A train’s tale

I took the train again today. Gifhorn-Hannover-Köln-Aachen-Heerlen-Maastricht. A good 6 hours of diving into a microcosm of German and European society. Where else fill you find the pregnant Turko-German lady sitting next to the yuppie-like T.Com manager, discussing the (un)reliability of the German railroad system and the sense and nonsense of social policy reforms with the overaged long-haired philosophy student sitting on the floor? Where else will you find a confused Saxon, in the uniform of the Deutsche Bahn, trying to make sense of the Bavarian gibberish of a well-fed passengers who’s obviously upset about something (I couldn’t quite figure it out myself)? With all the stress and hectic that taking a 6 hour train ride can bring, I always enjoy the insights I gain into the lives of people from all ends of the societal spectrum. And while of course everybody travels in his own way, I have noticed a couple of types that I’ve found on each and every single one of my countless train trips throughout Germany so far. Here’s a short list:

1.) The Talker. Enjoyable person if you’re bored. Will tell everyone around him his story. Where he got on the train, why, where he’s headed, to whom, since when, and why his brother’s best friend got a divorce. Very annoying person if you’re trying to read/study/sleep though. Also on days like today, when the train is overcrowded and people are annoyed from sitting on the floor, that one talker in a packed compartment might live a dangerous life. Nonetheless, it’s the talkers that inspire me to maybe write a book about train tales one of these days.

2.) The Student. On his way home or back to college, she sits on her bag because there’s not seats left and she didn’r reserve to save money. An iPod in her ears, she’s most likely to read Marc Levy’s “If only it were true” or something by Nicholas Sparks. She’ll ocassionally get up to go to the bathroom, followed by the eyes of a couple of male +50s. Will sit on the train for hours without opening her mouth even once, not even to yawn or breathe.

3.) The Soldier. Mandatory service still exists in Germany. Therefore, you’ll always find a couple of 18-21 year old guys sitting on their olivegreen bags, watching bootlegged movies on their laptops and listening to loud music. Also not very conversational. Is that even a word?

4.) The Nagging Bitch. It just has to be said: If the train is packed and people are stressed, women are so much more likely to start nagging and bitching than men. In every compartment, you’ll have at least one woman yelling at you because she can’t pass through to the restaurant due to you being in the way. The fact that you can’t move at all is not interesting to her. The argument that you can’t go anywhere until other people move as well and that it is going to take a couple of seconds will receive a friendly grunt, followed by a high-pitched “I don’t think so, boy! Shame on you for being so impudent!”. That was the nice version btw. Eventually, the Nagging Bitch will provide for a lot of entertainment if paired with the following species:

5) The Unfriendly Controller. He hates nothing more than walking from compartment to compartment, asking to see people’s tickets, stamping them, giving them back, explaining people why their ticket isn’t valid or where they need to go to catch a specific connecting train. Very entertaining in combination with the Nagging Bitch, who, upon sight of the controller, will start nagging and bitching about pverprized fairs, not enough available seats, delays, and personally blame it on the controller. Usually, a brusque but rhetorically admirable argument evolves from this pairing of species, ending with the Nagging Bitch screaming out curses against the Deutsche Bahn while the controller is making his way through the compartment, shaking his head and mumbling something that could cost him his job.

Those stereotypes are really just a few of the many faces you’ll see during a rush hour train ride. And while they all appear to be quite negative, that’s probably the reason they can be identified so easy. The people you meet that make your train ride enjoyable and interesting, through conversation or methods of nonverbal communication, are usually hard to categorize. They don’t grow on trees and they don’t wear uniforms which would make them easy to recognize.If you keep your eyes and mind open to the people around you, however, you’ll discover the most interesting human beings that could tell you quite a lot about life. They help you forget the stress of sitting on the floor and the nerve-wracking monotonous krababble of the talkers. It’s really those individuals who tell me the tales of the train – and it’s those people that will write my book one of these days.

Hoffnung means hope…


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