My rail journeys always resemble an odyssey, non-stop, to Bizarro World. This will be a report on one of those wanderings.
Summer has come, holiday time has begun and we are drawn to the stations and their trains like moths to the fire. We would all like to dash, without any incident, at the ICE’s top speed to our vacation relaxation. Alas, some unlucky individuals are not granted this wish — and I am one of those travellers in cattle class who are permanently down on their luck. Too close for comfort, I’ll be standing crammed in the slowest trains. if they move at all, and I’ll be observing my fellow passengers’ deodorant fighting an uphill battle against the broken air-con. I’ll always end up having just that much or little delay that it won’t qualify for a refund. Among those travelling with me, there are bound to be at least fifteen crying babies and toddlers, two hen or steg parties with a penchant for cheesy songs, and one bawling school class on their graduation trip.
My trip begins with a 100 metres sprint on platform 8, where my train is ready for boarding. Even from a distance I can tell that even fifteen minutes before departure I have arrived too late for a seat. So while I am approaching the train I am already having my doubts if I can secure at least a standing spot. There is one fortunately, right in front of the obligatory defective door (on the left in the direction of travel). To my regret as a penny pincher, of course this spot costs just the same as one of the coveted seats.
Next to me there are two more women in their mid-twenties from Leipzig. And the train would just fill up more and more. By now, people crack jokes of the type “At least we can’t fall over” and I start envying packed sardines for their spacious can. Alas, that’s how it is, and by the time the train is leaving, things have become even worse than you may imagine now. But that man who is just too cheerful for the situation does have a point: no domino effect could possibly occur.
Needless to say, it is getting hotter, too. At an opportune moment I have finally managed to take off my coat with the bare minimum of elbow room. From the broken door, I can enjoy the distraction of the landscape just for a few minutes before the glass is fogging up. But the ride through the hell of bleak prospects has only just begun.
Bit by bit, the group of standers is forming a community, until we are so densely packed that we must leave some fellow travellers behind on the platform.
At any rate, I am still lucky. I stand at the edge in a corner by the door so I can recline during short windows of opportunity. The two twentysomethings next to me sit on their rucksacks, talk about toking in flat-share kitchens, and keep their hands firmly on a pet carrier the size of a beer crate, completely wrapped in tape.
I ponder what one would transport in this manner. Here is a selection of my ideas: the Holy Grail (obtrusively unobtrusive), drugs, a spider or a similarly crawling bug that might otherwise escape through the ventilation holes, another slightly smaller pet fadcarrier followed by another slightly smaller pet carrier followed by yet another even smaller pet carrier (I realise I got slightly carried away there) or it may well be a new fad, popularised by influencers with millions of followers.
While I am beating my brains out, I must have stared a little too much, for the two owners of the mysterious box stare back. Our questioning eyes meet. All three of us feel somewhat found out. We don’t know how to deal with this situation until one of them finally starts talking and reveals the mystery of what is hidden in the box.
Inside there is Ingo. Ingo is 14 years old. Or rather, Ingo was 14 years old. Because Ingo is the dead flat share cat of the two ladies. One of them had brought him from her place into the flat share. He lived there for around four years until the cat god called him home, to cat heaven.
Now what I’d really like to know is why the two ladies took a cat cadaver with them in a more than crowded train.
They tell me of their mission that has turned this part of the train into a hearse. Ingo is embarking on his last journey. He will be buried at his birthplace, the farm and parental home of one of them, somewhere in the southernmost corner of Bavaria. The whole family will be present. It is not supposed to be a mourning for Ingo, but a celebration of his life.
The funeral service has already been planned down to the smallest detail. Everybody will wear Ingo’s favourite colour, a light shade of pink. To this day I have no idea how they figured that out. At the very least it shouldn’t be black. There will be emotional funeral speeches and a slideshow accompanied by his favourite song, “Who Let the Dogs Out”. Again, I am unsure how this has been established. But as my conversation partners were already in tears, I preferred not to dig any deeper. Ingo will be lowered to the ground in the family’s garden, in a small, wooden coffin built by her grandpa. The pallbearers will be her two brothers who have got an Ingo style haircut just for this occasion. (I got to see pictures of Ingo and the brothers and I must admit they could have been triplets.)
Prior to that, the coffin will be opened so the whole congregation can bid farewell and see their Ingo one last time.
As soon as the cat has been lowered to the hole in the ground of the family garden, everyone may, much like in ancient Egypt, toss on gifts as well as a shovel of cat litter (unlike in ancient Egypt).
After the hole has been backfilled and all the tears have been dried, the place will be marked with a larger-than-life sculpture of Ingo carved out of stone. Next on the schedule is the funeral tea, at which they will serve savouries and finger food themed for the occasion. Of course, Ingo’s favourite dish is a must: hedgehog-shaped ground pork with extra onion. And finally, they will erect a shrine in his honor at the spot where Ingo would enjoy dozing in the sun so much.
At the end of this long and emotional story, we’re about to arrive at Hof. That’s my destination and a layover for Ingo and his entourage. So I’ve spent three to four hours next to Ingo’s lifeless body in a taped-up pet carrier until it’s time to get off or change. Now I’ve become an involuntary member of the body transport team, too, and get to lift Ingo’s remains over the step of the train door. I feel honoured and think, “Ingo and me would have gotten along very well.”
When the time has come to say goodbye, they ask me if I don’t want to come along to the ceremony after all, but I politely decline. I really didn’t know him all that well. Besides, I’ve got nothing in light pink.
Text: Michelle Erhardt
Translation: Konrad Dieterich