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Updated: Feb 24

On the road from Dusseldorf to Muenster I never did find a place called Umleitung even although there were signs for it everywhere.

At a Christmas party in Tehran we were all sitting on a beautiful huge white Flokati rug in front of a roaring fire with our rum punches as the party was winding down and a newly arrived American woman was telling us how she came to come to Tehran by rail.

Flokati rugs from Greece

I paid attention because my mother had written to tell me she wanted to try the train to come and see me. We are a train travelling family because my father had worked for LNER in Britain before he died so we used train service regularly.


Connie told us about being on a flight in the US that had run into very bad weather, it felt like the plane was upside down, everyone on board was screaming, she herself was throwing up, and several people were seriously injured.  (We had an experience like that when we returned to New York in 1968).


Because of that harrowing experience she vowed she would never fly again.  This was a problem since she wanted to join her husband in Tehran.  So, she took the train across Europe after crossing the Atlantic on Cunard and ferries, trains etc., to get to Vienna.


She had been assured this would be a luxurious journey similar to the Orient Express, which I believe was not operational at that time. Yugoslavia, under Marshall Josip Braz Tito, was reputed to be quite stable, not the mess it is in today with Bosnia, Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Slovenia, Serbia and possibly Kosovo and Vojvodina. Can you imagine getting your passport out for customs on a train journey like that today?


Arriving in England on Cunard with P.O.S.H. accommodations, she took the Night Train, which crosses the English Chanel on a ferry - Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits - to Paris.  She would take the train from Paris to Venice to Belgrade to Istanbul, all in first class.  The journey as far as Venice was very luxurious, but then it became sticky because ….

 The train broke down while travelling through Yugoslavia and everyone was ordered to disembark. 


My friend had to stand in the middle of nowhere in her lovely multicoloured, hooded parka with white fur lining not knowing what to do. She was surrounded by her matching white luggage, in her white fur lined boots as she waited for someone to direct her to further transportation. 


She found out then that her fashionable attire was no longer very suitable and not really warm enough for hours of standing in the middle of the night, in the middle of winter, in the middle of Yugoslavia.

When one of the guards realized that no help was going to be offered to this lone woman, he said he would try to smuggle her on to a train to get her to Belgrade where she could make connections to get on to Turkey.


The smuggling involved her being taken in the back of an old truck under potato sacks and driven to another railway station. 

She was then hidden on a stationary cold train in the station, this time under an old carpet with a bottle of brandy to help her stay warm until the next day when her rescuer could get her on to a train to Belgrade.


She spent the night worrying and shivering hoping that this stranger would come back for her  … and no other unknown assailant would find her.  Maybe she would be able to get her permit to continue her journey. 

A far cry from the QEII Princess Grill Suites.


 Connie’s problem was that she had no visa that allowed her to be in Yugoslavia – only to transit through the country.  She had to trust a lot of people to get the correct tickets.  The helpful guard did come back to get her in the morning with the correct documents.  She did get a train to Belgrade and another one to Istanbul then to Tehran.  Train connections did not match up and caused her major delays with no opportunities to clean up.


When she finally showed up in Tehran days later than her planned arrival date, her fur lined parka and matching luggage was battered and no longer white and her husband had difficulty spotting her at the seedy train station in Tehran. He must have been frantic with worry for there was no way for her to contact anyone anywhere.


 She had nothing but praise for all the Yugoslavians who helped her, but I think she took a plane when she had to leave Iran and return to the U.S.A.

This is why I decided to take my sons and fly from Tehran to Dusseldorf and drive to Muenster - to keep my mother from trying to take a train from Germany to Iran.

I would say that any travel in and out of Iran was not very ‘promising’.  Reservations could be made for a certain flight on a certain day, but whether or not you would depart on that day or time was questionable.  Plans always had to be tentative. 


We had to run the gauntlet of officialdom at Tehran Airport.  Passports and tickets are not enough.  We had to have exit permits and reentry permits…..and NOT meet any officials who may decide you couldn’t leave.  We don’t always know what they are looking for.  Were we taking things out of the country, like art or gold?  We would never know because forms were written in Farsi.  Once my sons and I were physically on board the Iran Air flight and had actually stayed aloft for a good few hours, my husband then could send a telegram to my mother in Germany to tell her of my arrival. 

When I arrived in Dusseldorf, I rented a car and was given maps and directions (all in German) to drive the 90 miles to Muenster, which, I was assured, should only take a couple of hours on the Autobahn. I became quite familiar with the Audi that I drove all over Germany on this trip.


I accessed the Autobahn and was driving along quite happily, but somehow or other got off at some point and did not realize what I had done.

 I stopped and tried to get some help, but no one understood English and I knew no German. I did learn “Damen and Herren” the hard way – by going into the ‘men’s’ room.  On that trip I remember the enlarged eyes of the boys when they saw so many young women topless at the outdoor public swimming pools.


 I had a map and I knew I had to drive north, northeast so, I reckoned, if I kept the sun over my left shoulder I would arrive at Munster, if we all kept our eyes open.  My sons were trying to help and would look on the map for the various towns that were sign posted on the road. 


We kept seeing signs for “Umleitung”.  These were very large, signs and I thought this must be a large city close by, but we could not find it on the map.


 I did make it to Muenster and stopped when I saw the sign for the “Polizei”.  I was able to ascertain very little of what they told me, so I drove on the road they had told me was the main direction and after a while decided I should just stop and ask again how to get to “Grawerstrasse”, which I was mispronouncing.  I should have said “Graver Strasse”.


 I got out of the car because I saw a soldier walking down the street.  I asked him if he could speak English and he replied “Cor blimey lady, acourse I speak bloody English”.  

Thank goodness! 


Fate had made me stop at just the right place, or perhaps I had understood something of what the Policeman had told me.   I asked him about Grawerstasse and he explained about the pronunciation and asked me if I was Mrs. Mullen’s daughter!! 

He was a neighbour of my mother’s, and he told me that she was in Scotland!


A telegram had been sent to her and she was returning as soon as possible.  He also told me that everyone on Graver Strasse was expecting us and had put on a party to welcome us to Germany.  We made friends with a British family that day and we stayed with them in London – and that’s another story.


Our adventure in Germany was just beginning.

The soldier was right.  There were a lot of people in Mum’s little flat and a spread of food was waiting for us.  We had quite a party and I asked where Umleitung was.  There was a lull in the conversation and everyone started laughing….

Umleitung in German means Detour – there was no large city anywhere. 

Mum would be back tomorrow.


My visit to Germany coincided with the U.S.A. 4th of July Holiday.  My stepfather was the liaison between the U.K. and U.S. forces so we were invited to a big 4th of July party on the American Military Base.


This was a real treat for us because we could not “show the flag” in Tehran. The boys really enjoyed the fireworks, hamburgers, fries, cokes, ice cream and watermelon, none of which would have been available to them in Iran since we did not have PX privileges.


Another treat for the boys was a motorcycle rally put on for all the different military groups stationed in that part of Germany.  I had no idea what a big deal this was and it was very competitive.  I must say I could not follow it, but my sons  did and had a great time watching dozens of men on super motorcycles zipping around the fairgrounds.


 I never could determine where the racing was happening or who was winning.  My mum had arranged that we have lunch in a marquee.  I saw no evidence of any such tent, but pretty soon we were ushered into a tent beautifully set up with tables, chairs, white linen table cloths, napkins, silver (ESPN) flatware and glass stemware.  I was amazed. 

We had a lovely lunch ending with fresh luscious strawberries and cream …and a soldier appeared with silver pots to serve our café au lait!


Another part of our adventure was when I drove to Hanover to take the train to Berlin.  We got to the British platform, but we were not allowed to travel because my sons did not have British Passports so they were not eligible to travel on the British controlled rail route into Berlin.  We missed a real treat. We were booked to stay at The Edinburgh House (think Halekoa, the US Military luxury hotel on Waikiki). I did not make my sons British Citizens because I had seen children of foreigners being confused about their loyalty. I wanted my sons to know they were 100% American and not half British.

An icon of the Cold War was the British military train which ran between West Germany and Berlin. Between 1945 and 1990 the British military train travelled daily through Soviet occupied East Germany to the British sector of West Berlin. All the train doors were locked, an armed guard was on board and the British military and civil servants would take about 4 hours to cover the distance of 145 miles. A special train The Berliner ran between Berlin and Hanover used a steam locomotive from the 1940s and an East German diesel. There was a dining car with a typical Royal Corps of Transport menu and wine list.

The Edinburgh House

This was back in the 70's and I am really glad we did not make that trip because we had a bad experience with German officials at the border in Enschede Holland.


After “The Wall” came down in 1989 I was on a trip to what had been “East Germany” before Reunification and I did get to visit Berlin.  We were guests of the Tourist Boards and were being shown the highlights of the region.  It was as though everyone we met was waking from a nightmare.


The rate of exchange for the U.S. Dollar and the British Pound is of primary importance when travelling internationally.  It got to be when we woke up in a hotel we would speculate “What country is this and what is the rate of exchange” when we went for breakfast.


Enschede Holland

I asked my mother to come with us to show me the route and I drove to Holland.  I wanted to do some shopping because the rate of exchange had become very favourable and we would visit another country/culture for the day.

The fluctuation of the rate of exchange has repercussions that are not always good.  I got stuck in London one time when no one would take my American Express Travellers checks because of a huge increase in the strength  of the dollar.  If it had not been for the fact that I could use my American Express Credit Card (which was quite new in those days) to pay for food, transportation, hotel bills etc., the boys and I would have been out on the street.


American Express had a different connotation back in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s.  You could use them as a post office, passport assistance and legal advice as well as travel assistance and getting cash.


At the end of our day of shopping, when we drove back into Germany the German customs officers took our passports to stamp them.  We sat in the car and waited and waited for the passports to be returned.  I went into the passport office and  asked for our passports and was told they did not have our passports! 


This was going to be a bad situation.  There we were, foreigners in Holland, no luggage with no passports.  How to contact the American Embassy, how to get into Germany and then try to get back to Tehran without our visas, exit and reentry permits?


 It took some talking on the part of my mother, but eventually they “found” our passports in a back office?  The officer threw them at me! In all my travels this is the one time when I was really frightened. The German customs officers that day were rude, demeaning, ugly and threatening.  We wondered if our Passports were such a valuable commodity and could be sold.


After that I always carry my passport in a money belt next to my skin and never surrender it to anyone who could take it out of my sight.  On cruises when they keep passports – I have my British Passport on me always.

Over all, we had a great time with my mother’s British neighbours, the boys got to watch TV, and all the great British and American food we could consume for two weeks before we went back to Iran.  Luckily, I did not have any trouble driving back to Dusseldorf and there were no delays with our flight back to Tehran.


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1 Comment

Another great story Dorothy!

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