I have met some tough England fans during the last fortnight. John, who I met on a train from Volgograd to Moscow, is spending five weeks in Russia, eating a lot of pot noodles. Me, I have to go back to work. Yesterday I got a bus over the frontier from Kaliningrad to Poland, crossed Poland by train and spent the night in Berlin. Today is an easy train trip back to Brussels.
The 100 km bus journey from Kaliningrad to Elblag took four hours, more than two of them simply to cross the border.
We pass a lakeside restaurant on the outskirts of Kaliningrad. A man from Birmingham, a football fan, says to the Colombian woman sitting next to him, in a voice that carries, “As far as I’m concerned the European Union’s just a job creation scheme for bureaucrats”.
Still in Russia, three wind turbines. “Yugoslavia was actually part of the Soviet Union until the death of Tito.” A monument in Russian to the Heroes of 1945. “We stood alone against Germany from June 1940 to December 1941.” A monument in German to the dead of 1914-19. “Now tell me about your country. It is famous in England for coffee and cocaine. We know that many cities are in the hands of gangsters.” A heavy stork takes off from a verge. The driver swerves to avoid it. “There was no EU in the 1940s but we never turned our back on Europe.” We stop for the first passport check. “Aren’t I allowed to speak to someone, then?” Four Russian immigration officers reappear, each carrying a big handful of passports, many Fan ID card straps dangling. “She wants to sleep? Go to bed then!” – and there is quiet.
All here?, shouts the driver. All!, replies the Russian next to me. Off we go.
Still in Russia, the next stop is this duty free shop. The name, in Cyrillic letters, is Königsberg Trading. Königsberg was the German name of Kaliningrad: the city was German until 1945. On this Hanseatic coast, Trading is in English.
I had lunch in a trendy beer bar in Gdansk called Lubrow and made a list of things I’d noticed since crossing the border:
(1) There are a lot of old buildings (the one in the picture is Gdansk station).
(2) The shops have big windows, through which you can see what is for sale.
(3) The bookshop has books in English.
(4) The waiter lingered when I paid, expecting a tip.
(5) The trains did not run on time.
(6) Stations, platforms and trains gave no information about trains’ timetabled and actual arrival and departure times (except for one printed timetable of all departures in the main hall).
As a result of (5) and (6), as I opened the door of my delayed train from Elblag to Gdansk and climbed down its steep steps, my connecting train to Poznan closed its doors and chugged away from the opposite platform. The journey to Berlin took eighteen hours instead of fourteen, and I missed the evening match (Portugal-Uruguay).
Instead in the evening, beyond Szczecin, coming up to the Poland/Germany border, I saw wind turbines.
To find out whether I’d crossed this border, I checked the name of the service provider on my phone.