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German trams in Almaty

When waiting a few minutes at the bus stop becomes a challenge when the temperature is below zero and in slush, Almaty's tram passengers have a particularly difficult time: The wagons, often dozens of years old, struggle over ailing track bed only at walking pace. But the train should be a nice sight, especially for one or the other German Kazakhstan tourist: In the middle of Central Asia, 5,000 kilometers away from Germany, Tatra trains from Dresden, Schwerin and Berlin run on the bumpy rail network.

Of Cornelia Riedel

Tram number six, which ran between Niedersedlitz and Gorbitz in Dresden, on the way in Almaty. 

bdibek Muchamedschanow, the boss of the Almatyer Verkehrsbetriebe, loves German trams. “To be able to sleep or just doze off on the way to work, like in Germany, that is my dream,” he says and looks a little deeply out of the window at the depot of his tram depot. The Kazakh is the head of the Almaty public transport company and ruled over 50 trams in the metropolis in southern Kazakhstan. Most of the wagons come from transport companies in eastern Germany. It was last given a general overhaul shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Muchamedzhanov's office on Vinogradov Street in Almaty is paneled with plywood. Abai Kunanbajuli, the Kazakh national poet, stands as a gold-colored bust in the corner and the Kazakh shines when the German visitor arrives. In 1998 Muchamedschanow traveled to Germany for the first time and bought Czech "Tatra" trains from an intermediary in Nordhorn, which had been scrapped by the Berlin transport company. The first Berlin car arrived in Almaty that same year. Schwerin Railways followed.

"Fresh wind on our rails"

"The first new wagons here in Almaty were like a breath of fresh air on our rails, the Almatyans were really happy, they had never seen trains like this before," he remembers. “And they were well looked after and maintained! They have been running in Germany for years, but we can still use them here! ”The last time ten used“ Tatra ”trams came from Dresden to Almaty a year ago. For many Kazakhs, the black and yellow have become an integral part of the cityscape.

76-year-old Irina Sokoljowa takes the tram every day from one of the suburbs to the center of Almaty to supplement her pension. “These chic black and yellow trams come from Dresden? From the city with the picture gallery? ”She wonders. For a quarter of an hour she has been standing at the bus stop in the freezing cold, waiting for her train. "I know that you are from Germany, because I recognize the German writing on the door," she says a little proudly.

Abdibek Muchamedschanow secretly dreams of ultra-modern cars made in Germany. But it will probably be a few more decades before they are ripe for Almaty. “When I came by train from Nordhorn to Berlin, it was so silent that I didn't even notice that we were driving,” he enthuses. Thinking about sleeping on a tram trip over Almaty's rails, on the other hand, is a bit like planning a spa hotel right next to an aircraft runway: traffic in the metropolis jams bumper to bumper even outside of rush hour, blue-gray clouds of exhaust gas stand over the intersections . If the traffic slows down, the drivers vent their anger by vigorously honking their horns. Only jerkily and at walking pace the wagons torment their way through the chaos of the street, the bed of the rails is tired with age, the concrete is curling and drivers only cross the ailing track network in an emergency. From a distance you can hear the collective taxi drivers calling out their route to the waiting people at the stops. In addition to buses and trams, the small vans are the local public transport in Kazakhstan.

The new prosperity is evident in the car brands

Three languages ​​on the train for all passengers: "Exit" in Russian and Kazakh and the German "Do not get off from departure signal". 

Thanks to oil and the economic boom, the volume of traffic in the largest city in the country has multiplied in recent years. Those who can show their new prosperity with the right vehicle - be it a sleek sports car, luxury SUV or German used car. Local public transport is more of a wallflower. “Still,” says tram chief Muchamedschanow and his eyes sparkle, because the Kazakhs have big plans.

“At the end of the 1990s, we still had 200 railways, all of them built in the Soviet Union. But after the fall of the Wall there were no more spare parts, ”he says of the difficulties. Muchamedschanow has been working for the Almaty tram since 1976 and has been its boss since 1996.
In the Almaty tram depot, the wagons from major German cities are lined up. Here and there an advertising label flashes, some of the cars have German street names from Berlin, Schwerin or Dresden in the destination display above the driver's cab. “Do not get off after the departure signal” is emblazoned under the Russian and Kazakh word for “exit” and the black and yellow ones continue to have the Dresden Transport Company logo on their fuselage.

In the meantime, the Almaty city administration has ordered the repainting of the German wagons. The last hand is being put on a Tatra car from Dresden in the Almaty tram depot. It has been painted green and white on the outside. "I like the Dresden color, I would like to leave it like that," Muchamedschanow regrets. And while many Kazakhs first fulfill their dream of having their own car, the tram boss is singing the praises of local public transport: "We urgently need buses and trains here, because not everyone can afford a Mercedes here!" Muchamedschanow, who was born in Almaty, is one step ahead of many of his compatriots - he also thinks about environmental protection: "If we don't think about how to limit traffic in Almaty and get the air clean, it will be dangerous for our children."

People should come to work in a good mood by tram

Abdibek Muchamedschanow in his office at the Almaty tram. In the background the gold-colored bust of the Kazakh national poet Abai Kunanbajuli. 

Muchamedschanow has his own reason for the fact that his vehicle fleet urgently needs to be replaced and pepped up with even more German used vehicles: “You know, when people are not in a good mood and relaxed when they go to work and return home in the evening, but also up If you have stress on the way to work, then they are much more likely to take to the streets and think of a strike! "

By 2011, when the Asian Games are held in Almaty, Abdibek Muchamedschanow wants to offer European standards on Almaty's rails and expand the rail network from 63 to 100 kilometers. The expansion is to begin in 2008 and the goal for the major sporting event is clear: "I just want beautiful wagons, comfortable, you have to be able to relax on the journey, just like in Germany!"


The author is a correspondent for n-ost. The network consists of over 50 journalists from all over Eastern Europe and reports regularly for the German-language media first hand on all subject areas. The aim of n-ost is to improve the perception of the countries of Central and Eastern Europe in the German-speaking public. Further information at

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