Travelling with the great unwashed can be both novel and grist for a novel and just as a full Moon does seem to bring out interesting people, (or perhaps that should be ‘interesting behaviour’), so too can travel on public transport. Indeed, we experienced several moments of lunacy the other day, whilst travelling by train from Northern Germany to Southern Germany.
Mind you, our first taste of stupidity, was with DB’s (Deutsche Bahn’s) internal carriage make-over – some idiot has decided glass panels placed between rear and forward facing seats is a good idea, but of course, anyone who travels on DB IC (and ICE) trains knows luggage space for large suitcases is very limited, consequently the space between those seats is ideal for a couple of big suitcases. The glass panel very successfully stops that! To make matters worse, on IC trains, the luggage racks (for larger cases) at the end of each carriage, are quite small. Yes, it’s possible to lift large suitcases onto the overhead luggage racks, however many travellers are elderly and they simply can’t manage it, not to mention that sitting underneath some poor bastard trying to hoist a 20kg+ suitcase over your head, is not conducive to relaxing. Luggage issues feature a couple of times in this tale, but before we write of passengers, we still must dwell upon DB.
As every German rail traveller knows, DB have changed their scheduling, yes, the geeks have tweaked the system, taking into account every possible permutation of speed and distance. Brilliant! Except they’ve totally forgotten to include the time it takes to alight from one train, walk (read run!) to another platform, then board the other train. The new scheduling allows, with several connections, about four minutes changeover time! And if that’s not enough to catch you out, the stations create traps to baffle even Einstein! We got off one train at Platform 11, knowing we had five minutes to get to Platform 16. The lift had a queue a mile long, so down the stairs we went. At the bottom, looking left and right to see which way the platform numbering went, we couldn’t see Platform 16. Scratching our heads, panicking about time, trying to see why platform 16 wasn’t next to 15, we suddenly saw that platform 16 was actually on the same platform as 11. Yes, we could have got out of our train and walked four metres across to the next one!
Back up the stairs. Thankfully, in what has become usual practice for DB, the train was late, which brings us to carriage numbering and placement. When one books a seat, you’re allocated the seat and carriage, for example Seats 21, 22, Carriage 209. The stations then have a carriage diagram (“Wagenstandsanzeiger”) on display and platforms are also alphabetically listed, so you can see what position your carriage will stop at, for example 209 at C position on the platform. Brilliant! Except that nobody ever seems to tell whoever assembles DB trains that somebody else has made a diagram, consequently every station in Germany has passengers dragging and pushing suitcases, running up and down platforms trying to find their carriage. I have long held the theory that the German rail network has grown so big, it’s reached a critical mass and is now beyond ordered (now there’s a word to make any German stand to attention) control.
So we climb aboard. There are two small open suitcase compartments either side of the entry door, BUT there is a belligerent looking frumpy teenage girl leaning against the left compartment and another one, crouched on the floor level of the right hand compartment. There are bags on the shelves, the stupid bitch is crouching in the only available luggage space. I smile nicely and ask her to move. She points up at the top shelves (already loaded with luggage) and goes back to her book! Dumbfounded, I look across to where her chubby mate is leaning, to see if there is any space behind her. She doesn’t move, just looks at me with a sour look. I fight back a fleeting impulse to smack its insolent mouth, then turn back to Crouching Tart. “Would you mind moving, I need to put these suitcases in there.”
“Put them up there!” Crouching Tart orders me, pointing to the top shelf.
“Mate, I don’t want to lift the fucking things up there!” She doesn’t give a flying fuck. Fat Tart pipes up, “There’s room here,” and grudgingly moves aside. I have to rearrange several other suitcases, while Fat Tart looks on, very annoyed that I’ve interrupted her. Finished, I look around to see there are quite a few empty seats spread around the carriage, I shake my head at the rude bitches and walk down to our seats. At the next station, more of the same, except German travellers are more polite than me, they hesitate looking at Crouching Tart and Fat Tart, but say nothing. Incredible and not a guard in sight to bring some order (there’s that word again!) to the stupidity of it all. Our carriage fills up as we leave the station, about five minutes later, a guard announces there are plenty of spare seats in the next carriage. Crouching Tart gets up, she and Fat Tart leave for the next carriage, but won’t look at me as I glare at them, hoping the train will suddenly stop. Order returns.
Another station. The girl beside me leaves and there is a spare seat. A young woman comes along, asks me if the seat is free, I smile and say “Yes.” She sits down, leaving what appears to be her friend standing beside her. Then she jumps up with a phone charging cord in her hand and starts looking for the 240 volt charging socket. I hadn’t been able to find one, so I’m hoping she’ll find it. She is all over the seat, exclaiming loudly in an Eastern European language, obviously annoyed that there doesn’t appear to be one, at one stage even lifting my arm to see if there’s one under it! She sits with her arms folded, looking rather annoyed, then turns to her friend and starts loudly haranguing her. People are looking startled, but she just gets louder, to the point where it’s impossible for Ann and I to have a conversation. The young girl sitting next to Ann has been trying to work on her laptop, but has given up, as I think has everyone around us. Eastern Europe is still shouting and telling off the other girl. I tap Eastern Europe on the shoulder. Dark cold eyes turn on me. “Shut up!” I said. Eighty pairs of eyes are suddenly on me. “What do you mean shut up?” Eastern Europe angrily says.
“Exactly that! By all means chat away, but there’s no need for all the bloody loud yelling!”
“You shut up!” She replies, then lets loose with a stream of German, which roughly translates into her assessment of me as a fucking arsehole. “Speak German!” she orders me, which is good coming from another foreigner. “I’m not German!” I smile coldly at her. I think it then occurred to her that I would not be playing by German rules in our short but lively relationship. She sat quietly, then a seat change occurred a few seats further down and another seat became available next to where her friend was by now sitting. Eastern Europe moved there, glowering at me now and then. Ann said she didn’t want to brand anybody, but neither girl had luggage and she suspected they were travelling for nefarious purposes – eg: luggage theft or pick pocketing. At that moment a lady ticket inspector entered the carriage. You have never seen two girls leave a carriage so quickly, yep they didn’t have tickets. Our ticket inspector watched them running with narrowed eyes and spoke into her two way radio. I sat there thinking that as young women seem to be so self-centred, aggressive and rude these days, perhaps DB could have a carriage for unruly young women, to let the rest of us travel in peace and comfort. They could scream, hiss and scratch each other’s eyes out without interference from civilised people.
Peace descended, we poured wine, opened cheese and chatted with the lovely girl next to us, who was on her way to Switzerland to spend the weekend with her boyfriend. Suddenly yelling started.
Three or four rows behind us, against the rear of the carriage, were seats for disabled people – room for wheel chairs etc. A disabled guy was sitting there taking two seats with a lady beside him. A rather overbearing German bloke came along and wanted to sit there, demanding the disabled guy fold his legs up and stop taking two seats. The disabled guy patiently explained that he couldn’t fold his legs and the lady with him politely added to the explanation, but to no avail, the agro bloke was having none of it, becoming louder and more aggressive with every second. I looked at Ann, thinking “I can’t let this disabled chap try to defend himself alone, I’ll have to step in.” Ann knew what I was thinking and said “No, leave it.” Just at that moment a conductor came along and very quickly sorted out the boorish pig.
All the while, we were travelling alongside the beautiful Rhine and I was wondering why people have to be such arseholes, when things are always relatively easy to sort out, or apply reason to, when it started again!
Another guy had entered our carriage and he was trying to find a place for his suitcase, in doing so, he was moving some other suitcases around to try and fit his in. Well the shit hit the fan.
A woman jumped on her high horse. He had moved her suitcase. No matter what he said, all very reasonably, she was having none of it. It was like being under the command of vitriolic female officer in Stalag 13, as she became more and more strident and offended. I looked around, there was really no issue, the suitcases were a bit of a jumble, as there were so many, but the corridor was still clear and everyone’s luggage was secure, however the woman wasn’t for turning. The argument got so loud and ludicrous, the conductor came back from the carriage next door. Like all of us, he’d had enough – ours was just one carriage, God knows how conductors cope if this nonsense is repeated carriage after carriage. Anyhow, in trying to reason, he sort of snapped and asked the poor bloke where he was getting off. The bloke told him. “Good,” said the conductor, “It’s the next stop, just take your case and wait by the door!” This was a bit unfair, as he wasn’t the trouble maker. Worse, the bloke’s stop was actually an hour away, which undoubtedly the conductor knew. However the two had certainly been separated and peace had once again descended … almost.
The agro German woman was by now so hyped up, she had another lady cornered and was regaling her with the whole tale. After literally almost four minutes, she stopped long enough for the other lady to explain she was English and spoke no German!
We’d had train travel by the time our train arrived at Freiburg, however a beautiful apartment awaited us, we settled in and went to the Christmas Markets, full of good cheer, unaware there was one last mad moment lying in wait for me. This time, DB were not involved.
The markets were crowded, too much so, just like Muenster and Dresden, just too many people, all you could do is shuffle along with the crowd, trying to pick your way through any space that briefly appeared; in these situations, we always find it better for Ann to follow behind me, as my old rugby player shoulders are broad enough to clear a path for her to follow in – please note, there is nothing misogynistic in this procession, just safe passage for Ann!
Of course, there are always those who will make a path in a crowd no matter what – as any shopper knows, beware of Asian ladies on a mission, they will cut you off at the pass, the counter, the door or, most importantly, at the sale item. Anyhow, in peripheral vision, I became aware of a large German bloke in his mid to late fifties, wearing a beige overcoat striding through everyone. He was heading diagonally across my path, scattering people around him, it was obvious he didn’t care who was in his road. I briefly saw his face, he was coldly sneering. By now he was on me and I mean ‘on me.’ He just pushed into me, quite deliberately and utterly unnecessarily. I couldn’t believe it was happening.
Yes, you know what’s coming – I can’t let arseholes get away with that sort of shit. So in the best Kiwi Rugby tradition, I pushed back, with considerable force – Kia Kaha. He didn’t expect it, stumbled, then somehow managed to get his balance back. Apparently he looked back at me and Ann tells me a young couple were smiling broadly, I strode on, however I do believe he probably stopped pushing people around, at least for that night.
And that dear people was a perhaps fitting finale to a rather tiring day’s travel with DB.