Somewhere on the rails between Prague and Frankfurt I heard my seatmate on the Goethe express whisper: "Grenze." The former Iron Curtain.
Certainly not just any border and no longer even a border. Our sleek Eurocity express -- traveling totally in daylight 7 hours out of Prague and 7 hours from Paris -- offered a window seat on much of the turbulent 20th century.
I found myself ticking off history as our wheels chewed the miles . Sudetenland 1938. Prague l968 and the velvet Revolution 1989. Dresden 1945. Weimar between the wars. The Iron Curtain 1945-89. The Rhine north of Mannheim where Patton's army crossed in 1945. The Saarland 1936, Hitler's first conquest. The Maginot Line 1940. Metz and Verdun 1914-18. Chateau-Thierry and Belleau Wood 1918. The Marne river where the Paris taxi army made its stand in 1914.
Near Weimar a French salesman offered a glass of Alsatian riesling reserve as a toast to Napoleon's victory at Jena. But that was another century. Soon, we were passing through Germany's vineyards in a dining car that celebrated riesling month with a menu including lake pike on a bed of mild sauerkraut. We had sliced through the Iron Curtain with more ease than I cut into my pike.
A true contrast arrived with Frankfurt's muscular, reflective-aluminum skyline. Then it was a joy to reach the French railbed, the most cushioned of Europe. The entire sweep of World War I from Metz to the Marne passed before we reached Gare de l'Est in Paris a minute early -- regardless of the century it took us to get there.