I’m currently sitting in a crowded ICE (= InterCity Express) run by DB (Deutsche Bahn, the German railway company) to Cologne from Frankfurt. This route would normally take 1:04 hours, but today, after precisely one hour, I’ve just made it to Frankfurt airport.
People are fussing, people are complaining — they’ve got somewhere to be. I’ve got somewhere to be, too. A friend of mine is getting married. But luckily, I planned with buffer time.
As a business traveler, I take long distance trains in Germany almost every week, and about 33% of the time, they’re delayed, the reservations don’t work, you miss your connection, the wagons are in the wrong order or the track is switched two minutes before departure. The prices go up and up every year. All that shit, and despite that, I still take the train. Every. Single. Time.
Why? Why do I do this to myself?
Because in the end, it’s still by far the best option to move inside of Germany. How else would I go places? By car? By plane? By — dear lord — bus?
Travel by car
As much as there are issues with the train, they are no less with a car. A car may break down just like a train would, and you get stuck in traffic all the time. For solo travelers, it’s more expensive; it’s a lot worse for the environment, and while I get off the train refreshed from a quick power nap, a power nap in the car would be highly suicidal. Speaking of suicidal — taking the car is so much more dangerous than the train. I can’t work, I can’t read (audiobooks exempt, but you cannot focus because your focus should be on driving), I can’t do anything besides drive. The more I think about this — why would anyone ever use a car if they could use a train?
So no, thank you, no car for me.
Travel by plane
Traveling by plane usually is fast — and sometimes (recently very often) cheaper than a train ticket. But is it really faster? After all, you gotta travel to the airport, be there 30 minutes prior to departure, and once you get there, you need to go to the city center again. Since Frankfurt is at the center of Germany, the only city where it’s slightly reasonable to fly to, is Berlin. Everything else just doesn’t make sense, time-wise.
Can you get work done? Not really. You have to stow your laptop for takeoff, then you get to take it out, then someone asks you what you’d like to drink and then — oh snap — you have to put it back again, having had a solid 12 minutes to work. On transit, that’s hard to do as well (unless you’re a consultant and have a private driver that picks you up at the airport). And it’s not remotely as comfortable as a train (unless, again, you’re a consultant and get to fly business class from Frankfurt to Munich — which is absurd on its own).
Since I am neither a consultant nor particularly rich: No, thank you, no air travel for me.
Travel by long distance bus
As former Flixbus employee, I should be very inclined to take the bus, shouldn’t I? After all, it’s environmentally friendly, it’s cheap … but it also takes forever and days, and due to traffic is even less reliable than the train. It’s a lot less comfortable, and instead of business travelers (and the occasional hen party), you get a different tier of society. Not that that’s a bad thing, but if I want to work on the road and enjoy my trip, I usually don’t enjoy people calling their homeland and yelling into their phone as if they need to make sure the noise makes it all the way to Nigeria, and neither do I enjoy people cuddling up to me while sleeping (and yes, those were my last two Flixbus rides).
So no, thank you, no bus travel for me.
So why Deutsche Bahn?
In case you haven’t caught it yet: I get to work, or to read, or to simply contemplate and listen to music, or have a nice chat with a stranger. I have lots of legroom, can go to the bathroom and even tie my tie if I didn’t manage to do that at home anymore. I can sip my coffee in peace, have a stroll if my blood pressure goes down, and overall just enjoy the ride. Even if it’s 30 minutes late.
The moral of the story
Contrary to popular belief, Deutsche Bahn does not suck. Out of all means of long distance travel, it is still by far the best. Is it perfect? Hell no. But that’s the point:
It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be functional.
To me, taking the train is functional as hell. And if you’re going to assume that your train will be on time every time, you’re a fool. You should know better than that, and prepare accordingly. Plan a 60 minute buffer if you have a long trip ahead of you. Worst case, you get to hang out in a café and sip a beautiful cappuccino for an hour before you go wherever you need to be. Doesn’t sound so bad to me.
And this is something that surprises me: preparation is deeply embedded in German culture. But when it comes to long distance travel, Germans throw caution out of the window — because they expect things in Germany to work perfectly.
So sorry, fellow Germans, welcome to reality — Germany ain’t perfect. It’s just really functional, and that’s why I love this country. And the Deutsche Bahn.
And whoever disagrees, can go back to the other quality deeply embedded in German culture (and that I consistently get to witness every time I travel): complaining.
But contrary to an ICE, complaining doesn’t get you anywhere. Not even with a delay.