Friday, August 04, 2006

Back Link Why I Love The Deutsche Bundesbahn

I would like to recount an experience I had travelling on a train one time from Wuerzburg (between Frankfurt and Nuremberg) to Erlangen (just outside of Nuremberg). This is one of the many experiences that I've had with the Deutsche Bundesbahn (DB, national railway), which made me a great fan of this company.

This story takes place about twenty years ago. I went off on a Zen sesshin, or week’s retreat, at a Benedictine monastery situated in the hills of Wuerzburg (wine-making region of Germany). The sesshin ended with an early breakfast on Easter Sunday. I walked down to the train station with my backpack full of dirty laundry and my head in a strange state of mind and stepped into the first train heading south.

Ten minutes out of the station the conductor comes and asks for my train ticket. This fellow was a typical Bavarian: wide-of-girth, grumpy disposition, and spoke loudly in a broad Bavarian dialect. Something only the Bavarian employees of the DB have the courage to do, all the other employees speak (some well, some not so well) in the “Hochdeutsch” or high German.

The conductor takes my ticket, looks at it and then lets out a few tongue clicks of disgust. “Don’t you know that you are on the Easter Special?” I give him a blank stare that would make any teller of a “dumb blond” joke proud. He goes on to explain, “This train doesn’t stop until we reach Munich. It’s the Easter Special, which takes all the rich residences of Frankfurt’s and Wuerzburg’s high society to Munich for their Easter Sunday brunch and afternoon classical concert and then takes them back again later this evening”. Still getting a blank look from me, “The train doesn’t even go through Nuremberg, let alone stop off there”, he rumbles at me.

Slowly, it dawns on me that I might be in a bit of trouble: not only is the train not taking me where I want it to, my ticket, a normal rate, probably doesn’t cover the exclusive Easter Special, which means that I might have to purchase such a ticket as well as a one way ticket from Munich back to Nuremberg. My mind finally kicks into gear and I desperately search through all my dirty laundry for my wallet. I have to figure out if I have any money to pay for the new train tickets. While I am doing this, the conductor barks, “Don’t move, I’ll be right back!” He leaves the carriage with my ticket in hand.

I sat there somewhat subdued because I discovered to my dismay that even though I might have enough to pay for the trip from Munich to Nuremberg, there was no way I could pay for the Easter Special ticket. So I was contemplating what I could do; wash dishes for the train restaurant, sign over ownership of my rusty bicycle… when an announcement came over the train’s loudspeaker system, “Ladies and Gentlemen, this is Mr. Schmidt your conductor. I hope you are enjoying your journey with the Deutsch Bundesbahn this sunny Easter Sunday morning. I would like to announce that we are going to make an unscheduled stop in Treuchtlingen. I sincerely hope that this will not inconvenience you. Thank you for your understanding and a pleasant further journey”.

Treuchtlingen is a tiny station whose only claim to fame is that it is a crossing point for various train routes through Germany. Slowly, a horrible thought entered my head… unexpected stop… this train doesn’t stop in Nuremberg. And sure enough, five minutes later the grumpy conductor opened the door to my carriage with the biggest grin on his face. “So what do you think? You know everyone in their fat fur coats and their fancy hats are going to be curious to see who can stop the Easter Special.”

I turned beet red and stuttered to him in disbelief, “You are stopping the Easter Special to let me off?” “Yup”, he continued, “and not only that, I’ve called my colleague at the Treuchtlingen station and he will personally escort you to your connecting train back up to Nuremberg”. And with that he gave me back my ticket, which now had handwritten authorisation that I could travel back to Erlangen without any further costs. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry; I was so touched at his gesture.

We quickly neared Treuchtlingen. The conductor carried my ragged backpack down the corridor to the train’s exit. When the train door opened, the stationmaster helped me down, took my backpack from his colleague, gave him a big wink, and nobly escorted me along the station platform. The whole time, the three of us kept serious expressions on our faces, and pretended not to notice how all the windows of the train had been pulled down and hatted men and fur-coated ladies stuck their heads out to discover the identity of VIP that stopped their Easter Special.


Blogger Kerstin said...

Oh my. What a great, great story! You couldn't have invented this any better! I wonder if a conductor on the Easter Special these days (does it even still operate?) would have such a wonderful sense of character and humor?

18 January, 2008 19:32  

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