Lost in transportation

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Symbolic photo of my face expression when I need to put up with Bahn bullshit

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

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Diamonds are a Swede’s best friend

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Mingling and networking is one main part of the whole thing

Last night, I learned about diamonds. Not the ones you expect in the rings you get for engagements and giving birth (1950s women stereotype, anyone?) – the ones that cut cars. Yes, industry uses diamonds to cut e.g. aluminium for cars because the carbide material is so solid it is the best tool for cutting. We held an event at a Swedish company that is the market leader for these things. The fascinating part was that we all are constantly using their products or rather the results of their products: whether you shave (they cut the razor blade strip steel), use your iPhone (they milled the phone’s shell), change your baby’s diapers (they cut the material that became the nappy) or  if you travel through the tunnel to England (they also make tools and those helped build the tunnel).

I also always enjoy people talking about something they really are interested in, especially when it is an uncommon passion like the passion for milling heads. Our guide would proudly go on and on about the smallest drill rod (0,1 mm calibre) and the 4000 milling heads it takes to cut out a plane. Diamonds sure are a Swede’s  best friend, considering that the company employs nearly 11,000 Swedes (and 50,000 worldwide!)

The only bad part was that on the way home, I happened to be on the tram that just did not move for 30 minutes. It literally took 40 minutes to travel 2 kilometres so I got home very late. This morning, I popped into the office frantically working off my to-do-list or rather transferring everything onto my computer that I would otherwise access online because I wanted to work on the train to Hamburg. Here’s a piece of free advice to all train companies: you would totally increase your attractiveness if you had internet on the train.

Despite the crying toddlers and loud ladies talking about their spa treatments in Swabian dialect on the train (because we all want to know in detail how the foot massage went), four hours passed rapidly with me pecking my keyboard. The deadline for our magazine is today and that is one of the tasks I very willingly dedicate my time to. Also, it’s great when you’re suddenly in Hamburg! I was greeted by Ingrid and we hung out at our old favorite café. Now I’ve just sent the last work emails from her kitchen and I’ll be off to Haha Hamm [Hamm is the name of the part of town) to see Ingrid perform stand up comedy. Sounds like a good Friday night, doesn’t it?

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Hamburg has the best stickers

Site seeing in Berlin

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The weather in Berlin: sunshine when Helen is inside. Snow when Helen is outside.

I am in Berlin. Again. And again, I must say I don’t understand why people voluntarily move here? Not only does it take forever to get from one place to the other, it’s also that the majority of people you meet is so incredibly unfriendly. Trust me, if you are a foreigner who’s only been to Berlin and got a bad impression of the German people, this is not who we are.

But enough with the Berlin bashing. Why am I here? For site visits. This morning, I started my work day two hours earlier than usual by throwing myself on an ICE train. (On, not under, mind you.) I literally stepped unto the train as the doors were closing and luckily, I happened to be in the right coach where my seat was. This was my first time in the “silent compartment”: you are not allowed to talk on the phone or actually, at all, if possible. No pensioner couples reading their favorite passages from a book to each other, no parents scolding their kids, no stag parties singing – basically heaven. This must have been my most relaxing train ride in a long while.

The relaxation was over when I hit the streets of Berlin. Today, I saw six locations in one afternoon, tomorrow I’ll see another two. I’m pleased to say that I have three, four candidates that could be a good choice. There is a lot to think about when choosing: will this on site staff make life difficult for me, what costs are actually really included in the rent and can I be bothered to pay for each microphone separately, is there going to be a draft in the reception hall, will these glaring lights blind the guests and does sound of the name of this venue promise a dazzling gala night?

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Bowie stood under that chandelier!

The first stop was the Museum for Communication – I was about to drop to my knees because I loved the museum so much. Outside, they have put a telephone booth on a pedestal, inside they have a giant court in which cute looking robots drive around who react to your voice and start speaking to you, and in their so-called treasury they show “The Blue Mauritius Post Office Stamp” (which is worth more than one million euros). Okay, I admit I am a sucker for all kinds of communication but this museum really seemed to have their museum pedagogy going for them. Have to return one day with some more time and otium.

I also saw the room that David Bowie (who recorded his “Heroes” there) called “The Hall by the Wall”, a hall constructed by the craftsmen in 1913 that was first used as a place to hand out the diplomas to the new master craftsmen who had successfully completed their apprenticeship. The Master Hall attests to the skill of the craftsmen with its detailed decoration. The house, in which countless world class musicians recorded songs including Swedish Kent’s album “Röd”, used to be right next to the wall which is so hard to imagine these days.

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Apparently, all Taxi companies in Berlin must be called very similarily

 

Train Magazines

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I don’t think the “Här saknas text” is supposed to be there. Skärpning, SJ!

A place where you would not expect interesting journalism is the train. At least I never thought the free magazines train companies put on every seat would be worth a read. Because really, how exciting are free customer papers, the ones you can pick up at the grocery store? But the train is an exception. Since at least ten years I have been reading “mobil”, as the German Deutsche Bahn calls its magazine. Every month, they have a well-known celebrity on the cover and come up with actually inspiring stories and travel reports. (I am not saying this because I once got to intern at their editorial office.) When I still lived at home, it was an unspoken rule for everyone who had been out travelling on a long distance train to bring “mobil” home for the others to read.

When I started travelling on SJ, Sweden’s railway company, I discovered they had an equivalent called “Kupé” (Swedish for compartment). And wow, “Kupé” might even be better than “mobil” – I often rip out parts that I find so intriguing that I have to forward them by snail mail to friends. Last week when Malin and I travelled Stockholm – Örebro again, I took the magazine with me, exported it all the way to Germany and enjoyed a good read on the Hamburg – Düsseldorf route While the young people next to me were playing a card game and the South German couple opposite reminisced on their Hamburg visit, I busied my mind with the quiz-page that I newly had discovered in “Kupé”. I might be easily amused but I was quite entertained with their guessing games. See if you can re-translate these cities correctly into Swedish – and make sure to pick up “mobil” respectively “Kupé” when you travel by train the next time [This post is not sponsored by any publishing houses. Too bad.]

Observations in Week 4: Grand Düssel Station and Luxury Beds

Week Four’s Observations

Maybe it is a sign of my continuing integration but I have only observed two note-worthy things this week. That’s nothing compared to, say, week two.

I work on Luxury Bed Street

The Düsseldorfers seem to attach a lot of importance to good sleep. The few hours the diligent German sleeps, s/he wants to spend as comfortably as possible. At least that is what the luxury-bed-store-ratio on my street suggests. The street I work on is a central street and while it is not short, it is not very long either. Still, no less than five bed stores are on this street. You come to work passing the shop where beds start at 4,000 euros. You go to lunch and cast a glance at the two stores advertising “ergonomical sleeping”. You go home and while you make your way past the last store, you wonder why you sleep on 90-centimetre-bed without a slatted frame while the rest of Düsseldorf must be enjoying all these beds worthy of a king or queen.

Düsseldorf has a show-off-station

The prestige of train stations is measured in number of tracks, the frequency of connections and which kind of trains stop there. Let me give you an example: The train station in Vechta (don’t go there!) has two tracks and the only train that goes there is a local train that looks like a tram and calls at literally every village. At Vechta Central Station, there are two trains going each hour. In Hamburg, there are 14 tracks and all kinds of trains frequent the station, even the prestigious ICE Sprinter that only stops at the VIS (very important stations). Trains arrive and depart approximately every third minutes.

And then there is Düsseldorf which suffers from a mild case of megalomania (“Of course 60 sqm cost 700 euros, this is the capital of North-Rhine-Westphalia after all!”). Yes, the ICE Sprinter stops here and yes, trains go maybe every fifth minute. But the tracks? They have 20 tracks! TWENTY! Only Berlin might have more tracks. I think Düsseldorf might be cheating with this track thing to upgrade their train station prestige: who knows if maybe six of these tracks are used for local trams and not real trains? What if Düsseldorf has two incorporated Vechta stations in its station? Whatever the reason, it sure is impressive to be led to “track 17” for the train to Dortmund. Well done, Düsseldorf, well done.

Climbing the train hierarchy

Some of you know my list of life dreams. Announcing the German points for Eurovision is on it, obtaining a studentmössa is listed (and ticked off) and becoming the owner of a BahnCard100. Let me explain this to those unfamiliar with the concept of the German Railway, Deutsche Bahn. The tickets to travel by train in Germany are quite expensive. When you use the train a lot, it makes sense to buy a Bahncard that gives you a discount on the price. If you buy BahnCard25, you get 25%, with BahnCard50, you pay only half price and with BahnCard100 – yes, you travel for free. Any train, any time. How awesome is that?!

When the tickets are checked, the BahnCard100 owners just  pull out their card which is black to easily be distinguished from us normal white-card-holders. When the ticket person catches a glimpse of the black card, they smile and nod knowingly.

The BahnCard100 costs around 5000 euro for a year so a fulfilment of this life dream is not on the horizon. However, I still managed to climb higher in the BahnCard hierarchy and I am delighted about this step in my life.

Last week, I had a big letter in the mail from Deutsche Bahn. It was a card saying “I heart comfort”, with the heart being made of textile fabric .Once you opened it, it said, “Now how does that feel?” Because I spent more than 2000 euros on train tickets this year (I like to think that they must have some calculation mistake because that does not correspond to my book keeping), I was upgraded to BahnCardComfort customer. This means I get access to the lounges in the train stations where you are served free drinks and have free wifi. It also entails being able to claim the especially reserved BahnComfort seats in an overcrowded train (even though I still wonder how to know if the people already sitting there are also BahnComfort customers or I am entitled to chase them away? [Something I would never do anyway because eh, dignity?!])

Most important, statuswise, is though the fact that I got a new BahnCard that is silverish-grey. You see the trend, right? From white to grey to..just det, black. One day, my friends, one day.

(Sorry, no illustrative picture as I don’t want to spend all my evenings in the staircase.)

1000 kilometres in 72 hours

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On Friday, I did what is common in many work places but what I never got to do before: I left work early because it was Friday. And because I wanted to catch the ICE Sprinter, as the fast fast train is called. The ICE is the fast train and when it is a sprinter it is even faster. It only goes once a day though between Cologne and Hamburg, not stopping at the cities in between (okay, except for a very few like, you guessed it, Düsseldorf). By not stopping so much (usually that train has to call at all the relevant towns in between and in the Rhine and Ruhr area, every city is a major city) the sprinter manages to be 30 minutes faster than the usual ICE. I have a feeling that the sprinter and I will become good friends. Thanks to him/her/it, I walked out of the Hamburg central station at 8, perfectly in time to meet my friend for drinks by the water at the Alster Lake. Also, I got to sleep in my own bed that night. Few things are more wonderful. My apartment in which all windows face south still seems to me like a cooling oasis compared to my attic sauna. (That also distingushes itself by not providing reliable internet. This post is brought to you from the stair case, they only place you have some kind of connection.)

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The reason for my weekend escape to the North was my aunt’s wedding which was held two hours north of Hamburg (no, that is not Denmark yet, but the villages already have names like “Löja” and “Bornehöved”). The wedding was held in a location just out of a movie: I have never seen such a picturesque garden.

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My late grandparents

My stepdad and I

My stepdad and I

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Now I’m on my third home, the train, again on the way southwest. Luckily, I have stuff to look forward to in the (än-så-länge-)outland: tomorrow, my very first visitors, Joraine and Simon from Gothenburg are honouring Düsseldorf with their presence!