REVIEW | Orient-Express exhibition at Train World, Brussels’ railway museum 

Today, Train World in BrusselsSchaerbeek railway station opened its Orient-Express exhibition. The exhibition recounts the story of this legendary train brand and its creator, Georges Nagelmackers.

For the occasion, mythical Orient-Express carriages are exhibited in the Belgian railway company museum. This major exhibition of the Europalia Trains & Tracks festival, will also present decorative works of art and unique documents retracing the adventure of the Orient-Express and the Wagons-Lits company.

“The exhibition will also evoke the imaginations awakened by this legendary train and the dreams it generated, from the most famous like Agatha Christie to the most tenuous, while paying tribute to the craftsmen who helped build its legend”, the Train World website says

History

The Orient Express (with or without hyphen) was a long-distance passenger train service created in 1883 by Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits (CIWL) that operated until 2009.

The route and rolling stock of the Orient Express changed many times. Several routes in the past concurrently used the Orient Express name, or slight variations. 

Although the original Orient Express was simply a normal international railway service, the name became synonymous with intrigue and luxury rail travel. The two city names most prominently associated with the Orient Express are Paris in France and Istanbul in Turkey, the original endpoints of the timetabled service. But travel agents also offered trip further south and east, with Cairo in Egypt, Aleppo in Syria, Bagdad in Iraq and even Tehran in Iran.

In 1977, the Orient Express stopped serving Istanbul. Its immediate successor, a through overnight service from Paris to Bucharest in Romania, was later cut back in 1991 to Budapest in Hungary, and in 2001 was again shortened to Vienna in Austria, before departing for the last time from Paris on Friday 8 June 2007.

After this, the route, still called the Orient Express, was shortened to start from Strasbourg in France instead, occasioned by the inauguration of the LGV Est which afforded much shorter travel times from Paris to Strasbourg. The new curtailed service left Strasbourg at 10.20PM daily, shortly after the arrival of a TGV from Paris, and was attached at Karlsruhe in Germany to the overnight sleeper service from Amsterdam in the Netherlands to Vienna.

On 14 December 2009, the Orient Express ceased to operate and the route disappeared from European railway timetables, reportedly a “victim of high-speed trains and cut-rate airlines”.

The Venice-Simplon Orient Express train, a private venture by luxury train operator Belmond using original CIWL carriages from the 1920s and 1930s, continues to run from London in the United Kingdom to Venice in Italy and to other destinations in Europe, including the original route from Paris to Istanbul.

The exhibition

As was the case with the ‘From Peking to Hankow: a Belgian adventure in China‘, ‘Orient-Express’ has exhibits everywhere in the museum. So don’t look for a special section. 

Train World clearly uses a similar template. First you’re introduced to the Zeitgeist of the second half of the 19th century. A time where travel by train is developing rapidly. There’s hunger for exploration (tourism) and fortune (business). There’s orientalism, falling under the charms of the East

On the other hand, the geopolitical situation hinders operations, with wars such the Franco-Prussian War and the Balkan Wars

Next up, the exhibition shows how the multiple Orient-Express services were marketed. You can see many posters, illustrating the changing design tastes over the decades. 

The exhibition pays attention to the operations. Staff, uniforms, cutlery, tablewear, china, menus etcetera. 

Cars

The highpoint of the exhibition is definitely the two CIWL carriages on display. The Côte d’Azur 1927 first class seating carriage and the 1929 Riviera dining car. All in pristine condition and with its lovely Prussian blue livery. 

Fiction

The exhibition ends with a focus on famous passenger and how the Orient-Express has inspired books and films. 

So?

As usual, Train World has delivered a well-balanced exhibition. If you already know Train World, the exhibition forms a perfect opportunity to go back. If the museum is new to you, it’s an extra lure to go and explore.

Until 17 April 2022

On railway museums

On night trains

12 Comments Add yours

  1. icefogger says:

    Great post, and what a cool exhibition

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Timothy says:

      Thank you. Yes it’s pretty cool. 🙂

      Like

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