Rail and Festivals II: Celebrating Cultural Events Along European Tracks

Savor ramp-inspired dishes and board a train ride at this family-friendly culture festival. You can also take a close-up look at a variety of models trains from local clubs.

This article will critique how railway companies have used an origin narrative since 1875 to cement identities and market themselves at commemorative junctures. It will also consider how such a narrative has shifted over time.

1. Germany

Located in the heart of Europe, Germany is a cosmopolitan country with a lively present. Its history is shaped by a plurality of lifestyles and a rich tradition. Today, it faces challenges of economic competitiveness, an influx of political and economic refugees from far afield, and the threat of extremist politics and propaganda.

The German language is the most widely spoken in Europe. It’s an Indo-European language, related to Latin and other ancient Indo-European languages such as Dutch and French. Although Standard German (High German) is the official language, there are many regional variations that vary in vocabulary and pronunciation. Approximately half of all Germans speak at least one other language, mostly English.

Germany is a parliamentary republic that has a federal system that grants significant government powers to the states. Each of the 16 Bundesländer, or state governments, is led by a governor and has its own legislature. Germany has 23 representatives on the European Committee of the Regions, an assembly of regional and local representatives that consults with EU institutions to ensure laws are shaped by the perspectives of all regions within the union.

In the 19th century, the country was a patchwork of small kingdoms and duchies ruled by princes and kings. A politician named Otto von Bismarck created the modern state of Germany by uniting these states into a single entity under his leadership. In the years leading up to World War I, Germany’s competition with other countries to set up colonies in Africa and Asia stoked nationalist sentiment and caused tensions that contributed to the conflict.

After World War II, Germany was divided into the Federal Republic of Germany in the west and the communist German Democratic Republic in the east. During the Cold War, the western part of Berlin was referred to as West Germany, and the eastern part was called East Berlin.

In the era after World War II, Germany grew to become one of the most powerful economies in the world. In the decades after the end of the Cold War, it invested billions in refashioning itself into a prosperous and modern country. But it still carries a legacy of the Holocaust and Nazi genocide, and is working hard to commemorate and address this dark chapter in its past, as well as actively prosecuting hate crimes and the spread of neo-Nazi doctrine.

2. France

As a popular destination for train lovers, France has plenty of events to offer. From music to agrarian culture, take your pick of festivals around the country and its many regions.

Arras is a beautiful medieval city that comes to life during the summer with markets selling local specialties like cheese, wines and the famous Couve Crestoise (shortbread). It’s also the host of the yearly Festival de la Station, an event dedicated to railway stations and their role in society.

The festival has a wide array of activities that allow visitors to experience the world of railways in an interactive way. In particular, it presents a collection of films from around the world in which trains, stations, tracks and railway workers play a central role. The event also includes a competition for short films on this theme, with an international jury awarding prizes.

For art-lovers, the Musée des Transports in Paris displays an exceptional model railway exhibition with more than 200 networks in over 1,000 square meters. Guests are invited to interact with these miniature marvels, including the opportunity to talk with rail enthusiasts and take part in locomotive assembly workshops.

This year, the Cannes Film Festival has incorporated an “oldies” section alongside its high-profile premieres and red carpet glamour. This past week, a classic black-and-white war film, La Bataille du Rail, from director René Clement, was screened for the first time since its 1946 debut at the festival.

One of the best places to catch a live performance in the capital is the Parc de Choisy, where the annual Yardland festival takes place. The three-day event features a mix of African and Amapiano rhythms and a large food area, plus Classics Only karaoke, where participants sing their hearts out to top tunes from the 90s and 2000s.

Outside of the capital, you’ll find a number of smaller summer festivals, such as the Festival d’Arles-en-Provence. It’s a great option for a day trip, as the INTERCITES train runs between Paris and Valence, with stops in small towns that come to life during the summer with markets selling local produce and products, as well as wine tasting and guided tours.

3. Italy

Italy’s cities are vibrant canvases painted with history and culture that beckon visitors in search of art, architecture and local lide. Yet beyond the obvious treasures of Rome’s ancient marvels, Florence’s Renaissance masterpieces and Venice’s romantic waterways are a multitude of lesser-known traditions that create unique travel experiences.

The Carnival of Masks in Venice is an enchanting annual event where thousands of participants dress in their finest costumes to celebrate the masked ball tradition that originated in anticipation of Lent (a time when Christians refrain from revelry and eating meat). In contrast to the opulent balls which require invitations, this event has free admission. The streets of the city are also lit with candles as Venetians parade on their boats and gondolas to showcase their nautical prowess.

Bergamo’s Donizetti Festival honors the great Italian composer by embracing his best-known works, as well as his lesser-known compositions. The Festival includes operas, concerts and collateral events that offer insight into his life. His birthplace, the Casa Rossini home-museum, is also part of the Festival and can be visited along a biographical-creative itinerary.

For a gastronomic celebration, the village of Sondrio in northeastern Italy celebrates bread. Bread is revered in this region and bakers are on hand to illustrate various bread-making and baking techniques. The festival also features music, guided tours and carriage rides for children. During the rice harvest in September, the hills of Monferrato, a Unesco World Heritage site, come alive with the aroma of cooking rice, while wine and other typical products from the area are on display.

The Teatro Comunale in Verona is one of Europe’s most famous opera houses and stages a series of classic performances each summer, including Aida, Carmen and Turandot. Its Roman amphitheatre is a setting that hasn’t changed since the days of the gladiators.

A variety of trains serve Italy, from fast Freccie trains to InterCity and Regional trains that stop in most towns. Many train lines are ticketed and offer different classes of service, such as Regionale Veloce which has fewer stops than a regular Regional. Check train times and fares on the Trenitalia website.

4. Spain

In the same way that Europe’s marvelous architecture, incredible cuisines and rich history draw travelers in, its lesser-known traditions offer even more to discover. Few will ever attend a game of Florence’s historic local sport or take part in Valencia’s world-famous tomato-throwing celebrations, but these quirks make for some of the continent’s most unique and memorable travel experiences.

The Tomatina began in 1945 when young people threw tomatoes at each other during a parade. The event has since become an annual tradition and one of the biggest cultural festivals in Spain. During the festival, participants wear white to prevent getting dirty amongst the red tomatoes, which can be purchased from nearby vendors. The craze has spread to other cities in the country and the event is now considered a popular international tourist attraction.

During this period, Spain was transformed into a modern country in all respects: freedoms of every kind were guaranteed; a multiparty parliamentary system was established; the social function of political parties and trade unions was recognised; and the decentralisation of government allowed for the formation of autonomous regions throughout the country. It was also during this time that the country entered the European Union and exercised its periodic presidencies of the Union (1989, 1995 and 2002) with great efficiency.

Today, Spain is a parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy where the king and elected president share power, but the country is one of the most decentralized democracies in the world with 17 regions that manage their own schools and hospitals. In addition, a council of ministers forms the executive branch and is presided over by the prime minister.

Fly to Spain with Condor and experience the sights, sounds and food of its many regions. The country is home to some of the most impressive cities in Europe, such as Madrid and Barcelona. However, its countryside is also rich with vineyards and olive groves. In the north, a wide range of mountains is found, while in the south, the coastline is swept by warm sirocco winds from northern Africa that help make the Spanish coast more temperate than the rest of the country.

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