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The British expat couple bringing an historic train station back to life

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The British expat couple bringing an historic train station back to life
Camburg station. Photo: Olly Bond/private
10:21 CEST+02:00
An English couple has taken on the ambitious task of bringing back to life a century-old east German train station that has been left largely abandoned for more than 20 years.

The rundown former Camburg station may not reflect it now, but at one time it was a bustling rail stop in Thuringia, employing hundreds of people while it was part of former East Germany, according to British expat and Camburg resident Olly Bond.

The station built in 1874 in the tiny town of less than 3,000 people was an important stop along the journey between East and West Germany during the Cold War. An American train that ran daily between Munich and West Berlin passed through Camburg, and had to stop for up to 20 minutes to change locomotives from electric to steam engine, which was used more so in the East.

“The trains from Munich to West Berlin were a daily reminder to the people living in East Germany that these were trains they weren’t allowed to get on,” Olly Bond told The Local.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the takeover of train lines by Deutsche Bahn, the station ticket office was no longer used, and the building ultimately fell into disuse as it changed ownership over the years.

But when Olly and wife Jackie Bond look at the old station, they don’t see abandonment. They see potential.

“I was travelling every week by train to Munich for work, and I would always pass by this station. I’d seen it a few hundred times,” Olly explained.

British couple Olly and Jackie Bond. Photo: Peter Carty/private

“It really is beautiful here, it’s the most beautiful bit of the journey. But when you see the building, you get a bad idea of the town, you arrive and you have a bad impression - the graffiti on it, shuttered windows. It didn’t look very nice at all.”

So when the couple, formerly from Cornwall, saw that the station was up for auction in December, they decided they had to buy it. With their bid of €10,000, they won.

“What we’re determined to do is to bring life back into this building. We want a light in every window,” Olly said.

Photo: Wolfgang Pehlemann Wiesbaden Germany / Wikimedia Commons.

The plan is to turn the 1,000 square-metre station into a centre for tourism and entertainment. The couple envisions at least one cafe, holiday apartments and gallery space to hold cultural events. They estimate that in the end, their efforts will cost upwards of €500,000. They still have to figure out how they will fund it all, and say they may apply for some government grants.

To drum up excitement about their plans, Olly and Jackie held an open-door event earlier this month for the town. They told The Local that several hundred people showed up, including residents who had worked selling tickets at the station for decades before it closed.

“One lady came and handed me her uniform and said ‘please have this’,” Olly recounted.

“There’s something about trains that appeals to big kids and little kids. The mayor herself was sitting at a table, glueing together a model train for her children.”

The short-term goal is to have a cafe set up this year, as well as holiday apartments for the summer and autumn.

Olly says that so far the small town community has been supportive of their efforts to revive a historic, local site, and the fact that they are outsiders - and the only Brits in the village - hasn’t been such an issue.

“I think they’re delighted that something is happening, and they might be surprised that it’s us that is doing it, but they’re happy that it’s coming alive,” says Olly.

“We are English and so we do love trains. It’s such a thrill to look out the window and see trains passing by.”

The couple is hopeful that their project could bring more tourism to the town, which could have a positive impact on the picturesque village that might otherwise be overlooked.

“I don’t think we’re going to radically change their way of life. We’re just going to make sure there’s a place to get a decent cappuccino.”

Watch the video below to see a steam engine come through Camburg station in 1992:

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