Oscar Mathisen
Speedskating - Oscar Diary

Still railing

One hundred years ago today, Oscar Mathisen and his two fellow travellers, his brother Sigurd and the national champion Martin Sæterhaug, woke up from their uneasy sleep already when the train stopped shortly after midnight at Neumünster (I imagine), and new passengers came on board to share their compartment with them. At Hamburg some two hours later they (probably) had to get out and board a new eastbound train. They found an empty compartment and lay down for some sleep, but didn’t travel for long before they were disturbed by oncoming passengers again.

They were getting really tired of this, literally. But what could they do? They couldn’t exactly throw out their fellow passengers. Not without a risk of being thrown out of the train themselves at any rate. Outside it was still dark and the weather was cloudy, but a slight Moon was shining some light down through the clouds.

The train turned south just before Wittenberge and continued southward to Magdeburg, where they (probably) had to disembark again to catch another eastbound train, the old Hannover-Dresden route. The three tired skaters sat down in another third class compartment to watch the ugly German industrial towns pass by: Köthen, Halle, Leipzig.

These three young sportsmen weren’t just sitting idly on their wooden seats throughout the journey. They sometimes took the opportunity to stretch their legs when there was a stop, and while the train was in motion it was still possible to walk around and explore it a little. On one of his walks, Sigurd found that the train had a dining wagon! So far they had been subsisting on foods brought in their packs, and currently they were left with a sizeable number of buns and some Christmas cake. Sweet stuffs for better preservation. But Sigurd fancied a change.

    –I wouldn't mind some real food now, he said. –I’m so tired of buns and Christmas cake that I don’t want to see them again for the rest of my life. I want *food*!

Martin agreed. He wanted real food as well. But young Oscar was more prudent. He was afraid to squander the precious coins he had in his pocket. Afraid of getting lost in the big and strange world outside, so far from home, with no means to come back. Besides, they needed someone to keep a watch over the luggage.

The two hungry skaters were gone for a long time, and meanwhile Oscar as usual ate his lunch on buns and Christmas cake, with water to drink. Finally they returned.
    –Bætterdø! Martin said. –That was damn tasty!

And then they started describing their meals. Beefs, immense ones, with onion and mounds of potatoes. And beer. Half a litre each. Oscar couldn’t stop some slight flickers of envy from creeping under his collar. In the end he had to ask them to stop as he felt the compartment was literally reeking with the smell of beef.

It was (probably) four o’clock when they arrived at Dresden and had to change trains again, for the crossing into Bohemia. It was getting dark before they got under way. At the border, the German third-class carriages were left behind and Bohemian ones were added. The travellers had noted a steady deterioration of the carriage standards as they were progressing southward, and the trend seemed to continue. The 3rd class carriages of the Austro-Hungarian empire they were entering were windowless, little more than cattle wagons.

At least they had compartments, and as they were preparing for the night, the skaters had to adress the problem of invading passengers. A smart solution was found, probably at Dresden, or possibly at Prague, where they got off to buy three big, cheap cigars. It must (may) have been around 9PM when they got off at Prague to board another eastbound train heading for Vienna. They found a usable compartment and no sooner had they settled than they lit their cigars and started fuming to their best ability. None of them were smokers then, and they never intended to inhale the smoke, they just puffed and puffed until they hardly could see each other for the fog. And it worked. Any nose poking inside the doors of their compartment was swiftly withdrawn. And they could finally get some uninterrupted sleep for a while.

In the same night, the very British astronomer Philibert Jacques Melotte was busy taking pictures in the Royal Greenwhich Observatory (which I have visited, too!) of the space around the planet Jupiter. But he didn't know yet what the plates were later to reveal.