Germany: a country famed for its efficiency. A country where to be early, is to be on time, and to be on time, is to be late. And a country, with a dark secret that’s been fooling the rest of the world for decades. Scenes of gleaming white ICE trains racing across the German countryside, taking you from Hamburg to Berlin in record time as you lie against the pillows sewn into the seats, maintain the illusion of a train network of dreams. Allow yourself to end up on a Regiobahn however, and you will quickly fall from your dreamland into a hell from which no one can escape.
Picture this: you wake up on a sunny Friday in Munich. You’ve got the day off, and want to make the most of a break in the snow. Salzburg is only 1.5 hrs away by train, and today is as good a day as any to hop across the border and talk a walk around Mozart’s home city. It’s only an hour and a half, why not? It is this very question that I really wish I had fully considered before embarking on my journey. Why not? Because your train might *happen* to break down. And you might *happen* to be stuck on a non-air conditioned train for 2 hours. And the driver might *happen* to forget to tell you why you have been stuck for so long. 1.5 hours, worth it. 4 hours (!), not so much. To be honest it was worth it in the end, but I can assure you that forcing myself back on the train at the end of the day was a struggle.
Unfortunately, the disaster that is DB is not limited to their locomotives breaking down. Delays, engineering works, skipping stations, and any other possible problem that could have any effect on train services, occurs daily, without fail. Platforms fill up with school kids, commuters, skiers, dogs, all staring longingly at a display board offering no information. On one day it might take you 20 minutes to get to work, the next, 50. This unpredictability, combined with the engrained German desire to turn up incredibly early for everything, results in more huffing and puffing than someone standing on the wrong side of the escalator at Kings Cross.
Current notices: Trains will not be stopping at Hackerbrücke due to reports of a twig being found on platform 3. To reach your destination please seek alternative modes of transport. These may include, but are not limited to, your own legs, an e-Scooter, or a unicycle. You will be unable to receive a refund for the ticket that cost you €15 and an overpriced Milchkaffee.
Now I couldn’t write an article honouring the German train service without mentioning their staff. They are interesting creatures that at first glance seem to be your average German: cold but fair. But confront them with an invalidated ticket, and Mr Hyde will be unleashed. Forget to stamp the ticket? €60. End up in the wrong zone? €60. Didn’t buy a ticket for your bike (yes, really)? €60. 70 year-old man, 7 year-old girl, tourist, German native? €60. Once the red and black monster has locked eyes on you there is no option but to pray that you’ll make it out alive.
So let this be a lesson to you. Before planning your next holiday city-hopping across der Republik, perhaps allow 3-5 working days to travel between each place, and if you arrive early, treat it as a bonus and eat some well deserved Currywurst und Pommes after the treacherous journey, provided you arrive unscathed and with some funds remaining.