For both musical instruments and steam boilers, this man has a safe pair of hands: Ralf Rudolph plays the tuba at the German State Philharmonic Orchestra of Rhineland-Palatinate – and now he is going at full steam with the Kuckucksbähnel (Cuckoo Railway) across the Palatinate region again.
Like a tame big cat with clouds of steam rising almost peacefully, the engine is resting. But as soon as you approach it, you will feel the tremendous heat escaping from its bowels and you become aware that the meek-seeming steel giant is more than able to hiss. Don’t take the end of the line literally, where Ralf Rudolph has parked the steam locomotive of the railway-lovers in the town of Neustadt this morning: in half an hour’s time the Kuckucksbähnel (Cuckoo Railway) will depart from Neustadt an der Weinstraße to Elmstein – across the Palatinate Forest.
Hustle and bustle on the platforms 4 and 5 with the sounds of hikers’ walking sticks and children stomping around. Eventually, the locomotive arrives at the station with enormous clouds of steam and hooting to the passengers. How about white handkerchiefs waving?
The route runs from Neustadt past Lambrecht, Frankeneck, Erfenstein, Breitenstein and Helmbach all the way to Elmstein – and back. The historic route across the forest became operational in 1909 and was used for passenger transport until 1960, after that only goods trains carrying timber cargo kept rolling along the picturesque route until 1977. A bicycle route was planned to be created here, but the railway-lovers in the town of Neustadt revived the railway route.
The German association for railway history “Deutsche Gesellschaft für Eisenbahngeschichte e.V.” have two historical steam locomotives in their actual fleet and they maintain the most comprehensive railway archives in Germany. Their rail network, periodically serviced by a railroad construction department, comprises 13 kilometres of rail distance. You can even train as a stoker or a train driver, like Ralf Rudolph did. He directs the museum and the regular Sunday’s tour on a voluntary basis. In his everyday life, he is a solo tuba player at the Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz (German State Philharmonic Orchestra of Rhineland-Palatinate) and gives lectures at various musical colleges. Next to business trips, concerts, and rehearsals he has committed himself to the Eisenbahnmuseum (railway museum) since 1975, only two years after its foundation. This way he lives kind of a childhood dream: he had wanted to become a train driver ever since he was a little boy. As well as a musician. He has become both.