The year was 1835, May 5th to be exact. A sunny spring morning in the Belgian capital. The new country is about to write history: around noon, the very first train on the European mainland will leave Brussels, heading for Mechelen. Almost 180 years later we stand in awe, as we visit Train World and marvel at the tracks of history.
Prior to that first trip, it was already a bumpy ride for the train. One year earlier there was a big debate in the parliament, about whether the iron road would be build or not. Not everybody was keen on the idea. Farmers feared their cows would produce buttermilk instead of regular milk. And that the eggs would arrive as omelets after being transported by train. But the railroad came anyway. The steam locomotive was already a huge success on the other side of the channel and so, if you wanted to be a modern country, you had to have one too.
Lucy, Mirtha and Violet run into Schaarbeeks old train station, which happens to be the starting point of Train World. It dates back to 1887 and it was built in the charming Flemish renaissance style. Very typical for Belgian Railway related architecture. Architect Paul Lievevrouw had his way with it, he also did a fine job designing the new museum.
To their surprise, the kids stand right in the middle of the tracks. The dim lighting and hypnotising soundtrack create a nice atmosphere. Whomever thought this was going to be a boring afternoon suited for train fetishists and retired train conductors, has to change his mind.
Cloud of steam
Together with Expoduo, the sketch artist and citizen of Schaarbeek François Schuiten, created the décor and scenography. They spared no expense to create the right setting for this experience. And it shows: from the way the vehicles are presented with authentic steam clouds, to the fascinating projections and mesmerizing soundtrack.
“We stroll along dozens of old clocks, one prettier than the other”
The girls are playing ‘adventurer’. ‘We’re taking the train on a search for diamonds’, Lucy says. That is exactly what this museum does: it makes you feel as if you have entered a wonderful story. We stroll along dozens of old clocks, one prettier than the other, and it’s as if you can hear time ticking away. As we make our way through the different halls, we pass familiar looking signs as “Aywaille” and “Liège-Guillemins” accompanied by the sounds of passing trains.
Suddenly we bump into a blue-creamy colored train from 1939, straight out of a comicbook. But the girls like the next one even more: The Atlantic type 12, build by Cockerill. ‘I’m sure this one is the fastest’, says Mirtha. Looking at its aerodynamic shape, she might be right.
We enter a train with an infirmary, where a female passenger looks like she is suffering terrible pain. The scene is rather graphic, including bloody cottons, brown bottles of disinfectant and scary scissors. ‘This is going to give me nightmares!’ Mirtha reacts. Violet tries to distract her: “Look here, quite a posh lady.” “It’s just a doll,” says Lucy. She might be a doll, but still a doll with a silk scarf and a fur coat, traveling in first class.
“Amazing how many items the kids recognize in the fifties house”
Our next stop is a house that looks like it was built in the 1950’s. Amazing how many items our kids recognize (“hey, we own the same mixer!” and “those are our chairs!”). Time stood still here, and we decided to join it for a while. We hear the alarm of the railroad crossing and that means it’s time to check out the Royal trains. They date back to 1901 and 1939 but still look absolutely stunning with their beautiful wooden panels, velvet linings and porcelain sinks.
The TEE – Trans Europe Express – brought his passengers in style from Paris Nord to Brussels, surrounded by lush carpets and white table cloths. The traveler who left his glasses, newspaper and hat behind probably had a terrific time here.
We take the elevator to the top floor, so we can admire the trains from above. Next is the simulator, something the kids were looking forward to see since we set foot in the museum. One thing is for sure, it ‘s a jaw dropping experience. They get to operate the big control panel as if they are driving the train. “Don’t forget to horn when we approach a crossing”, the panel indicates, or “not faster than 40 km per hour”. If it was up to these girls, no Belgian train would ever be late again. They are going at it as if they don’t know where the breaks are… and indeed, they probably don’t.
Train World, Prinses Elisabethplein 5, 1030 Brussel. Info: www.trainworld.be