Thursday, March 08, 2007

The Loreley

Many of you know that the Loreley is a huge rock along the Rhein, where a siren is said to sit (also called Loreley sometimes) and distract sailors from the danger of the narrow passage, leading them to their deaths.

The Loreley is also the name of a Deutsche Bahn InterCity train, likely because the train's route from Stuttgart to Koeln takes it right through the region where the Loreley sits. This train comes through Heidelberg in the mornings and goes through Mainz as well, just in time to get my two fellow Heidelberg epidemiology students (and one fellow Mannheim student) and I there for class. See the photo at right to understand what is special about this train - that photo was taken in second class! Even the second class cars look like first class, with wide, comfy leather seats (only three seats across instead of four), adjustable headrests, and a nice cozy ambiance.

Somehow its poetic name just added to the fun of always making reference to how great the train was. We all hoped to catch it on its way back through Mainz after class one day, and any train that wasn't the Loreley was always a disappointment. Hence, we were all bummed on Monday morning when some other train picked us up in Heidelberg instead of Loreley. When the ticket controller came through, we asked him where Loreley was, but his answer was sort of vague. We started to wonder if they finally figured out they were spoiling us too much and moved the train to some other more worthy route. Tuesday and Wednesday morning were the same - no Loreley.

Yesterday, Thursday, was finally our last day of class. The schedule was even shorter than usual. Celebration was on our minds and it got all the better with the triumphant return of the Loreley to our morning commute! We snagged a nice roomy table and settled in, lulled to sleep by the comfy seats and sun streaming in the window.

Somewhere north of Worms, the train stopped. I wouldn't call it a screeching halt, but it was somewhere between that and a regular stop - enough to wake everyone up. We came to a halt just past a small town intersection and Bahnhof - the town of Osthofen. Then we sat quietly. There was no announcement. After about ten minutes, we started to see people milling around the train outside - firemen, rescue service, police. They were looking under each train car. Finally there was an announcement that there had been an "accident" and they didn't know when we would start moving again.

Well, at least we were in our comfy seats - but it felt ridiculous to have thoughts like that knowing that the people we saw outside the train were most likely looking for the remains of someone under the train cars. Was it a suicide or really just an accident? The trains do zip through these little towns without slowing down at all - it's pretty scary. Yet, jumping in front of trains is said to be a preferred form of suicide in Germany. It's quick, free, and there is no way you could accidentally survive. If it was a suicide, did they just pick any train? Or did they find something poetic in choosing the Loreley? Were they from Osthofen? If so, was life in a little wine village really so bad? Were they from somewhere else entirely? When a friend jumped in front of a train in college, she chose to ride 40 blocks away from school first and do it there instead. Who knows why. That was a slow Metra train in Chicago and they couldn't identify her without her ID. This person jumped in front of an InterCity - were there any pieces left big enough to find?

After 30 or 45 minutes, we were evacuated from the train by a ladder and some firemen. They told us that buses would come to take us the rest of the way to Mainz. Everyone gathered across from Osthofen's Bahnhof to wait. No buses came. Then, another announcement: There weren't going to be any buses to Mainz after all. An S-Bahn (a slower train) would come to pick us up in Osthofen and take us back to Mannheim, where we could catch the next ICE (super fast) train to Frankfurt, and transfer in Frankfurt to Mainz. "Ne, oder!?" complained the Mannheimer. We couldn't afford a cab all the way to Mainz though, so we piled onto the S-Bahn. It didn't move. Then another announcement: An alternate option was to take a bus to a small town two stops down the tracks, Alsheim. Then we could wait for an S-Bahn there to Mainz. They didn't know which way would be faster. We figured that because the second option was less complicated, there were less possible points for error and it would be better. We all ran back across the street and jumped on the bus marked Zugersatzverkehr - a word approximately meaning "train replacement service". It left straight away for Alsheim. Everyone looked back at the (crippled? not really - but what can you call a train that just killed someone?) Loreley as we left. We went through the flat plains full of vineyards toward Alsheim. There has been a lot of work going on in the vineyards lately. Then we were unceremoniously dropped off at Alsheim's Bahnhof.

The town seemed abandoned from our vantage point. There was no restroom in sight, and no opened business. No train, for that matter. We just waited. A train came going the wrong direction. Everyone thought maybe it had been sent for us. After all, the Loreley was still blocking the tracks in the other direction. Unfortunately, it had not - it was going to Mannheim. The driver seemed a little bewildered that in this little tiny town there was a huge crowd asking him if he was going to just turn around and go the other way instead.

So, the train would come for us from the other direction? Did they not think of this, or did it just not matter? We had to wait for the Loreley to move before we could go to Mainz. Eventually, it whizzed past, top speed, all empty and sad. Then our S-Bahn rolled in and took us to Mainz. Couldn't we have just waited on the Loreley? It would have been faster. Then again, maybe the idea of that is just too wrong. Did the Loreley go back to her regular schedule that day, or just zip through all the towns empty in order to get ready for the trip the other way?

We got to class two and a half hours late - though it was about half the shortened day it was still worth it to be there because there was a helpful review session. Afterward we had coffee and ice cream at a tapas joint across from the Mainz Hauptbahnhof, then rode home. The train slowed down through Osthofen, out of necessity or respect, we don't know. I never found anything about it in the news later, leading me to believe it really was a suicide, as an accident would have been more newsworthy.

I can't think of a fitting closure for this post.


  1. Once upon a time I was on a train back from Portland and it stopped half an hour south of Tacoma for four hours. Nobody knew anything, and they never evacuated, but then somebody said over the loudspeaker that we had to wait for the coroner to arrive. Apparently there was a dead dude either under the train or on the tracks and they needed a coroner to determine whether or not dude was already dead before the train hit. We inside the train were not as respectful about the potential dead as we should have been. A lady paid me a quarter to make a ninja mask out of the t-shirt I was wearing.

  2. Loreley seems to be an old MET car. The MET or "Metropolitan" was an experimental luxury train running between Cologne and Hamburg only. (Pictures) It was first class all over and had all kinds of onboard services.
    The service was discontinued in December 2004 due to low rentability. The cars got an IC/ICE-painting and are running now on regular lines.

  3. Sara: Interesting moneymaking scheme there! Next time I'm strapped for cash I'll set up a sign in the Altstadt..."Will Make Ninja Mask Out of My T-Shirt for 25 cents".

    (Are-you-really-boring?) German Guy: Great link!! Thanks! I can see why that seems like first class is always nearly empty, I can't imagine how why they tried to market whole trains of it. They are really nice, though!

  4. Deutsche Bahn tried the MET to be an attractive alternative for business travellers usually travelling by airplane. I think the upcoming of Ryanair and other low-budget-airlines - especially on national routes - had forced DB to rethink their offers...

  5. German Guy: Hmm, interesting! I'd take the train over an airplane any day - even a crummy train is more comfortable than a plane - except for the problem that flying really is a lot cheaper right now!
    A similar thing was tried between NYC/Boston with an extra-fast (haha, but this is it wasn't really) train to try and get the business from shuttle flights. They argued that it took just as much time after factoring in the commute into the cities from the airports. I think it turned out to be neither faster nor cheaper.

  6. As for the suicide/accident question, there's an agreement between media and DB not to report suicides at all (unless someone else was harmed or something), even locally. If it had been an accident, it would only have been noteworthy if there had been injuries.
    Since the police was there, presumably a suicide.


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