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Hamburg welcomes first ‘Shanghai Express’ train

German workers pose for photographs with the first "Shanghai Express" in Hamburg on Tuesday. (WANG QING / XINHUA)

The first China-Europe freight train from Shanghai was greeted in the German port city of Hamburg on Tuesday by Chinese and German officials and business partners in a boost to bilateral trade relations.

From garment to glassware, furniture, solar panels, auto parts and precision instruments, the train dubbed the "Shanghai Express" carried 50 containers of goods and traveled more than 10,000 kilometers. It went through the Alataw Pass in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, and then through Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus and Poland before arriving in Hamburg.

In a morning ceremony, Peter Tschentscher, first mayor of Hamburg, said Hamburg and China are strong cooperation partners, citing the fact that a third of containers in the Hamburg harbor are either coming from China or on their way to China.

He said in a video message that Hamburg is at a critical juncture on the Belt and Road Initiative route, and is now linked to 20 Chinese cities with more than 200 freight trains.

"I'm so pleased that the direct freight train Shanghai Express between Hamburg and Shanghai has been put into service," he said.

Since Hamburg and Shanghai established sister city ties 35 years ago, both cities have had extensive cooperation in the economic, trade, scientific, educational and cultural fields.

"The new freight trains have shortened the distance between Hamburg and Shanghai and it is an important supplement to trade between Germany and China," he said.

Wang Wei, China's deputy consul general in Hamburg, described the new "Shanghai Express" as the "icing on the cake" to 35 years of sister city ties and the opening of "a new platform for bilateral cooperation in the post-pandemic era".

Michael Westhagemann, senator for the Hamburg Authority for Economics and Innovation, echoed the same sentiments, calling the train "a new milestone for cooperation between Hamburg and Shanghai, and between Germany and China".

He described himself as a witness to the great transformation in Shanghai and China since his visit there in the 1980s.

Axel Mattern, CEO of Hafen Hamburg Marketing, said the new freight train route has very well supplemented ocean shipping, conforming to Hamburg's strategy of developing both rail and ocean transport.

Earlier this month, a Shanghai-bound train left Hamburg carrying exhibits for the 4th China International Import Expo to be held in Shanghai from Nov 5 to 10.

According to data from the China National Railway Group, the number of China-Europe freight services reached more than 10,000 in the first eight months of this year, carrying 964,000 TEUs, or 20-foot equivalent units, a jump of 32 percent and 40 percent respectively over the same period last year.

There are over 70 China-Europe freight train routes, reaching over 170 cities in 23 European countries.

China was Germany's largest trade partner for the fifth consecutive year in 2020, and became the largest trade partner for the European Union for the first time in 2020, replacing the United States.