Trains (Mostly) Planes and Automobiles Part 3 136

It is good to be joined by Niels Ladefoged on this tour. Niels was the Director of Photography on the film Ithaka, and as such a fly on the wall of the Shipton/Assange family for two years. But his commitment to Wikileaks goes back much further. He is a very helpful and calming influence to have around when facing a crisis like a stolen laptop.

It is a crisis. I have much important data stored on a copy hard drive, but that was made some time ago and much else has been lost. I do not maintain sensitive material on the laptop. But the risks of identity theft and the danger to my own access to all kinds of different accounts is very real.

Fortunately Sunday 27 November is a rare day off on the tour. The hotel does not do laundry at the weekend, and Germany allows workers a rest day on Sunday in a way that has been forgotten in the UK – so laundries are shut, and so are laptop shops.

There is another peculiarity. The laptop appears to have been taken out of the laptop bag, but the fairly large sum of cash in the bag was not taken. However what has also vanished is my heart medicines (Apixaban and Digoxin for the medically minded), which were in their boxes and kept in my laptop bag in a ziploc sandwich bag.

By one of life’s peculiar little coincidences, Niels, who arrived on a different train from Erfurt, found his vital prescription medicine had disappeared from his luggage the very same day. So we both need to sort out our prescriptions.

The day is spent in several return trips to the railway lost property office and in making a police report. The lost property office counter alternates between a man in a peaked cap who ignores you, and a woman in a peaked cap who yells at people to go away.

In the police station I am taken upstairs by a very earnest young policeman with a fashionably sparse beard, who speaks excellent English. He takes all the details and determines exactly where I was sitting, which door I exited the train by, what I was wearing and what route I took to the hotel. He says he will look at the station CCTV cameras. There were none on the train.

I tell him I am dubious that a thief would target such an obviously old and cracked laptop. He said he was not at all surprised. Thieves board the train at the station just before Frankfurt and walk up the train. They would take the laptop from its bag in a second, without looking at it.

He said it was not unusual for thieves to take the laptop and not the bag. He smiled at my concern about identity theft, saying that was not their level at all. The policeman seemed genuinely eager to get on to the CCTV footage and start lookiing for the thief.

This left me more open to the idea it was just a random theft, but I had seen nobody moving through the train as he described, and the very few people left in the first class compartment all looked entirely respectable.

In the evening Niels and I went to the old town of Frankfurt, of which there is not a great deal. It is not a good city to spend a Sunday. Everything seemed to be closed. Eventually we found a very local restaurant, where the waitresses wore what looked like football socks over their jeans.

The restaurant was splendidly decorated for advent, with what seemed like half a forest festooned in great boughs all over the place, through which peered the light of big chunky red candles. The place had plainly already survived hundreds of christmases without burning down, but I have no idea how.

I ate roast ham hough with sauerkraut and pan fried potatoes, washed down with a shared litre flagon of local wine. The crackling on the ham hough was superb. We felt a lot better after this, and asked the waitress for a local schnapps. She brought something really sweet and horrible with an alcohol soaked apricot in it. We drank it for research, and even ate the apricots, but I don’t recommend it.

Niels (at this point I shall blame him) then asked if they had a schnapps more like Danish schnapps. They brought us a couple of glasses of Korn. We knocked them back and agreed they did not seem like spirits. No burn and we guessed 20% alcohol. They were only 40ml measures, not 50ml.

So we thought we should have two more. That went quite well so we decided to repeat. After we had knocked back six each, we looked at the bottle and saw it was 32% alcohol. We thought it might be sensible to stop at this stage, but unfortunately the waitresses started to give us free schnapps.

It would have been rude to refuse.

This did not really help with the aim of forgetting my troubles and relaxing. I slept very badly, fretting over my missing laptop. The next morning, I had still lost my laptop and I now had a headache.

I also felt a terrific guilt – which I do most days here – at enjoying myself whilst campaigning for Julian, while he is in terrible conditions in a maximum security prison.

I got up, showered and shaved and went laptop shopping. This was quite fun. It soon was obvious to me I could not afford one as good as the one I had lost.

In the end I chose an Acer Aspire 5, with Intel i5 (the stolen one had i7), 8GB RAM (compared to 16GB) and 512GB SSD (compared to 1TB HDD). Even so this cost me 770 euros. But it is a slim and elegant thing of beauty.

It is a 17 inch, like my old one, but when I slotted it in to my old laptop bag it really came home how radically slimmer it is, taking up far less space. It is also a great deal lighter.

Having got through the dash to Slovenia, I was now hoping for a period of much more sedate rail journeys. Our itinerary today 28 November was just 11:53 ICE 623 Frankfurt to Munich, arriving 15:09.

The train left on time and sped along at great speed. Nothing seemed untoward, until a man in red uniform walked through the train announcing that the cafe was closed due to a power failure in the kitchen.

Then about 20 miles after Wurzburg the train slowed to a crawl, before finally coming to a complete halt, next to a yard full of rusted excavation equipment. There it stayed for about 45 minutes. An announcement was made that the line was blocked.

Fifteen long minutes later came another announcement that we would go back to Wurzburg, before proceeding to Munich by a different route. So we headed backwards, very slowly, for about ten minutes, before stopping in front of a different yard, also full of rusting excavation equipment.

It was like watching Scrapheap Challenge without the contestants.

Eventually we started to crawl along again, through Wurzburg station and out the other side without stopping. We picked up speed, heading away from Munich. Then another halt for ten minutes, then the train started running in its original direction once more.

Reaching Wurzburg for the third time, the train halted in the station and everybody was told to get off. Another Munich train was expected the other side of the same platform in five minutes.

A platform change, to one substantially further away, was announced just as the train pulled in to the station. Everyone went running off down the stairs with their luggage.

The last second platform change is the favourite game of German Railways.

We had come in on a huge train – two ICEs joined – while the one being changed to was a great deal smaller and arrived already full. We therefore decided to let it go, as there were now three more Munich trains showing as queued up over the next twenty minutes. We got on the first of these, which was comfortable, and arrived in Munich about three hours late.

Ithaka was being shown in the quirky little Werkstation Kino in a courtyard basement. The local organisers were very enthusiastic, and all sixty seats were sold out. People were being turned away. I introduced the film with two brief observations.

Firstly, I pointed out that the CIA had the spy videos of Julian’s meetings with his defence lawyers. Secondly they had all his legal papers, seized when he was removed from the Embassy. There are two parties to the extradition proceedings, the USA and Julian Assange. In any genuine legal proceeding, where one party had stolen the legal documents of the other and spied on their legal conferences, the case would be instantly dismissed.

Plainly the so-called judicial process is a farce, a piece of political theatre.

Niels and I then adjourned to dinner in another very local restaurant in the same building. One of the peculiarities of the “cinema” was that the public entrance was sealed by a very heavy steel door. It was completely blank on the outside and could only be opened from within. This is locked shut during performances, to the bemusement of latecomers.

One lady had driven from Austria to see the film but arrived too late. She joined us for a pleasant meal, and absolutely insisted on paying. Niels knew her as a long term supporter.

Niels is Danish and therefore very low maintenance – give him a plate of rotting fish with a couple of raw eggs on top and he will be happy for days. He explains to our chairpersons that you pronounce his surname, Ladefoged, by not sounding the d’s or the g. If you want to try it at home, I suggest you try making the noise of a vacuum cleaner blocked by a sock.

Niels is a compulsive photographer, as a fortunate result of which this narrative is now superbly illustrated.

Talking to activists after the film, we learnt the inevitable cause for the ruination of Germany’s once legendary railways – privatisation.

Privatisation has been carried out on the British model, with the track run by a private entity and different operating companies running their rolling stock on the track. This has been an unmitigated disaster from day one.

In a refinement of exquisite stupidity, the private network company is responsible for rail maintenance, but the government pays for any rail replacement needed – which is an incentive not to maintain. The activists in Munich explained this as the root cause of the increasingly frequent line closures and derailments.

We were staying in the Moma1890 hotel in Munich, which was really pleasant. We had two days there, which gave me a day to set up my new computer, and to go and see a doctor for a new prescription, as did Niels. Unfortunately the hotel did not do laundry, and an unpleasant odour was beginning to emit from my luggage.

We visited a small winter market behind our hotel. It was delightful, with lights twinkling brightly in the bitter cold and little santa clauses on bicycles zipping around on cables stretched between the trees.

The gluhwein was very welcome, sweet and strong and tasting as though the wine was drinkable per se. It was a very resonable 3.5 euros for a 200ml glass, and for just 1 euro more you could add an extra shot of spirits.

Niels has a theory that adding enough shots of rum to his gluhwein would counter the sugars. I have a theory that adding enough shots of brandy to my gluhwein will counter the sobriety. We both test this.

You pay a 3 euro deposit for a delicate frosted glass with an etching of a stag. I would like to keep mine, but the thought of carrying anything else in my luggage dissuades me.

We found a nearby tapas restaurant for dinner, and discovered such a very good wine that it is best to draw a veil over the rest of the day: El Canto de la Alondra, Ribera del Duero. You can’t say that after you drink it. Lots of forward fruit for a Ribera del Duero but still very soft and full.

The next day 30 November was a straightforward journey, EC114 at 13:32 from Munich East to Stuttgart, arriving at 15:59. The train arrived about one hour late in Stuttgart.

All but the facade of Stuttgart station has been demolished and the entire railway area is being “redeveloped”. Currently you leave the station on a snaking elevated runway above the building site, with MDF floors. It is a 800 metres walk along this from platforms to taxis.

As I was trying securely to balance my laptop bag on top of my wheeled luggage, Niels pointed out to me that there was a velcro strap on the back of the bag, specifically for that purpose. I was amazed. I have had that laptop bag for seventeen years and never noticed that strap. It has traveled hundreds of thousands of miles with me, all round the world.

The bag was given to me by Alex the Geek, a supporter of my anti-war candidacy against Jack Straw in Blackburn in the Westminster general election of 2005. Alex had a little computer sales and repair store in the town.

The bag was already second hand in 2005. It is very well constructed with industrial strength zips, clasps and fabric. It has about eight separate compartments, and the main area for the laptop is enormously wide, because in those days laptops were enormously wide.

Often on short journeys I use it just as a travel bag. It has an airline luggage label flapping from the handle, which for years has resisted all attempts at removal. It now had my slim little Acer tucked safely inside.

And it has a velcro strap to attach it to my luggage handle!

Niels has taken upon himself the role of Passepartout, having plainly been briefed that I am hapless. Even with his help, having to cart the luggage over the vast redevelopment was a real struggle.

We are very often not seeing the best of the cities on this tour. We arrive at the railway station, usually about dusk, and generally stay close to the station. The cinemas tend to be in the same central area.

Certainly in Stuttgart, from station to hotel to cinema was just horrifyingly ugly. Neither poor nor derelict, quite the opposite. Brash, tasteless. and soulless.

Plainly the railway area buildings just demolished all had to die, as they committed the unforgivable sins of not being of grandiose scale, and of being designed for human use. Nothing else I saw in Stuttgart fits that description.

There was an excellent turnout in Stuttgart and very active hosts in a very good cinema. We were buoyed by the news that five major international media groups, the original publishing partners for the cablegate leaks, had come out strongly calling for an end to the persecution of Assange, in the interest of protecting press freedom.

The real joy of this trip is the people we meet. In every venue there are fantastic local activists, who organise vigils, petitions and other actions for Julian. Many have street stalls on a weekly basis.

I am sorry we will not be visiting Aachen, where a lady held a “Free Craig Murray” banner in the town centre, every Saturday of my own imprisonment. That banner was given to me by German activists at the “Hands around Parliament” event for Julian. But I am meeting hundreds of equally doughty souls.

In Stuttgart the event is hosted by Pax Christi and die AnStifter. They were organising a major human rights festival, “30 days in November”, and this was the closing event.

After the screening and talks we went for drinks and snacks with the organisers. All the events have different local organisers and we do this almost every day. I apologise for not noting and acknowledging every one individually.

The next morning we journeyed on to Wiesbaden. I post this picture of the Stuttgart station departures board to illustrate what I have been saying about German Railways. You can see from the station clock top right the photo is taken at 11:23. So every single train on that board is late – the departure times range from 10:51 to 11:11.

That is absolutely typical of Germany’s privatised railway.

Our itinerary this day, 1 December was 11:37 IC 2312 Stuttgart to Mainz then 13:29 SBA35836 Mainz to Wiesbaden. Hurray! We were on time!.

The train to Mainz was not busy, and very comfortable to write on. Here I am working, with my elegant new laptop and my beloved old laptop bag:

The train from Mainz to Wiesbaden was a little commuter hopper, full of young women and their children, and a great deal of laughter. Wiesbaden appears effectively a suburb of Mainz.

Wiesbaden is very lovely. A spa town, it has natural hot springs bubbling up in various parks and hotels. It is difficult for a British person to criticise German cities for ugliness, the UK having been involved in their destruction, but much of Wiesbaden either survived or has been sympathetically restored.

The facade of my hotel, the Schwarzer Bock, had been restored with studious attention to grim ugliness, but there were some surviving details on the lower two floors from the original hotel, including much of the spa pool area.

Goethe had stayed in this hotel for a cure, and so had Dostoevsky, who had lost all the money for his European tour in the casino. He wrote up the experience as a novel “the Gambler”, in which Wiesbaden in Hesse is called Roulettebad in Hesse.

I am afraid the hotel is now run by Radisson Blu and is pretty prosaic. But Wiesbaden had plenty of evocative architecture,  and is plainly very wealthy. Wilhelmstrasse and the streets off it are full of very expensive shops selling top range products.

There are designer furniture shops, designer curtain shops, designer handbag shops. I saw a shop selling nothing but very expensive garden furniture, and another just selling those kind of stupid and pointless objects interior designers love to shove down next to coffee tables. Driftwood painted gold, peacock feathers in improbably shaped vases, roller skates painted electric blue with crystals round the top.

Plainly Dostoevsky was not the only person in Wiesbaden with more money than sense.

It is not generally recalled that, when Cumberland won at Culloden, most of the cities of Scotland were held down for the English by garrisons of mercenaries from Hesse. Cumberland actually disliked the Hessian officers for treating their adversaries according to the rules of war and refusing to commit atrocities.

Almost certainly, all of the Hessian officers occupying Scotland would have been familiar with Wiesbaden and would have walked around the very streets and buildings I walked around now. Doubtless some of them had stayed at the Schwarzer Bock.

I wondered how seriously Hessian archives had been searched for letters home or diaries on their time in Scotland, or what published memoirs there might be. I made a note on my new laptop to pursue the idea next year.

The cinema was beautiful, an art deco marvel. It was also very large, holding over 500 people, so though around eighty came, they did rattle around a bit. It did get fuller than this picture taken before the start, but not enormously.  Now you get to see what Niels looks like.

There was a dead air around Wiesbaden after the meeting, occasioned I think by Germany being knocked out of the World Cup that evening.

I had bought a new wheeled case at Niels’ suggestion, to replace the rucksack I had been struggling with. I found two wheeled cases much easier to manage, and with my laptop bag now velcroed to the handle of one of them and Niels to assist with lifting when needed, my luggage problems appeared to be over.

2 December we had a comparatively easy itinerary. 12:26 ICE 1651 Wiesbaden to Frankfurt Airport, 13:09 ICE 610 Frankfurt Airport to Bochum arriving 15:09.

Bochum was the first destination on our tour that I had not previously known even existed!

The trains were on time. The change at the airport station went smoothly, but the train from there was very packed. The luggage racks by the door at the carriage ends were overflowing with expensive looking bags and suitcases. We squeezed our luggage into any available bit of vacant floor, and then put my laptop and Niels camera bag into the overhead rack above us.

The rack was made of glass, presumably purposely so that you could look up and see your bags through it. Given recent experience, I repeatedly looked up and saw the comforting sight of the green and white baggage label attached to my laptop bag, pressed against the glass.

And then I didn’t.

Shortly before we arrived at Bochum, I looked up again, and it just was not there. It was gone.

I was stupefied. Niels went running down, collecting together our other bags, then looking for my laptop. I started asking everyone on the coach if they had seen the bag, or seen anybody take the bag.

To be fair, this got a much better response in Germany than it might have done in the UK. Virtually everybody stood up and started rummaging around. One large man was particularly helpful and started moving off and getting people searching in adjacent carriages. But all for naught; nobody could find anything and nobody had seen anything.

We pulled into Bochum. Niels stood preventing the door from reclosing while we searched, which got the railway staff involved. In the end he got off with the luggage while I stayed on the train and continued the search until the next station.

At Dortmund I had to give up. A second laptop in five days had been stolen from me.

I returned on a local train to Bochum. I had lost not just my laptop, but a lot of important tickets, receipts and documents in the bag, plus – and this is crucial to me – my reading glasses.

When the first laptop disappeared, I concede it was possible a thief had quickly taken it from the bag, not noticing how old and beaten up it was.

But I had not removed my new laptop from the bag during the journey, and there was no way of knowing a laptop was in there at all. It was next to Niels’ much more valuable camera bag, which was untouched.

The whole carriage was flooded with luggage, presumably because it came from Frankfurt airport. The racks at the carriage ends were overflowing with expensive luggage, right next to the doors, away from their owners and very easy to steal at a station.

Why would a simple thief instead take my beaten up bag, from right over the head of its owner?

It plainly makes no sense at all.

We headed into Bochum as the night closed in.


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136 thoughts on “Trains (Mostly) Planes and Automobiles Part 3

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  • Ian

    Very enjoyable to read, Craig, until that killer blow at the end. Full sympathy with you, and it is hard not to conclude you were targeted. Disruption and harassment seems to be the aim. Really, have these people nothing better to do?
    Up until that point your descriptive powers and dry wit were a delight to read. Hope you recover from another blow to your pocket and your morale.

  • James

    Enjoyable read until the end, other than an unexpected possible wine-related error! – Ribera Del Duero is not a Rioja, it’s a Ribera Del Duero . Different wine characters, as you noted. One region follows the Ebro to the Med (Rioja), the other the Duero to the Atlantic (Ribero).

  • Robert Dyson

    Some entity wants to cause as much disruption as easily possible to what you are doing. To remove a case from above your head with no one noticing anything ususal needs teamwork with practised skills and I suspect you are being tailed by more than one person. Someone caused a distraction while the ‘thief’ moved your case. That’s to ponder, was there any distraction that got everyone looking out of the window for example? So sad for you – and us, what a world, our law-and-order democratic West.

    • craig Post author

      No, of course have thought about it a great deal. I never left my seat and cannot recall any incident. Only slightly unusual thing was this is the only time the guard did not check my ticket, but can’t see where that fits.

      • terence callachan

        The photo of you and Niels in the cinema: have a look at the people seated behind you. Do you recognise any from anywhere else you have been, does Niels recognise anyone? Perhaps you are being followed.

      • Bayard

        Possibly the guard didn’t check your ticket because it might have meant you bringing the bag down and keeping it next to you on the seat, where it was more difficult to steal, or is that just being unduly suspicious?

      • Robert Dyson

        I speculate that the guard was instructed not to check tickets in that compartment because the agents doing the job did not know at what point the job could be done and did not want you to find out early that your stuff had gone. Stage magicians are amazing at distracting people from the real work being done to do their magic. If the move was made right at the start after you sat down or right at the end before you got up there would be enough distraction. I assume there was a prepared ‘suitcase’ with an easy way to slide something into it. My guess is at the start of the journey and your bag was immediately out of the compartment and maybe off the train.

        • Lapsed Agnostic

          I’m by no means an expert, Robert, but I doubt whether our hard-working security services would have surreptitiously switched the lap-top bags at the start of the train ride, only to similarly remove the ersatz one from the overhead rack near the end.

          • Robert Dyson

            I am not suggesting a fake bag was put in place, just that Craig’s bag was flipped into something at the start of the journey and immediately out of the carriage & maybe off the train too. At that point people were doing stuff in the compartment and putting stuff on the rack. Sometimes a person will look into a compartment to see if there is space or the right look of the folks already there, people move some stuff on the rack to make better use of space – so that would be a good time to take Craig’s bag, maybe if a tall man did it no cover would be needed just handed fast out of the door. Then the train is on route – too late. A lot of international security service time has been taken over Julian Assange over many years and those folks don’t want his case publicized. We will never know what happened but forewarned is forearmed.

          • Lapsed Agnostic

            Thanks for your reply, Robert. Our excellent host explained that, throughout the journey, he regularly looked up to check that the lap-top bag (with the distinctive airline label on the handle, as seen in the photo) was still on the rack – so if it had been removed from the carriage before setting off, it must have been switched for a similar one, which was subsequently taken as well. Enjoy the weekend.

      • W C Fields

        James Bond or Robin Hood?

        In the pic of you working on the Mainz train, where the carriage is empty, I can see the glass parcel shelf/rack. Was the carriage arrangement similar on the Bochum train (the only difference being the Bochum train was packed)? Or was it a totally different setup?

        You say “I never left my seat and cannot recall any incident”, so the explanation of an intentional diversion of your attention seems unlikely. Did you fall asleep? Perhaps you did, even if you cannot recall doing so.

        Unless you can somehow rule out nodding off, that does seem the favourite explanation, especially given the gruelling nature of your trip.

  • Cornudet

    I commend you on a most interesting travelogue and commiserate with your vicissitudes. I have no wish to plague you with further bother but is there anywhere online where Niels’ photos can be viewed? Snaps of the foliage-bedecked restaurant sound as if they would be worth seeing.

  • Andrew Carter

    Oh dear.

    Has it really not yet dawned upon you, despite all that you and those around you have been through? Can you not see how boiled our frog has become, to the point where we now live in a post-judicial society where German and British citizens can have their livelihoods cancelled and bank accounts seized without any due process, merely for publishing unapproved news stories? Where well-connected felons such as the chap fronting the FTX cryptofraud are far, far above the law. Where men can give birth, where sequential dud sock-puppet Prime Ministers can be anointed without any popular mandate, and where all of this is ultimately and inevitably Putin’s fault?

    You and I are of a similar age, and I fancy that we were born and raised in a different world, to different standards and with different expectations. Maybe we were wrong, and it was always this way? But this is certainly NOT the country “I vow to thee’d” to as a child.

    “Après nous, le déluge” old chap, for these are truly The End of Days (at least as we have known them).

    • amanfromMars

      Quite so, Andrew Carter [of December 8, 2022 at 14:17 fame]. All the available evidence would confirm that a present occurrence and virtual inevitability.

      And the system/systems that is/are, and as was/were, has/have not a clue about which way to go to ensure continued survival in leading overall command and media control, and the enigmatic quandary which they now find themselves in, and failing so spectacularly to grasp and master, has them in real danger of being recognised as the sleeper traitor within their own leading ranks, as soon as they would even think to know that they know the only right true path to choose that delivers to all the best of what be future needed.

      FCUKd if they, and FCUKd if they don’t, has one between a rock and a hard place whenever truly worthy of unworthy. Sweet poetic justice indeed. One always gets what one deserves, with many liable to receive it sooner rather than later whenever especially deserving.

      “Après nous, le déluge” old chap, for these are truly The End of Days (at least as we have known them)

      Indeed, and amen to that. IT and AI certainly took their time coming to State and Non-State Actor Rescue, didn’t they, although there’s no point in complaining, is there, whenever there’s no one to listen able to do anything really effective about anything/everything about to transpire and present itself daily?

      • Andrew Carter

        my sympathy lies squarely with Craig, whose conspicuous personal and professional integrity appears to be rivalled only by his apparent naivete in the face of overwhelming evidence

        these are truly dark times, but the lights have been flickering for so long, and until recently the denouement has been so gradual, that few people have noticed the lengthening shadows on the wall of the Platonic cave they find themselves unwittingly trapped in

        Craig is a marked man – as will be anyone who flirts with the idle notion of expressing an independent opinion based on reasoning and principle, rather than political expediency or authorised narratives

  • Hans Adler

    This sounds like some security service has put you on the list of people to harass with small stings, each of which in isolation looks like an accident. The goal is to make you feel unsafe and uncomfortable everywhere and at all times. Ideally, you become paranoid to the point you need treatment for it. Or at least other people think that you are paranoid. Being aware of what’s going on may make it easier to resist.

    Then again, it could just be an unusual sequence of accidents. Which is exactly the point of this operation, if it was one.

    Your experiences with Deutsche Bahn are not normal, by the way. There are days on which it is generally as bad as what you experienced, but they are not frequent. Also, privatisation of Deutsche Bahn was never really completed. What we now have is a set of technically private successors of Deutsche Bundesbahn and Deutsche Reichsbahn, which are all in 100% state ownership but don’t really behave that way. To some extent they still communicate with each other and cooperate, but when it is convenient they claim to have nothing to do with each other. On many relations, trains are very rarely more than a couple of minutes late. (Things are particularly bad in Stuttgart because of all the chaos around replacing the old station by an undersized unsafe new subterranean station, which was of course motivated by the opportunities for corruption when a large amount of public real estate is sold in the city centre.)

    When I lived in Leeds and had to take a flight from Manchester, I always took a train 2 hours earlier for the short distance because the service is so unreliable. And a bus to the railway station an hour earlier because the bus service is so unreliable. The two maddest things that happened to me in the UK: Once I took a bus from Norwich Station to the university campus. Without any warning, it stopped in the city centre, the driver left the bus — and locked it with half a dozen passengers inside! Five minutes later, another driver appeared and continued the (now late) tour. The other passengers didn’t even seem to be surprised. At another time, I had to prevent an unattended shopping cart full of cardboard boxes from rolling onto the tracks 2 minutes before a train arrived. This incident was caused by some young people who were working on the platform while some uniformed railway person watched and felt no need to do anything at all, including after the near accident. In general, I always felt that the level of corruption in the UK was far higher than in Germany (or in fact in any other country I have spent a lot of time in), and that people were far more prepared to ignore it.

    While I like to complain about Deutsche Bahn and about local transport in German cities, things are not quite as bad as that here. Yet.

  • Shatnersrug

    If you got meds and laptop stolen, then the chances are it was a junkie. They often don’t see money as they’re in a panic – you can exchange a laptop for a bag of smack and they’ll always steal meds in case there are any opioids in the stash. With all that’s happened to you it’s easy to believe it could be someone wanting to snoop on you, but I have long experience of drug addict theft having worked in rehabilitation and your experience is very familiar. Many will say” why leave the cash?” But junkies don’t think sensibly they’re often in a panic and desperate to get some more drugs. They know they can get enough from swapping a laptop and they don’t think anyone would leave large sums of money unattended.

    • The Salvation Airforce

      [ Mod: Sockpuppet – ‘Andrew S Carter’, also ‘Zhanglan’, ‘Ophelia Ball’, etc. ]

      could I perhaps interest you in buying a famous London architectural monument which until recently spanned the River Thames and inspired a slightly macabre children’s song?

    • craig Post author

      That is of course possible in the first robbery. Except that one was in a near empty German first class carriage: Junkies tend to stick out, and there just wasn’t anybody like that around. It also of course does not explain the second robbery.

      • Paul Short

        I very much doubt it was a junkie as you say; at the time of reading about the first theft I was about 80% sure it was a professional snatcher – they move fast, catch a 10-second distraction, may work in pairs, grab anything, shove laptops, phones etc into a soft bag, move on, in seconds. Most do seem to be users though, so meds are always grabbed regardless; though if this was the case, your crap laptop would have hit a skip shortly after the train stopped, and the meds are saleable. They seldom look like junkies, stereotype Roma, kids etc – they seldom look like anything, and women are especially unsuspected. There was a 20% chance of CIA/MI6/German govt doing favours but using the same guy/woman for later handover. Your second theft though reverses those probabilities (though same professional snatcher). Please – and I’m actually older than you here, but have been around a lot too – hold your laptop on your … umm, lap? Bulky, yes. Rather not? of course. I always have. I assume: leave something in a rack, 50:50 it’ll be gone: countries from Britain through Europe, West Africa, S E Asia. If you leave something make it a big, hard suitcase only, with a lock and a strap. Still nickable but a risk for them. My wife’s has a big Highland Cow on her suitcase. Try taking that unnoticed. But basically – if they want it – they’ll get it. I assume you are only saving to USBs now and carry them with you when not working. If not, please do. Good luck.

        • Lapsed Agnostic

          Not sure there’s much of a black market for digoxin or direct oral anticoagulants, Paul, especially ones that are now off-patent. Someone might have got 10 or 20 euros for the first lap-top – that’s a wrap or two. Anyway, let’s all hope and pray that it doesn’t eventually turn up after being handed in by a ‘concerned fence’ who’s ‘found’ some naughty stuff on it.

  • Roger

    Germany allows workers a rest day on Sunday in a way that has been forgotten in the UK

    Surely you mean, “Germany forces everybody to take one of their weekly days off, on a day when everything is closed”? You make it sound like a good thing, when it’s a stupendously idiotic thing, comprehensible only in an oppressive theocracy.

  • Lyn Hay

    Craig, this is awful on all counts. May I suggest a possible solution:

    Remove the SSD from the laptop and install it into a “USB enclosure” which is then plugged into the laptop with a USB cable. Boot and work from that SSD, and all data will be on it. When you need to leave the laptop, even as happened here, unplug the SSD and slip it into your shirt pocket. “MX linux” boots and runs very quickly. (old Thinkpads had a feature allowing the HD to be removed at lunchtime for similar reasons)

    Kudos to you for your effort and dedication.

    • Bayard

      Unfortunately, that would still mean Craig had to pay another 770 euros for a new laptop. There would have been next to nothing on the new laptop’s hard disk anyway.

  • mark golding

    Reading this excellent narrative I am struck with a nervous sense of incredulity much the same when as a young Naval engineer I was allured by a much older lady to travel late at night from Simonstown to Capetown where she lived. The next morning she and my wallet containing my I.D. card were gone. I then realised I had about 50 minutes before my ship HMS London sailed out of port.

    • mark golding

      With no intention of causing the willies I am uncomfortable with the drug Digoxin (from Foxglove) which my mother was prescribed. Sadly she died from heart failure which I consider may have been caused by unintentional overdosing of digoxin as my mother’s short term memory was weakening. Medical evidence showed for every 0.5 ng/ml increase in the blood level of digoxin, the risk of death rose by 19 percent.

      • craig Post author

        Definitely an overdose of digoxin causes heart failure. Very sorry about your mum. But it works far better for me than more modern medicines like beta blockers which left me feeling terribly ill.

        • German reader

          I feel very sorry for your bad experiences here in Germany. With no intentions to increase your sense of uncertainty and maybe because of reading too much spy novels, but my first idea when reading the fact that your medicine was stolen, was: whoever is after Craig Murray, not only wants his data, but also to forfeit his medicine later, perhaps prepare it with an overdose and exchange the exact same battered old medicine case with the exact amount of pills, and only one of them is deadly, since it does not matter when. Or replace them with illegal drugs (especially unfortunate when arriving in Singapur for instance). No way that these two events were unrelated, and no detail is irrelevant.
          So my advice would be: if this had happened to me, I would take very good care and from then on never ever leave my medicine unattended, especially during security checks when taking a flight.
          I read your book “Murder in Samarkand”, so I know that you already have experienced that those involved stop at no avail in reaching their goals, whatever those goals may be.
          So I see two goals of that operation – First to get all data of:
          who? helped you – and Assange (later > intimidate, blackmail, sanction)
          by what? means (later > cut off from resources, block, destroy)
          which? weak points (later > exploit, increase, forfeit)
          And second: to get something which could be used against you personally.
          They already tried to kill your reputation by incarcerating you, and by that to minimize your impact on the public. Obviously that did not succeed. Neither you nor the public could be silenced.
          Since decades the means to change that are the same: human beings who stand up for truth and humanism are singled out and destroyed – either their reputation or their lives or both. Please take very good care of yourself.

  • Josh Gerard

    German cities are indeed mostly ugly, particularly in the West.
    Wiesbaden was deliberately spared destruction, but only because the Americans wanted to make it their base.
    Yeah, crime is on the up, guess why?!
    And the police is as useless as everywhere else in dealing with it.
    There is no way that policeman will check CCTV for such a minor incident: too much hassle, data protection law etc..
    Die Bahn has become an embarrassment since a long time, but mainly because it was only pseudo-privatized and as a result its employees still regard themselves and are paid and pensioned as civil servants, while the overpaid management is cutting corners everywhere else.
    Same in the healthcare industry, utilities etc..
    German efficiency has unfortunately become a myth.
    It never ceases to amaze me that the Brits I meet all still think so highly of it.
    The only thing that still works are its family owned manufacturing SME’s, and they are being deliberately annihilated since 2020 and getting their death knells this winter.
    And Aldi and Lidl, of course: privately owned and managed hands-on by the family patriarchs or their descendants and confidants. And catering to the increasing group of ever poorer people.

  • Lapsed Agnostic

    Enjoyable read until the sting in the tail at the end, which I didn’t see coming*. Perhaps I’m naive, but I’d still like to believe that the first theft was merely opportunistic, and that the security services aren’t taking people’s essential medications just because they can – and that, having read about it on this blog, they then decided to do a bit of showing off and ****ing with people’s heads.

    • Lapsed Agnostic

      * As, I’m slightly embarrassed to mention, was the case with Andrea Arnold’s ‘Cow’ documentary, which was on the telly-box a few nights ago.

      (Footnote got edited out of above comment)

  • Ebenezer Scroggie

    Both of those thefts have a very odd smell about them. Neither of them has the feel of an opportunistic common thief. There’s something very dark about the pattern.

    I don’t know who “they” are, but they are clearly targeting Craig Murray in order to pile on psychological pressure.

    He gets too close to the Truth and he shares the truth with the public. That’s why he’s a marked man.

    The same is true of Assange, of course.

  • George Dale

    When I lived in Germany in the 80s and 90s the trains were always punctual. I didn’t know that the Germans had privatised the railways. When you know that, things like Scholz become explicable: the Germans have lost their senses and not just the Greens.

  • jm

    Really sorry to hear of your woes Craig.

    I am afraid though that in your line of work and your attention to the Assange case means that you definitely can’t put this down to coincidence. Assume they are watching and listening to everything you do; but I’m sure you know this already.

    Good luck.

  • Mist001

    “Why would a simple thief instead take my beaten up bag, from right over the head of its owner?”

    Indeed. Who would take the risk of being caught so easily?

  • Fwl

    Two knicked laptops – must have been stepping on a lot of sore toes. You’ve not been advising Ghana on its new Oil for Gold scheme have you?

    [PS Bring back Scrapheap Challenge]

  • Techno

    I must admit that personally I would not put anything valuable in luggage racks or use a bag that is obviously designed for a laptop. I use a cyclist’s backpack (that has a padded laptop compartment) and keep it between my legs, often with my leg through one the straps so I can feel if anybody tugs on it. I can sling it over my shoulder for toilet visits.

    • ben madigan

      I agree Techno – money+ passport +meds in belt-bag under jumper or cross-body bag under coat; laptop etc between legs. Have always travelled like this. No probs
      Very sorry to hear Craig lost 2 laptops –
      As Oscar Wilde said “To lose one may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like . . . . ”

    • S

      This is what I can’t help thinking. A lot of people are saying that it’s obviously security services because they’re tailing Craig. But if they are (and indeed maybe they are), why does he not keep his valuables between his legs? Especially since that’s what even I always do on aeroplanes and trains. I also do the leg-through-the-strap thing. And I don’t even think anyone is tailing me specifically.

      (Not meaning to victim-blame — it’s a horrible crime.)

  • T

    Dear Craig,

    I sincerely hope it is not the case that you are being systematically targeted/ intimidated. I would have dismissed that possibility until recently as too unlikely. The state would not risk discrediting itself by abusing a campaigning journalist and former ambassador in this manner. As we approach the year 2023 though I fear the Tory and SNP governments have been radically emboldened by the nature of the political opposition in the country. They know it is literally impossible for them to be too authoritarian for Sir Keir Starmer and his centrist media camp followers (the furthest “left” elements of MSM). Under these new circumstances – where the opposition will challenge government only from the authoritarian right – anything is possible when it comes to state abuse of civil liberties. There is complete political and media class support for crushing oppositiont o the status quo, as never before in modern times . Outspoken dissenters are without powerful allies/ protectors and are extremely vulnerable. You are owed enormous gratitude for speaking out for truth and justice.

  • Jack Quack

    How intriguing. Two laptops? Anyhoo, I’ve shared your experience with Luke Harding of The Guardian. He’s currently streaming on the “front line” Ukraine, (£7 + £0.92p booking fee) so can possibly share safe travel habits for writers with laptops. Great story, much appreciated.

  • Jack Quack

    ps meant to advise, why not use Linux Mint on say 5 usb drives (cost £30) and a cheap chips laptop or 2 (or any portal) and dropbox your scribing, Safe n secure.

  • Jen

    Gosh, that’s unbelievable bad luck. Maybe it would be better to rely just on keeping everything on the cloud for the time being and then when you get home, transfer it all to a USB stick and then wipe all evidence from the cloud.

    Craig Murray Laptop No 3, start to tremble …

    • Bayard

      The problem is that the object of the exercise seems no longer to steal data, but to hassle Craig. There are thousands of other ways in which this can be done that don’t involve a laptop.

  • Akos Horvath

    Very enjoyable read indeed, looking forward to the next installment. Sorry to hear about the theft of your laptops. Unfortunately, your experience with Deutsche Bahn is typical. I commuted between Leipzig-Giessen and Hamburg-Giessen for years. The ICE trains are completely unreliable, they are almost always late by tens of minutes or even cancelled. If you need to be at a given place at a certain time, you’d better take a train that gives you hours of leeway.

    Theft is also very common on DB. My wife had hundreds of euros stolen from her wallet, which was in her purse on the adjacent seat. The thief even put the wallet back in her purse, so she would only notice that the money was gone later, when opening the wallet. You absolutely don’t want to fall asleep on DB, even if you have your backpack chained to your wrist.

    In general, German efficiency is a thing of the past, just a myth now. You cannot drive 50 km on the Autobahn without hitting a long stretch of road construction. The saga of the ‘new’ Berlin airport is well known. And in Hamburg, they couldn’t finish renovating a 20-km stretch of highway for a decade now. As Europe keeps deindustrializing itself, we might get the Chinese building things for us on time. But if the quislings we have as leaders choose the yanks instead for political reasons, we will end up with the public infrastructure of the US.

  • Maria Smith

    I am enjoying your travel writing so much, full of the sights and experiences of other countries, along with the fabulous people you meet. The mood changes at the end though. How awful. It cannot be coincidence. Dreadful

  • nevermind

    Thanks for your explicit reporting of the woes Germanys railways and you are going through, have to agree with Bayard, you are being targetted by a team to disrupt your valiant efforts to highlight the state of a reocuring fascism, seemingly spreading through western countries like a bad rash.
    To have the audacity to steal your second laptop and travel tickets from just above your head would need more than one person, imho.
    You need personal protection when you go abroad, this looks like you are now being trailed by more than one person.
    Wishing you all the best for the rest of your trip and come back safely. I keep my Apixaban and meds in my leg pockets at all time, and the many good IT suggestions here dont need repeating.
    Alles Gute fuer den Rest deiner Reise. Expect being hassled coming back here; they are all cooperating with the united crooks of America. Take you care, boar.

  • Barkbat

    During a visit to the Stasi Museum in Berlin (amazing place) I remember reading with some amazement how Stasi agents would break into the apartments of suspected dissidents to swap the salt with the sugar, or track them across the city just to repeatedly let the air out of their bicycle tyres. This sporadic harassment understandably had quite an impact on the mental health of those targetted. I fear old habits die hard. Please be careful Craig. To paraphrase Wilde; to lose one laptop may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose two looks like targetted harassment by an intelligence agency.

  • joel

    Another lovely read up until the end. Hard to believe someone would be so audacious as to reach up and take your laptop from directly above your head in a crowded carriage. The odds against getting away with that must be extremely high. It makes me wonder whether the sheer audacity of the crime is intended as a sinister message. Be careful out there Craig!

    • Coldish

      Craig’s tour will have increased awareness of Julian Assange in Germany. At 5pm yesterday (9 December) there were vigils in the vicinity of British consulates in Berlin, Düsseldorf and Munich. That in Munich was attended by between 60 and 70 people, about 10 of whom made brief speeches. The mood seemed upbeat, but it will take more work to get the message through to the misguided dimwits who head Germany’s coalition government.

    • Shardlake

      I wish those supporters and attendees good luck in their Saturday vigil. Mr Assange truly is languishing in Belmarsh MSP and it’s a disgrace that he has been there for four years. In the Harry Dunne affair Mrs Sacoolas won’t be languishing in California or wherever she is now stationed in the USA. The Judge through a video link passing sentence on her for his killing considered eight months (suspended for twelve months) to be sufficient. A sentence more severe would have undoubtedly upset the authorities in the US and possibly have led to less favourable terms in any upcoming trade deal Westminster has with Washington. Like nearly every other country on this planet we are subservient to the USA and do their bidding just to have a seat at the top table. Journalists have no right to call themselves ‘Journalist’ when they won’t stand together and support one of their own.

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