Work in progress…
An interesting feature of the former Eastern European countries – particularly East Germany – were the “Pioniereisenbahnen” (“Pioneer Railways”).
The Pionierorganisation Ernst Thälmann was a youth organisation in the GDR for children between the ages of 6 and 14. Founded in 1948, the majority of such children in the country were “Pioneers” by the mid-1950s. They took part in interesting activities, although there was a strong political slant to the movement as these activities were often crafted in such a way that emphasised the ideology and principles of socialism to the keen young minds of its members. In the Summer, the Pioneers spent time in special Pioneer activity camps situated across the GDR and other socialist countries.
Many of these Pioneer camps were home to Pioniereisenbahnen. These were narrow-gauge railways that were operated as far as practicable by the Pioneers themselves. As well as a fun activity, the serious side to this was to prepare them for a career on the railway in later life, as an industry that required not only specialist skills, but – in the specific case of the GDR – a strong sense of loyalty to the regime, given, for example, that duties could involve routinely crossing the Iron Curtain with the corridor trains (and so on). As they had seen in December 1961 with Harry Deterling (article to follow!), railway staff given an opportunity to cross the inner-German border could not always be relied upon to return.
The children were generally permitted to carry out all duties involved in running a railway short of maintaining and driving the trains. The older children were given the opportunity to work towards these grades, however. They wore railway uniform and largely worked to the “big railway” rule book.
In contrast to similar railways in the other socialist countries (and the reason why I have given the Pioniereisenbahnen their own separate article here), the East German ones were not generally museum operations and were thoroughly modern railways, both in terms of traction and signalling – in some cases more so than parts of the Deutsche Reichsbahn that the Pioneers were being primed to work on. Indeed, the Pioniereisenbahn at Plauen was actually overhead electrified!
The Pioneer Railways Today
The Pioneer organisation dissolved with German reunification; its reason for existing being removed. With it, went the need for the Pioneer camps and their railways.
However, many of the camps have found a new purpose as parks for more general enjoyment, with many of the railways forming an interesting centrepiece to them.
They tend to now be known as “Parkeisenbahnen” (“park railways”), their political heritage removed from the names to reflect their current usage. Although some retain the involvement of children, many are now operated by adults.
Below is a list of all of the GDR’s Pioniereisenbahnen, and over time I will add individual articles for each of them covering how you can experience the remaining ones yourself. Even now, they are certainly not “toy railways” and have something to offer to even the most stubbornly grown-up enthusiast!
Pioniereisenbahnen in the GDR
Pioniereisenbahn Magdeburg (closed)
Pioniereisenbahn Prerow (closed)