On board Europe's most outlandish train, the Saturday lunchtime departure from Berlin to Siberia, we stick out like sore thumbs. Our fellow passengers are mainly Russians heading back to their homes on the other side of the Urals. This is a journey that maps its extent in days, not hours. Add to the multitude of Russians a few families from Kazakhstan, a couple returning to the Crimea and a businessman or two bound for Belarus, and there you have the complex social world of the D-1249. Our train consists entirely of sleeping cars. Everyone has their place, and the stern eyes of the provodnitsi (the Russian carriage attendants) are quick to spot anyone who ventures where they shouldn't. They guard the boundaries of decorum on this exotic exclave as it travels for over 5000 km across eastern Europe and on into Asia.
Exclaves of another kind feature in our third issue of hidden europe, for we check out some of Europe's most tangled territories: places like Campione d'Italia and Büsingen, exclaves of foreign lands that find themselves surrounded entirely by Switzerland. We visit a small town that defies the logic of cartographers as it blends Dutch and Belgian territory, and explore an island, a place where kings once met, that hedges its bets and is sometimes French and sometimes Spanish.
As always, people lie at the heart of hidden europe, and we never miss a chance to try and understand a little more of Europe's cultural minorities. So in this issue we look at Estonian speaking villages in Georgia and try to unravel the tale of the Aromanian Vlachs who live in Greece's Píndhos mountains. And we look at the plight of Europe's most consistently marginalised minority, the Roma people.
Of course, we visit some of Europe's more popular tourist destinations too: Paris, Kraków and Andalucía. Elsewhere in this issue, we report from an Arctic island in the Barents Sea, check out Georgian cuisine and include an upbeat report from the Latvian port city of Ventspils. For this latter piece, we welcome Amanda Kendle as guest contributor.
Back on the train to Siberia, our fellow passengers have contrived to pack away great piles of luggage into every available space in the tiny sleeping compartments, where triple tier berths define the delicate borders of social space that will prevail for the next few days. It is a space where a little drop of vodka might go a long way.
Nicky SC Gardner & Susanne Kries
on board the Berlin to Novosibirsk train (D-1249)
11 June 2005