German Travel for Dummies

German Business and Culture

Major: Finance in the Haworth College of Business

By: Jackie Northrup

German public transport. How can I describe this? It’s an interesting time to do so as the Deutsche-bahn workers decided to go on a week-long strike starting the day our class was due to arrive. Monday, May 4th. I was quite surprised to discover how vital the trains are to Germans…and to our class. I think Dr. Eckert was one irritable, bilingual phone call away from an aneurism. He managed to book a bus for our Wednesday Wolfsburg trip, but in the interim, he ominously advised that we would have to make do. Little did I know at the time that our class was about to get really ‘familiar’ with the locals, and for that matter, each other….

Taking trams and the S-bahns, and U-bahns isn’t really so bad in theory. At least they’re always on time from what little I know, and they don’t linger at the stops for long, and they never really yell at you unless you get in one car with more than 10 people in your group. I say this with Chicago area Amtrak in mind, which makes any rider feel more like a beef steer than a human. But when you add everyone else in Germany who lost the option of taking trains, it gets interesting. Even on a normal, not-so-sardine-like day, these forms of transportation are quite a challenge to learn to use. You first have to learn to crowd around the doors (if you can manage to chase one until an official stopping point on the platform) and hold steady as the people getting off pummel you with strollers, small dogs, shopping bags, bikes, backpacks, and babies. If you don’t, you’ll either miss the chance to jump through the doors completely, or, if you manage to wriggle in, you’ll get stuck in the isle, where you’ll have to hold steady as the people getting off pummel you with strollers, small dogs, shopping bags, bikes, backpacks, and babies. Sensing a common theme yet? I have had bike handles in a multitude of surprising places during my time using German transportation, just to illustrate.

Crammed Together! Photo: Jackie Northrup
Crammed Together!
Photo: Jackie Northrup

So if you have managed to get on and get a seat, you’re winning. However old German ladies are not shy when they want your seat, so keep an eye out for them when they get on. Don’t underestimate a German ‘Oma’. Of course it’s polite to automatically offer, even in American culture, but they don’t allow for hesitation. Sitting in a seat is nice because you don’t have to struggle to hold your balance every time you’re starting to move again. It’s quite embarrassing to fall on the natives. When you can sit down, you have to consider that you’re going to have a face full of international butts. I have probably had a butt ambassador from half of the world in my face by now.

Now getting off gets dangerous too-especially if you have to scamper to a connecting train. This process is reminiscent of a Super Mario game. Jumping from platform to platform, dodging and ducking, the difference being that you only have one life, and the only power boosts you’re getting are in expresso form. Now, it is your turn to break the ranks waiting for you outside the door, and if you aren’t assertive enough, the person behind you will fix that. You can’t even start that until you step over the hipsters on the floor and the miscellaneous bags strewn in the aisle. It was a very interesting procedure with our entire class. If you don’t get off in time, the oncoming tide of people will push you right back into the train. Also, I learned the hard way that the conductor and the signs will tell you ahead of time, from which side to exit. On a previous visit for leisure, I was facing the other door, wondering why this was so sparse and thinking about what a chump everyone was for not utilizing another door. I don’t know if this is something that is well-known in any big city with trams and subways, but I am not from the big city, and was left waiting for a door to open while everyone piled out the correct side. Needless to say, I was prepared for the correct door one stop later. At least with the class, Dr. Eckert prevented us from being that unobservant. If you have another train to catch, you have to decide which heard of travelers to join in their chaotic stampede to the next platform. The German transportation services are so serious about punctuality, and you can bet the people here are well aware. You will get good at jumping into the correct stampede double-Dutch style after a couple times missing the trains. With a faculty-led heard of Americans, our stampedes were quite imposing and we made it nicely to the connections. All in all, it’s better to travel single in my opinion.

The strike has made this a much bigger challenge. Everyone who would have ridden the trains had to resort to the same methods as our class.  Let’s just say we got very close and personal with each other and the Germans. I suppose this was the point of the class. I noticed people sitting on laps, and others had to share the same handles for balance. I think with our class on the trams and subways, that we could just use the pressure from all the sweaty bodies packed together for holding us up. It was intense and quite out of the American comfort zone. It must have been out of the German comfort zone as well, considering the exasperated looks on the car occupants’ faces when they saw us swarming the door.  I am willing to bet they felt like they were in Dawn of the Dead, starring 28 American zombies.

Not relevant but oddest site of the day! Photo: Jackie Northrup
Not relevant but oddest sight of the day!
Photo: Jackie Northrup

Jackie Northrup
German Business and Culture

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