Paul's train ticket
3 Nov 2023 | Works
How does a Berlin train ticket end up in Queen Victoria's railway car?
The story of this painting begins in 1893.
Well, it actually starts on a flea market in Mainz, Germany, where my mother-in-law, my husband and I spent some time digging around the collection of old postcards, telegrams, stamps and other stuff that a trader was selling.
I found two items that triggered my imagination: a postcard with a photo of Queen Victoria’s railway car, and a travel pass, issued by the Große Berliner Pferde-Eisenbahn Actiengesellschaft (which roughly translates as the “Great Berlin Horse-Train Company”). Yes, there was a time when city trams on rails were pulled by horses! I had no idea.
Could I put these two things together? How would a German travel pass end up in Queen Victoria’s fancy railway car?
This story takes place in 1893. Paul Bartz is a businessman from Prussia, Germany. During the late 19th century, the German economy caught up with the rest of Europe for the first time, with great success from industrialization. “Made in Germany” became ubiquitous – from the paper you wrote on, to the clothes you wore, the chair you sat in, and the musical instruments you played, to the matchboxes for cigarettes. German goods were everywhere.
Following this trend, Paul had run a trading business in the UK for many years. There was a saying among the upper class that “If you cannot find something you like, you probably haven’t found Paul Bartz yet.”
On July 8th, 1893, Paul had just returned to his apartment in London after a long visit to his parents in Berlin. Before he could fully recover, he received an urgent telegram from his business partner James, asking to meet at the London train station. Paul rushed over immediately.
When he arrived, he recognised James by his large beard and golden crutch. James led him through some doors marked “No Entry” into dark alleys, secret tunnels, and past golden locks. Finally they arrived at a large warehouse containing a sight Paul could barely believe: the Royal Salon, a luxuriously customised cabin for Queen Victoria.
James explained there was a problem with the lounge chair. Someone (possibly the Queen) had carelessly left a lit cigarette, burning a hole in the chair’s royal blue velvet fabric. James said the worst part was that no factory could replace the custom material on short notice. The chair would need meticulous embroidery to restore the original pattern.
Paul understood the emergency immediately. If anyone could fix this, it was him. But he suddenly felt nervous and faint. As he pulled out his handkerchief to wipe the anxious sweat from his brow, the Berlin travel card fell out of his pocket and into a gap in the lounge chair. It wouldn’t be found again until 2003, when interior restoration revealed the long-lost ticket.