour he had to step out from his little cabin, blow his whistle and wave the green signal. Perhaps he waved the train off a little too soon on that rainy day, so that I would have to spend an hour waiting. “No luck today?” he asked me as I came huffing onto the platform. “On rainy days there aren't any passengers, so the train gets in a little more on time, by nature” he said with a big grin. “Won't

you deary come into my office so you won't get soaked?” and he set a kettle of water on the little iron stove. “Cup of coffee?” he asked. Ooops. I think I was sweet eighteen, nineteen perhaps and that at a time when even twenty might have been considered sweet. I didn't really know what to do with a grown handsome man in uniform for a whole hour. He put on his nonchalant gentleman smile and it was hard to tell whether he was aware of my predicament. Perhaps he was a bit too clumsy about making coffee to appear at perfect ease, he might have been just as nervous at having me in his office. “Not allowed” he said, “this is the holiest of holiest. Railway-wise. But since it's raining so hard, nobody will pass by at all.” I took the filter from his clumsy hands, creased the paper, measured the coffee and poured the boiling water. “I can tell that it's not you who's making the coffee at home” I said. “No.” He looked at me pensively. “My wife is a

very good housewife.” We started talking about his job. I asked him about all the levers and handles, all the buttons and lights on the panel and he explained everything to me. Fascinating, really. This was before computerisation. There were hundreds of relais and wires, metal plates and gauges, clocks and switches. The rain was pouring down the windows, the coffee steaming and my head ticking with railway engineering. How quickly the hour passed. Max had to remind me to get my coat and purse and he took me under his large black umbrella and brought me to the train like I was his childhood sweetheart. “Küss die Hand, mein Fräulein” he said and ran back into his office, haphazardly waving the green signal. I was off to Franz-Josefs-Bahnhof.

Riding the Red Monster
In those days, Vienna was like something out of another world. I'd never seen anything like it. Everything so old, in a persistent way. Y'know, every major city in Germany had been rebuilt, most city centers were modern and lavish, with the occasional relic of an original wall here, a few ancient windows there, may be the front of a house had been saved, perhaps a few buildings. When I was very young, there were empty plots to be had in the center. I didn't know the reason though.

Just imagine you've just arrived at Vienna at the Westbahnhof and as you stepped outside, a staircase to the left – a mighty one - led into depths unknown. The steps worn but swept, the bannister black but shiny, polished with the grasps of unnumbered hands, ah, you might imagine baggage carriers in uniforms easing the load by gripping tight, corseted ladies gasping for breath holding on to keep balanced, perhaps even a boy in breeches, sliding down the last few steps, where the staircase opened up into the main Stadtbahn station. No matter how hot a summer day, once you stepped down the wide entrance there was the coolness of the earth to greet you, and along with it all sorts of smells, musty, dirty, metallic. The walls were decorated with stucco ornaments, which once were white, on what appeared to be green walls, hospital green, mind you, but now everything mere shades of gray. As you decended, a Jules Verne netherworld embraced you, made you shudder with untold memories of hellos and good byes. Dusty metal shades dangling

from the tall ceiling, sporting bare lightbulbs, metal plate signs suspended from cables spanning the full width of the station. This was a stately underground hall in its time, surely the Kaiser had once inaugurated it, with brassbands and pompous parades. Perhaps if you listened closely, the echo of bygone times still lingered in the cobwebs. In the seventies, the station was just busting at the seams, people pushing each other on the long and narrow platforms, dreading the smells and dim sights. But worst the noise: when the monster approached, it came screeching in from the dark, dark tunnel: A red monster, sort of squarish waggons, rattling from every nook and cranny. When the doors opened, they seemed to have a hard time making up their minds if they were ready for more passengers. People would squeeze hard to get in and catch a seat on the wooden benches for woe to those late-comers who had to hang on to the old leather straps dangling from the top. The ride was bumpy, quite likely to knock you off your feet in an unguarded moment.

After a few stations, the ride took an upturn and crept out of the earth's belly into scary heights. The Stadtbahn ran above the Gürtel, a second tier of traffic on metal stilts. The stops were closed in with glass panels to afford a minimum of protection from the elements. The glass had seen the century, smudged, dull, pasted with ripped advertisements, the stairs gave heavy clonks with every footstep. On a winterday, you would time yourself exactly as not to spend any time waiting up there. I can't remember the season, but I do remember standing on the elevated platform, desperately waiting for the red monster. There weren't many people, but one man with a bulky trunk-like suitcase and another one with a long plank of wood. One could feel a certain animosity between the two. Now if you're familiar the least bit with Viennese culture you must know that apart from the officious Vienna courtesy, there is also a way of

handling mishaps with a verbal effusion called “mosern” - named after the famous Mr Hans Moser who elaborated in this style of communication in his many performances, film and theater likewise. It simply means never-ending grumbling that picks up steam from any reply, well-meaning or otherwise, presented in a nasal voice with a lot of harrumphing and shuffling feet. These moserisms can be set off by as slight an oversight as to omit the obligatory “Bittschön” (pretty-please) when addressing a person. The way these two passengers were killing each other with looks, I was anticipating a fine show of moserisms. The red waggons had two doors, front and back, and by some self-fullfilling calamity, these two men ran for the same front door when the Stadtbahn stopped. Now as yet another paranthesis (sorry for such an unorganised tale) you must know that the Stadtbahn drivers were ruthless. Keen on keeping schedule, they would cut off people from entering by shutting the doors, when they thought it was time to go. Like in a slapstick movie, these two men were trying to get their belongings into the same door, with the result of annoying the driver to the point that he closed the doors on them and the plank of wood got stuck. The driver had a complete sense-of-humor failure when he had to open the door once more to

release the plank. The owner yanked it into the car, risking injury and broken bones while the driver set off a string of moserism through the speakers. I had climbed in the rear door and chosen a seat in the center of the car. The luggage man placed himself in the front, the plank man in the back. And they would not cease, for the whole ride, to nasal unpleasantries at each other. The luggage man maintained that lumber should not be carried onto public transport which the taxpayer supported, while the plank man asserted himself that his piece of wood was less of a weight than the bulging luggage of the former. The imagination of dreaming up insults was flowing unbounded, and the unspoken rules of moserism - always top it – called for relentless revenge. Now you must not imagine any uncivil behaviour, all this was a mere battle of words, delivered from the corner of the mouth, huffing and puffing with disdain and gnarling with defiance. The police, the Stadtbahn Rule Sheet, common sense, tradition, right of way, everything and anything was handy in hurling yet another round of guttural insults at the other party until... of course one of them had to get off. And believe you me, if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes... they gave each other a short nod of good bye, like pals would. A short recognition that this exchange had ended in a tie... really the only way of

parting decently.

To be continued...

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