Gelsenkirchen here we come? CRAIG HOPE’s postcard from somewhere in the German countryside… after a nightmare day on the train!

  • Craig Hope isn’t a huge fan of Gelsenkirchen – or his train journey there!
  • He is staying in the charming medieval town of Erfurt, which is full of life  
  • LISTEN to It’s All Kicking Off! ‘I wouldn’t touch Nagelsmann with a barge pole!’ 

German inefficiency, who knew? This postcard might have featured a few thoughts from Gelsenkirchen, if I hadn’t spent most of Saturday stuck on a train in the Bavarian countryside. Rolling hills, yes. Sadly, no rolling wheels.

I didn’t even have a seat, the chaos caused by the delays meaning a lady had taken mine. It wasn’t that I didn’t have the heart to evict her, it was more that I didn’t know the German for ‘please move’. 

For all that, my previous experience of Gelsenkirchen would probably have reduced my dispatch to the following: ‘Get me out of here.’

There isn’t a great deal to write home about in a city where the glorious Veltins Arena is the sole antidote to the pain of the beige, industrial oblivion of elsewhere.

The same cannot be said of wonderfully charming Erfurt, a medieval town close to where England are staying and my base for the tournament. To think my image of East Germany was ‘grey, cold and closed’. On Friday night, Erfurt was vibrant, balmy and open to all.

Mail Sport’s Craig Hope had to endure a nightmare train journey with no seat to Gelsenkirchen

Hope is staying in the charming medieval town of Erfurt, where he heard Germany fans' joy during their win over Scotland

Hope is staying in the charming medieval town of Erfurt, where he heard Germany fans’ joy during their win over Scotland 

This weekend marks the annual festival to celebrate the city’s famous Merchant Bridge. The graffiti-daubed high-rises still reside on the drowsy perimeter of town — and there is an intriguing nostalgia to them — but the centre is full of life. 

While I watched Germany v Scotland on an ITV feed in my hotel room — a bockwurst’s throw from the bridge — I was alerted to each goal in advance by the giddy cheers of the natives watching on a big screen nearby.

Afterwards, I wandered down to my favourite craft ale bar in the town — the only craft ale bar, in fact — where the owner, Sten, told me that my childhood vision of East Germany was accurate, where suspicion and oppression ruled. Only since the Berlin Wall came down in 1989 has Erfurt been allowed to embrace and exude its beauty, he said.

And it really is a beautiful sight — football fused with live music, street artists and street food. Not that I’ll be seeing much of that. I’ll be in Gelsenkirchen, if I get there.

P.S. So inefficient are German trains, I actually made my connection in Frankfurt despite arriving two hours late. How come? Well, the connecting train had been delayed coming from the opposite direction because of a technical failure!