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H.C. Andersen and the Iron Horse

The Danish Railway Museum features a mini exhibition about Hans Christian Andersen’s journeys by rail. Hans Christian Andersen’s first trip by rail was in Germany on 10 November 1840. Hans Christian Andersen wrote in his diaries about his encounter with the then new mode of transport. It was an encounter that both frightened and enthused the renowned writer. In his descriptions of train trips, he often emphasised the unique characteristics of and ground rules for using the railway. Andersen’s experiences were shared by many Danes in following years, after the railway had been established in Denmark.

When Hans Christian Andersen rode the train in these early years, there were no standard railway terms in Danish. Hans Christian Andersen described in his own words what he saw and experienced. He called the train a “string of carriages” and referred to railway platforms as “jutting balconies”. He called the locomotive a “steam carriage”, “steam horse” and “steam dragon”. He described rail lines as a “rail roadway”, “steam track” or “road of rails”, and referred to stations as “halts”. By the 1860s, Denmark had a more widely developed railway system, accompanied by established railway terms in Danish.