WACRA® 2000 in Budapest, Hungary

Travel to WACRA 2000 on the Tracks of the 'Orient Express' on Board of the 'Majestic Imperator
The Imperial Train of Emperor Franz Joseph I and Empress Elisabeth


Born in 1830, Franz Joseph I was only 18 years old when he became the Emperor of Austria. Little did anyone know then, that the Emperor Franz Joseph I would become the longest ruling monarch of his era, his rule surviving three German Emperors, four Russian Tsars, 12 French and 18 American Presidents. He ruled for 68 years until his death in 1916. As the retired President Theodore Roosevelt visited the Austrian Monarch in 1910, the Monarch confided in him, "You are looking at the last Monarch of the Old School."

His inexperienced youth not commanding all respect in his first years as Emperor, he later grew to be dearly loved and revered by his people. He traveled to almost every village in the huge Empire, oftentimes aboard his train. It was during his reign that Vienna experienced its golden "waltzing" years and became a world city, opening up by having the wall around it replaced with the magnificent Ringstrasse.

When the 23 year old Emperor saw the only 16 year old Elisabeth for the first time, it was love at first sight. Her striking beauty cast a powerful spell on those around her and only 8 months later, the Imperial wedding took place in Vienna's Augustiner Church. The young couple was the most beautiful reigning couple of Europe and their fame spread overnight. Although her love for the Emperor was great, she spent a great amount of time away from the "stiff and rigid court" in Vienna. She developed a special love for the Hungarian people, spending a great amount of time at the magnificent royal castle "Gödöllö" by Budapest. Even though they would be separated over long periods of time, the Emperor always addressed her in his letters with "My dear and only Angel." In 1898, tragedy struck the Imperial couple. Sisi was murdered in Geneva by an anarchist. The Emperor never got over this great loss. He expressed his feelings as "Time passes, but not the pain." Sisi loved her husband, but not the court that stole him from her. Her great love and respect for the common people, a most modern trait in an old world, was reflected in her wish about her husband "if he could only have been a tailor." She will always be a legend in Austrian history.

A century ago, to travel by luxury steam train through the scenic splendor and the ancient cities of Europe was to savor life at its finest - to feel and sense something intangible and unforgettable. These magnificent trains - with their exquisite carriages and luxurious decor - became as much a part of the traveling experience as the venerable cities and majestic countryside through which they rolled.

Lavishly designed for the nobility of Europe, the trains recall a bygone era when craftsmen labored for the sake of excellence and reputation, and when those who were endowed with life's privileges were not averse to showing it. It was this quest for perfection that led to one of the most exquisite palaces on wheels ever, the Imperial train of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy.

A century after the original train was built, a team of train lovers set out to recreate this lost piece of history. Once again, the exquisitely appointed Majestic Imperator Train de Luxe is rolling across Central Europe. The decor, the comfort, the refined service and cuisine once reserved for the nobility and discriminating classes of Europe, awaits those for whom the elegance of the past is a treasure to be enjoyed today.

The history of the Imperial train dates back to Pre-World War I Europe, a time period during which no expenses were spared when members of the ruling families or high-ranking statesmen traveled by train in order to assure utmost comfort and luxury. It was also a time where the political make-up of Central Europe demanded extensive diplomatic travel on the highest levels. Most all ruling Houses of Europe had their own elaborate royal carriages. However, as was also the case in Austria, these expensive carriages were of different design and from different manufacturers, and thus lacked the continuity desired by Franz Joseph I, Emperor of Austria It was this quest for perfection that led to the construction of one of the most exquisite jewels on wheels ever created, the Imperial Train of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. Costing a true fortune, the Waggon and Tender Company Franz Ringhoffer & Smichow by Prague, was given the order by the ruling Habsburgs to build what would be known for decades as a state-of-the-art legend both in luxury and technology. Sadly, these carriages were destroyed during WWI and only one survived, which is displayed in the Technical Museum of Prague.

In the life story of this fabled train, one legendary name looms large. Claudius von Klaudy was his Majesty's Train Engineer, and always saw to it that the imperial couple traveled in the lap of luxury. This included slowing the train down to walking speed at exactly 5:30 am because this was the time the Emperor shaved. Even after having received 40 medals of honor and being personally knighted by His Majesty, Klaudy never hesitated to climb on the steam engine and personally drive the locomotive through the nightto assure safe passage. After five decades of hard service, he died in 1903 of a painful nerve condition as the humble man he had always been. His position was never replaced. Eyewitness accounts about this loyal servant are legion. The following incidence was recorded by the personal valet of the Emperor.

"When we arrived in France, I asked the Honorable Klaudy for some French change to give to the porter, to which he simply replied, 'My dear friend, the Emperor of Austria only pays in gold.' He then proceeded to give the porter a gold coin."

After an elegant dinner on the train, the Emperor would retire to the smoking salon with his staff generals, and all of them would literally "disappear in smoke." His personal physician, very concerned about the health effects of this habit, had servants keep exact records of the smoking activity. The Emperor also never wanted bodyguards, and to the worries of court security, always wandered freely among the people. "They'll do me no harm!" Oftentimes security officers were dressed up as pedestrians, workers or hunters without the Emperor knowing he was being shadowed for protection.

Empress Elisabeth of Austria loved to travel. Her beauty cast a powerful spell on those around her and her fame soon spread far beyond the frontiers of the Habsburg monarchy. Inspired by the beautiful landscapes passing by her window and the feelings they evoked, she often spent her time on the train reading and writing poetry. She captured these experiences, ."..a destination only becomes desirable because the journey lies in between."

Some winters, to the delight of the Empress Sisi, both Franz Joseph and Elisabeth would "sneak" away together to the Riviera for some private time together. To remain incognito, they would attach their carriages to regular scheduled trains and travel as Count and Countess of Hohenems. This way they would not have to be officially received by the local Head-of-State. Of course the news that the Austrian Emperor was in town would spread like wildfire.

In 1991, a century after the original train was built, Gottfried Rieck, an engineer with the Austrian Federal Railways, along with his wife Sibylle, set out to realize their dream of rebuilding one carriage of this legendary train. Gottfried had worked for the railways for over thirty-five years, having begun his career shoveling coal on a steam locomotive. After many months, their dream became reality with the rebirth of the Salon I carriage, adapting the still existing original plans to meet strict modern safety requirements. The passion for recreating this lost piece of history was not lessened with this accomplishment. Rather, it became contagious. Soon, two more train lovers, Michael von Rosen and his son Michael, joined the venture. On May 19, 1998, the completed Majestic Imperator Train de Luxe, with its six carriages, was christened by Maria Christina Habsburg Lothringen, the youngest direct descendent of the Emperor and Empress, with an exquisite bottle of champagne from the Habsburg vineyards.

The venture philosophy of today is best reflected in the loyal service of the Honorable Claudius von Klaudy, his Majesty's Engineer, "to provide the guests with an experience, which will forever remain a highlight in their travel memories." The dedicated staff of Majestic Imperator Train de Luxe carries great weight in the realization of this dream. For instance, Leo, Chef du Train, comes with decades of experience from one of Vienna's top restaurants. He oversees all services provided on board. As young waiter, he was personally awarded the Red Star Award by Nikita Khrushchev for his outstanding service during the famous Kennedy-Khrushchev Summit in Vienna. Fred, the piano player, graduated from Vienna's famous music conservatory and has given organ concerts all over Europe, including Notre Dame in Paris. He also happens to drive Austria's fastest trains as engineer for the Austrian Federal Railways. Elke Fischer, our Chef, had her own restaurant and awarded the prestigious Chef's hat by Austria's culinary elite. However, with the realization of this train project, she opted to sell her restaurant and pursue her life-long love for trains.

In April of 1999, one of the few pieces left from the original train, the mirror of Empress Elisabeth from her personal carriage went up for auction. We were able to purchase this prized piece of history and it has since been reinstalled into the Excelsior carriage. This legend rolls through the heartland of Europe, taking its guests back to times where to travel by luxury train was to savor life at its finest.

To permit WACRA staff to make the necessary arrangements for this Millennium WACRA 2000 event (which is part if the optional pre-conference event beginning in Munich, including 2 nights, one full day in Vienna and more) send an expression of interest in participating as soon as possible. We will post on our web site www.wacra.org details and cost as soon as they become available.