Videographer Dennis Schmelz embarked on the journey of a lifetime — a trip along the Trans-Siberian Railway, spanning across Europe and Asia.
Hoping to learn more about his adventure along the historic route, we caught up with Dennis to talk about his experience filming and riding the longest railway line in the world.
What made you decide to take the Trans-Siberian Railway?
I actually went to film for a German travel agency that organizes a variety of different train and ship journeys all over the world. But this wasn’t just a job; it was a long-standing dream of mine to complete the journey. Once on the railway, I created over 20 clips for the client, but also created this piece for myself, as a freelance artistic work.
Had you heard anything about the train journey prior to boarding?
Yes, I’d watched several documentaries and read several articles about it over the years. I had also done a lot of train traveling in Europe for another client of mine, and fell in love with that kind of slow travel. So, I’m glad I got the opportunity to film the longest train connection in the world.
Did you have any expectations about the trip?
Although I was prepared, places and experiences are always different when you go there and do them yourself. That said, I expected a much calmer itinerary, but once I boarded the train, there was always something to do and some fantastic sight to see. It was tough, but worth it.
What was the first thing you noticed about the train?
The train was decorated in a very traditional Russian style — it was quite luxurious. We filmed aboard the Zarengold train, which is a special tourist train chartered by the German travel agency Lernidee. The train was about 600 meters long with 21 wagons — it took us a lot of time to walk through. It was unlike any train I’d ever ridden.
Did you interact with any other passengers?
Yes, we were always looking for stories, and a lot of the people aboard had a special passion for the train. For many passengers, it was the dream of a lifetime to complete the journey. We met one man who was very sick and had embarked on this trip to fulfill a dream of his. There were a lot of very emotional stories such as this aboard the rain. This journey is about more than just sightseeing and rushing; it’s truly a passion trip, and that sentiment was reflected in each person we met.
How long did the trip take, and how did you pass the time?
The trip took 16 days in total, with about 10 days of train traveling. We left the train in Beijing to venture to Ulaanbaatar, and spent the night in a yurt in the countryside of Mongolia, before continuing on to Ulan-Ude, Lake Baikal, Irkutsk, Novosibirsk, Jekaterinburg, Kasan, and — finally — Moscow by train. We passed the time with filming and editing, mostly. But sometimes, we also just enjoyed the view outside the window and took in the never-ending landscapes along the route.
What was the most memorable thing that happened along the way?
I will never forget spending the night in that yurt and visiting with the nomads in Mongolia. It was so interesting to learn that people are living and coexisting in these structures, and to see them cook for us and introduce us to their culture. Also, the ice bath in Russia’s Lake Baikal (which about five degrees Celsius) was a real experience. Vodka was the only thing that made it possible!
What made this journey so special to you?
I was astounded by the diversity of sights I saw along the way. Traveling between China, Mongolia, and Russia yielded scenes from three different countries and the experience of traveling almost 8,000 kilometers without getting off of the train. It was simply incredible.
Would you take the Trans-Siberian Railway again?
Absolutely! I would love to take the original route to Novosibirsk. And this time, I would take the traditional passenger train, just to have a comparison and maybe glean a few more stories.