Churchill was cut off from the world at Hudson Bay in Canada for 18 months. In the meantime, a train is driving to the Arctic Sea - into a decoupled world for dreamers and explorers.
Churchill (dpa / tmn) - The evening sun bathes the Canadian summer sky over Winnipeg in shimmering colors, in the hotel lounge a pianist has taken a seat on the grand piano. At the bar, a man pours white wine. Instead of a hand, it has a hook.
The man with the white, combed back hair introduces himself as a doctor. When he hears about the upcoming adventure, a train journey up north to Churchill, he looks knowingly. After all, he has lived here in Manitoba Province in the middle of Canada for more than 25 years.
The doctor has advice that sounds like a warning: "If you like peace and the silence and memory of a bubble in the sea of nothing, go there. There is nothing."
Connection temporarily interrupted
The haunting words reverberate the following morning at Union Station in Winnipeg. There are two diesel locomotives on the track, a freight car, one with seats, a dining car and two sleeping cars. This is what a lifeline that has become metal looks like in Canada.
In the summer of 2017, severe floods interrupted the route to the north and brought Churchill to the brink of collapse. The city's fate now depended on an air connection, because there are no roads to Hudson Bay. When the first train entered the city again after 18 months, its residents celebrated on the streets.
Shutting down on rails
When you get in, you can't shake off a hint of the Orient Express feeling, because the upcoming journey is of epic proportions. In 50 hours, it leads over 1697 kilometers from the agriculturally dominated south of Manitoba, not far from the border with the USA, to the Arctic Sea of Hudson Bay. Into the wilderness, to lakes from which you can drink. To where the doors of the cars are always open in case someone has to look for protection from a bloodthirsty polar bear.
In any case, the somewhat morbid, blue-gray post-war charm of the interior makes it clear that not only pleasure travel, but also adventure is imminent. As the houses of Winnipeg leave the fields and the railway leaves the mobile cell phone network line by line, an unexpected inner calm returns - no appointments, no deadlines, no typing. The travelers look up from the screen and place their travel fate in the hands of the Canadian railways.
A community of fate on the way
At some point the train stops shrill and squeaky in the shadow of a grain silo. "Don't go too far from the train, the next one will only come in three days," boomed the voice of the train attendant through the loudspeakers. The train driver has already started the journey again when the travelers move closer together further back. 17 of 35 beds are occupied. At first they are still strangers, but over time they get faces, names and stories.
Joana is from the west coast and travels with her brother - she always calls him "Bro". Little Isaac from Chicago is remarkably polite, which is probably due to his mother's strict regime. James from Australia is obsessed with Brexit news, even though he no longer lives in London but in the Norwegian mountains. Musician Glenn is out with his wife Heather. Coralli has been traveling through Canada for 1.5 years and wants to work at the Churchills Polar Institute.
Chess, dominoes and real interest
New groups are formed. The initially felt compulsion to deal with fellow travelers becomes a privilege. Prejudices turn out to be wrong and people are entertaining. Susan says: "I met the most interesting people on trains or on ships". Shortly thereafter, she finds out that Joana and she are from the same place on the Pacific.
A dynamic develops that James believes is related to the adventure together. "This train is different, you know. Because we're going into the wilderness." Hours of dominoes, chess and chats have suddenly passed.
The Canadian expanse gave way to a wasteland on the last morning. The bare stumps of the trees grow out of the ground like fangs.
Beluga whales and polar bears
"There is nothing there," the doctor's voice from Winnipeg echoes through his head. And the first steps in Churchill prove him right. Cool fog hangs over the street in front of the train station. The rental car is in the parking lot, of course unlocked. The key is in the passenger seat.
The first ride leads to Mayor Michael Spence. "When I grew up, Churchill had over 6,000 people," he says. Today there are less than 1,000. Nature is back - he means the Beluga whales. In fact, most people come here for outdoor and polar tourism. A sign at the entrance to the city praises Churchill as the "polar bear and Beluga capital" of the world.
If you go out by boat in the mouth of the Churchill River in summer, you need no luck to see the Beluga whales with their elegant, horse-like and snow-white backs. They are curious and keep coming to the boats in shoals.
Where all roads end
The really fascinating thing about Churchill, however, is this feeling that has been growing since the beginning of the train journey and is now breaking new ground: the networked world has definitely fallen by the wayside. The streets end a few dozen kilometers from the city gates. Churchill is an island in the middle of the mainland.
The roads also lead to an abandoned bay where you can see a shipwreck, to the radar station of an earlier rocket program, a polar science station, and finally into the endless vastness of hundreds of lakes. And at some point it's just over.
When evening falls in Churchill, the handful of local restaurants and bars fill up. They are called "Tundra Inn" or "Lazy Bear" and you can be sure to meet new friends from the train there.
A few days later, just before boarding the plane: there is a crack at the other end of the line. One just wanted to say that Churchill had survived unscathed. It was even very nice! "Everyone should go there at least once to reflect," the doctor from Winnipeg replies. And anyway, he says, in the face of hatred everywhere: shouldn't one take a piece of Churchill out into the world?
Info box: By train from Winnipeg to Churchill
Climate and travel time: Churchill's climate is harsh, but the travel season lasts until late autumn. The starry nights in February and March are particularly suitable for observers of the Northern Lights. Bird watchers get their money's worth in May and June. The best months to see Beluga whales are July and August. From July to November, a particularly large number of polar bears can be seen.
How to get there: You can fly to Churchill by plane from Calm Air - for around 500 to 600 euros each way. A seat on the train is significantly cheaper, a bed in a sleeping car also costs the equivalent of around 500 euros.
Winnipeg Churchill Route