Perhaps the Prussian workmen building G 8 steam trains at the turn of the 20th century saw them for what they were – symbols of Europe entering the modern age and a young Germany’s increasingly significant place in it.
These men, who assembled the locomotives for the Prussian State Railway from 1902-13, might also have imagined as they worked that these grand, hulking machines might cross Europe and head as far east as Istanbul, Aleppo or Baghdad.
Yet none of them could have predicted that some 100 years later 10 of their proud creations would be found abandoned and sadly neglected in Lebanon – a state not yet founded – rare and far-flung examples of early German engineering.
Seized by France at the end of World War I as part of the Treaty of Versaille’s reparations agreement, the trains were brought to the Levant during the French Mandate, only to be nationalized as Lebanon gained its independence in 1943.
Six of these G 8s now sit in the abandoned train station and factory of Riyaq, in the heart of the Bekaa Valley, languishing in obscurity.
Some of these museum-quality pieces lie under dappled sunlight, exposed to the elements as trees crack through the terracotta-tiled roof that once sheltered them, causing earthy green paint to peel from their sides.
Others sit on dilapidated tracks leading nowhere. Totally discolored by rust, they face a losing battle against creepers and weeds that climb silently up their frames.
And four more lie in Lebanon’s northern city of Tripoli, amid derelict French-style buildings that once served as the terminus for the glamorous and iconic Orient Express.
Some bear scars from Lebanon’s Civil War, others show local additions to their engines to make them run on diesel, but with just four more extant across the globe, all cry out for preservation.