Friday, November 23, 2007

Riding the striking Bahn

We braved the Deutsche Bahn strike last Friday to make the long trip to Dresden. Before the strike, we were set to get there in about 6 hours by taking a train connection through Fulda. After the strike schedule came out, our shortest option was a 7.5 hour trip, connecting through Mannheim, Kassel, and Leipzig. OK - still within our acceptable limits, given that we had an extra reason for going to Dresden on this particular weekend. Without that reason, we would have rescheduled.

When we left our apartment, the sun hadn't come over the hills yet, so the valley was cold and frosty. We knew we were doomed if we didn't make our train because of the lack of connections, so we took a bus that got us to the station with plenty of time to spare, which we used to browse the bookstore. I found out that Voldemort's middle name in German is Vorlost.

Everything went smoothly - we got our connection at Mannheim and settled into our reserved seats, which - bonus! - were at a table! Very nice. Then, there was an announcement over the speakers not long before we pulled into Frankfurt. Rough synopsis of announcement: "If you were going to take the train from Kassel to Leipzig, forget it. It's cancelled. Get out in Frankfurt and connect to Leipzig via Nuernberg instead." This announcement was of course only in German, so a year ago we might have been screwed. I hope there weren't any affected parties who didn't understand German. (It's funny because they always make sure to make their hello/goodbye announcements in both English and German - announcements which are useless. Then if it matters, it's only in German!)

We got out in Frankfurt and had a little time before getting on the train to Nuernberg, so we tried to find out at the desk if there was still going to be a way for us to get to Dresden from Leipzig, given that our old schedule was out the window now. They said they couldn't tell us anything for certain and gave us a little bag of candy (see left). We got on the train to Nuernberg having no idea whether there would be any trains taking us further once we got there!

From this point on, I couldn't get this song out of my head: "Es faehrt ein Zug nach Nirgendwo". Approximate translation: There's a train going nowhere. Enjoy this Schlager gem below.

The train was a little crowded to Nuernberg but we managed to score seats. When we got there, it was confirmed that the train to Leipzig was still running. Yay! But the platform for said train was very, very, very crowded. We probably weren't the only ones who got bumped from other routes to Leipzig.

It was three hours to Leipzig on the train from hell. We had seat reservations on our original journey, but not on these trains, of course. Not for lack of trying - we tried at the machine in Frankfurt, but it was too late to make them. There were people in the aisles by the seats, piled up in the halls by the bathrooms, in the doorways, and everywhere else a person could squeeze. We ended up standing/sitting alternately in the narrow hall next to the trash cans. I hate being in everyone's way, but there was no way out of it. A drunk woman crushed my foot and someone came by to throw away a bag of barf. I was starting to feel a bit ill myself - somehow being on the floor increases the feeling of motion sickness. The people nearby who brought fish sandwiches from Nordsee onto the train and then proceeded to eat them halfway through the ride, filling the car with fish reek, didn't help the matter. After two hours, we finally managed to nag a seat for the remainder of the trip. My ass thanked me. Those floors are harder than they look!

Leipzig was until recently (with the opening of the new one in Berlin) the biggest train station in Germany. When we arrived, there were only two trains sitting in the entire station, ours included. The schedule boards were empty. There was a tight mob of people staring out at the tracks. I'm not sure what they were looking for. Probably a train that was never going to come. One person stopped us to ask where the train we just got off was heading, and our answer, Hamburg, was apparently not what he was hoping.

We found a little desk where Deutsche Bahn staff were writing with markers on big paper pads all the trains and buses that were departing Leipzig for various points throughout Sachsen and beyond. Thankfully, there were not only two more buses leaving for Dresden that night, but even a train was going to be going there! The bus went first, though, so that is what we decided to take.

We went out of the station and joined a huge crowd waiting for busses. Everyone wanted to go to Dresden. When a bus for Dresden finally pulled up, it was insanity. I haven't seen such a transportation-related mob scene since the days of the Delayed Blue Line During Rush Hour in Boston. It was kind of scary. And all the madness was for nothing - our bus pulled out of Leipzig with four seats still free! It was a cozy tour bus with an ultra-friendly driver and his assistant. An hour and a half later, we finally made it to Dresden. We hit our hotel at 8pm - 11 hours after leaving our apartment in Heidelberg.


  1. I'm glad that I left on Thursday. Friday sounds like it was a nightmare.

  2. ...a stomach-churning nightmare by the sounds of it. Yikes! My train was cancelled, so I was offered an alternate route on another train through Leipzig as well. I had my doubts for awhile, but now I'm glad I didn't go for it.

  3. nice description of the trip from Hell. How many hours was it in that aisle?

  4. J: It could have been worse - we might not have made it at all!

    Ian: And you got to try Mitfahren, which is cool!

    Gardner: It was a little over 2 hours in the aisle, then the last hour or so we had a seat.

  5. Oh man, I just skimmed over this before and having now read it in detail I'll say that you guys are real troopers. The bag of barf and the fish sandwiches would have done me in for sure. Bleh.

    Hopefully the next meet-up won't be such a b*ugger for everyone to get to!

  6. In US newspapers (or at least mine) the strike in France was covered but it's like the strik in Germany never happened.


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