Christmas is com­ing. The trains are ful­ler than Christmas mar­kets and their visi­tors. Somewhere Last Christmas is play­ing on loop and as soon as the first ten­ta­ti­ve snow­fla­ke makes its way down to earth, ever­ything goes pear shaped.

Memories of my last christ­mes­sy trip home­wards flash through my mind the moment I take the chan­ce to reser­ve a seat on an ICE train as ear­ly as August, thanks to a record-brea­king deal. I saved a cou­p­le of bucks, but my tra­vel time incre­a­ses signi­fi­cant­ly. First from Halle to Nuremberg, only to return half of the way back to the nort­hern­most tip of Bavaria. But ever­ything that glit­ters is gold for a student’s bud­get, fuel­led by the hope that this year’s trip will be bet­ter than last year’s snow-cove­r­ed odys­sey on the Regionalbahn.

Finally: The day which I’ve been mental­ly pre­pa­ring for for weeks has arri­ved. In unex­pec­ted expec­ted­ness, the train is delay­ed due to a fail­u­re in the ope­ra­tio­nal sche­du­le. Admittedly, this time it’s my fault. Having boo­ked the train ages ago, I’d for­got­ten that today’s the day. Barely on time mys­elf, the train appar­ent­ly also for­got when it was sup­po­sed to be at the plat­form. Here I am alrea­dy, full-hear­ted­ly recom­men­ding more reli­able and less stress­ful means of trans­por­ta­ti­on to peop­le who actual­ly want to arri­ve at their desti­na­ti­on. For examp­le, how about a rein­de­er-drawn sleigh, kee­ping it appro­pria­te­ly in style for the fes­ti­ve season?

After minu­tes of worry­ing about the cold and frost bit­ing off my toes (the P in ICE surely doesn’t deno­te punc­tua­li­ty) the train deci­des to ful­fill its pur­po­se and arri­ves at the sta­ti­on. In this almost magi­cal moment I con­tem­pla­te whe­ther I should belie­ve in mira­cles again. Yet as the train his­ses to a stop it tears me from my thoughts and I deci­de to hop on board to escape a fros­ty death just in time.

The seat I’ve reser­ved actual­ly exists, which com­pa­red to other jour­neys comes as a decent sur­pri­se. “It’s all going to go well”, I think, loo­king for­ward to a rela­xed jour­ney, being as nai­ve as a new com­mu­ter who’s exci­ted about their first BahnCard. We gli­de through the land­s­cape, past small towns, fur­ther and fur­ther south and slow­ly evening dusk sett­les in. But hold that thought, why’s the train stan­ding still?

Our journey’s delay­ed inde­fi­ni­te­ly, the spea­kers creak and crack­le through the wagon, the mes­sa­ge being bare­ly audi­ble. Reason for this incon­ve­ni­en­ce is the sudden/unexpected onset of win­ter. The tra­velers’ heads turn towards the win­dow almost in uni­son and, as a mat­ter of fact, if one loo­ks real­ly closely/hard/through a magni­fy­ing glass, stray snow­flakes spo­ra­di­cal­ly swirl to the ground. They thank us for our under­stan­ding. Which under­stan­ding?! It’s always the same crap with this shit­ty ser­vice. I should’ve wal­ked or at least put my idea with the sleigh in action.

To pass the wai­t­ing time, ques­ti­onn­aires are pas­sed around by DB-per­son­nel, ques­ti­ons cen­te­ring about cus­to­mer satis­fac­tion. Everyone ticks litt­le boxes angri­ly and the collec­ti­ve need to immedia­te­ly quar­ter the DB manage­ment ari­ses. Regrettably, this ser­vice is not avail­ab­le at the moment. The next announ­ce­ment thanks us for vivid feed­back and points our atten­ti­on towards the on-board bis­tro and its culi­na­ry sup­ply. Unfortunately, a lon­ger queu­eing time may be expec­ted. But what else to lose? The Christmas pres­ents I sta­cked in my lug­ga­ge for the less beloved of my rela­ti­ves, for whom one always just gets some­thing in some deli shop — tho­se pres­ents beco­me more and more temp­t­ing. Still vine­gar, oil and some fan­cy sea­so­ning salt aren’t par­ti­cu­lar­ly nut­ri­tious on their own. Moreover, some­ti­mes you got­ta spoil yourself! The money I saved on my spe­cial-offer ticket wants to be spent!

I’d have to spend a for­tu­ne, yet there’s mul­led wine and it hits even har­der on hig­her blood pres­su­re and an empty sto­mach, even devoid of sea­so­ning salt. Before scou­ting for a seat, I drown the first half of the drink. There’s only a rock and a hard place. One’s a group of ine­bria­ted women in their mid-for­ties, retur­ning from their cor­ny Christmas mar­ket stroll, dar­ing to drown their mun­da­ne lives in extra­or­di­na­ry amounts of mul­led wine. The other one’s a table occu­p­ied by at least eigh­ty per­cent of whiny child­ren, all below the age of eight. The kid’s table is mine at Christmas alrea­dy, espe­cial­ly with the exten­ded fami­ly pre­sent, as the only way to the grown-up table comes with a fixed sala­ry and a job that doesn’t bring you hap­pi­ness. At home, being a stu­dent is neit­her a job nor an achievement.

The group of women I’d usual­ly give a wide berth it is then. They’re peop­le who cer­tain­ly each have a wall tat­too screa­ming the word “LOVE” plas­te­red across their walls, and who’d proud­ly stand by say­ing they’re not cra­zy but a spe­cial edi­ti­on. I decla­red them my arch­ne­me­sis a cou­p­le of train jour­neys ago. But if you can’t escape them, beco­me (a part of) them. As Sunzi said ever so wise­ly: “Keep your friends clo­se and your enemies even closer.”

As soon as I sit down, I am absor­bed into their alco­hol-infu­sed cli­que and noti­ce we have not­hing in com­mon, except for the mul­led wine. We laugh a lot and under­stand one ano­t­her litt­le. The kids wea­sel up and start running/scurrying around us. If they’d just be quick enough, as in going at light speed, they would, accord­ing to Einstein’s theo­ry of rela­ti­vi­ty, age slower than (tho­se of) us who sit around aim­less­ly. The fas­ter you move, the more time slows down. Well, that’s a natu­ral law the ICE doesn’t abi­de by.

I sur­vi­ve from one cup of mul­led wine to the next. The on-board bis­tro is still tan­ked up (and so am I). The atmosphere’s at flash­point and the incre­a­sing demand is reflec­ted in the decre­a­sing sup­ply. No more mul­led wine. There’s wheat beer though … that’s just Bavaria. An elder­ly man of the type Father-Christmas orders a cof­fee and is collec­tively boo­ed upon. Handing him his hot beverage, the wai­ter remarks: “A cof­fee for the young lad.” A brief fit of panic rus­hes through me. How long have I been here? What if the old man went on-board as a young man? Eventually, I devour my last sip of mul­led wine and deci­de not to worry about Einstein, time and the lot.

Meanwhile Christmas songs start bla­ring from some­whe­re – Christmas songs alter­na­ting with Schlager music – and a flash­back of my yesteryear’s jour­ney on the infa­mous Regionalbahn cat­ches up with me. A Reinhold-Messner-loo­ka­li­ke moves to get out and knocks on the train to bid his fare­well. As far as I can tell his lips form a “toi toi toi”. I’m not sure whe­ther he sur­ren­ders ent­i­re­ly or pre­fers to walk the rest of the way.

The blissful sounds of Wham! roa­ring through the wagon near­ly drown out a scratchy announ­ce­ment which pro­mi­ses that we’d be moving soon. Jubilation erupts. In-bet­ween a tear of joy is shed. People lie in one another’s arms as if first and second class were only men­tal con­structs. The train starts. A sen­sa­ti­on I’d near­ly for­got­ten how it feels like. The Father-Christmas-Double, appar­ent­ly having been our DJ for the who­le time alrea­dy, turns it up a notch. Ballermann music boards the train. The Party-train’s on full speed now. Everyone’s baw­ling: “The train, the train, the train doesn’t have brakes!”

My fel­low-tra­vel­lers’ mood fails to car­ry me any lon­ger. I long for the often carol­led but never real­ly exis­ting silent night and try to escape the par­ty-bis­tro, stag­ge­ring just slight­ly. My reser­ved seat, once I find it again, is mira­cu­lous­ly unoc­cu­p­ied. I fall into my seat and the rest of the jour­ney pas­ses in throb­bing darkness. I dream of my pas­sen­ger rights and of a hef­ty com­pen­sa­ti­on wai­t­ing for me for having been for­ced to endu­re my per­so­nal lim­bo. Reality tears me from my slum­ber, bass still poun­ding from the bis­tro, as ano­t­her announ­ce­ment rings: “Sänk ju for trä­wel­ling wis Deutsche Bahn!“

Text and Illustrations: Michelle Ehrhardt

Translation: Atlanta Apel, Luca Köhler

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