One of the things I usually lose when I move from a city is my sense of orientation. I noticed this in Hamburg this weekend – I took bus number 6 and went wrong twice. Looking out of the window on the bus does not help because my brain takes way too long time to figure out if this route makes sense. I am not completely clueless, but my orientation in Hamburg used to be very much better.
But I really got lost in transportation on the way back. Despite getting home at waaaay after midnight the third night in a row I attended service in the Swedish Church on Sunday morning and it was very much worth it. Our own choir and the guest choir from Stockholm performed together, a teenage boy was christened (very touching! His three little sisters helped in the ceremony which was adorable.) and following we had the annual church meeting. Consequently, I took a later train than planned and left Hamburg only after 5 p.m. Two hours later, I woke up on the train that had stopped. It would never start again. The locomotive was somehow damaged and the following three hours we waited in the middle of nowhere, close to where I went to school. During this time I got to witness what must be the new crisis communication concept of the Deutsche Bahn. If I remember correctly, they were critisized for being intransparent when delays happened. Apparently, they are now going for the opposite approach: we got eight statements in three hours that each were a few minutes long. In the beginning, the chief train attendant was still calm. He told us in detail that the fuse was broken and they would try to restart it. After a while, things got more desperate. „I can’t reach the technician anymore“, he said. Then the air condition system failed.
There are horror stories of passengers collapsing in trains because of failed air conditioning. I now understand why. Only half an hour without fresh air in a train with 600 people and things get very uncomfortable, breathing gets kind of difficult. As we were travelling close to the Benelux border, passengers started getting anxious about their connections to Amsterdam and Brussels. „Ladies and Gentlemen, I am sorry to inform you our train is entirely out of order“, the attendant made his return on the intercom, sounding more and more distressed. Outside, the sun started setting slowly. „We have contacted Bremen and Osnabrück for emergency help. We hope they can send us an empty train. Otherwise we will have to ask Hamburg or Dortmund for help but it will take them two and a half hours to get here. As our electricity is powered by the locomotive, we are now operating on the emergency electricity. I hope the intercom will continue to work so I can keep you posted.“ I started thinking about how clear-sighted it was of me to eat a decent dinner and buy the largest German newspaper before boarding the train.
„They are sending an empty train. I only asked for a locomotive that would replace ours so that you don’t have to change trains. But they refuse. That’s what happens when the theoretical planners who only work from their desks make the decisions!” People started calling their relatives who were on their way to stations to pick them up. „How did the election go?“, some inquired on the phone. Needless to say, we didn’t have internet and even phone reception was low in the countryside. „When the train comes, we will have to evacuate you“, the train attendant informed us. „We will provide bridges to step over from one train to the other. Those are narrow, so unfortunately prams and wheelchairs won’t be able to get to the emergency train. We will close off the tracks so that other trains don’t come through but please be extremely careful because there might still be trains running“. Um, I thought, what do you mean, you close off the tracks but there will still be trains running while we climb over narrow bridges to the emergency train?!„I am very sorry to put you through this and if I had anything to say, we would just have gotten a locomotive here but nobody listens to me, ladies and gentlemen, I am just the smallest wheel in this organisation and the studied gentlemen in the emergency unit who never atutally operate a train decide!“ By now our train attendant was very annoyed with his superiors and he did not tire of emphasizing his discontent. Meanwhile, rain showers set in outside the window that we could not open. A little while later, we saw a train, three waggons shorter than ours, arrive next to us. People started preparing for the evacuation when the angry train attendant accoustically reappeared. ”The locomotive kind of works right now. The emergency manager has decided that we will go to Diepholz on this train and let you change there in an orderly fashion as there are real platforms there. We won’t continue with this train afterwards because it might break down at any moment again“. We started moving and suddenly, we saw five trucks of the fire brigade by the tracks, ready to protect us for evacuation. Say what you want but the German public safety system worked here! I think everyone was a little sad we couldn’t let them do their job. Diepholz meanwhile saw the greatest number of passengers in 20 years. I doubt there are ever 600 people at that station at the same time.
Epilogue: The Benelux travellers had to spend the night in Düsseldorf. I really hope they weren’t booked on a late night flight overseas from Amsterdam. I got home way past midnight instead of nine thirty.
A fun time in the town of Hamburg, both at night
and the morning after on the way to church