German high speed trains: the good, bad, and scary


Last night, I got back from a quick overnight trip. It was a solo trip to see one of my doctors – so, nothing glamorous – and it had me thinking on the German high speed rail system. I’ve taken numerous trips across the country and into other countries this past year, and have enough experiences to practically write a book…or at least a solid article on it. So, I thought it’d be fun to share my thoughts.

In short, Germany has a great high speed rail system or “Deutsche Bahn” as it’s called. Their website is very easy to navigate, and bonus points, they have several languages to choose from. “Cookies” aren’t used, or at least that I know of, so prices don’t rise, rise, rise with each train search you do.

I do loathe that with other websites.

Though I’ve listed a couple goods already, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of traveling through the Deutsche Bahn, hitting on the scary first, because ending on the “good” is always better, in my opinion.

Scary

**This might be an isolated incident, but it happened to us, and could certainly happen to others.

– We arrived at the train station for a trip with 15 minutes to spare, so we discussed what bistro booth we should get our customary croissants from.

At that moment, a guy who was right in front of me stopped, turned, and stared me down as we walked past, making me sidestep. As soon as we passed, he was right on my heels yelling vulgar obscenities about me (in English), and how much he hated Americans.

We never broke stride and he never broke away from us, continuously yelling pretty awful things about us. Whenever G (my husband) would look him in the eyes, the guy would immediately look away, but continue yelling. We were finally able to make our way into a line for a bistro booth, which made the guy finally walk away.

Never once did we acknowledge him, which we knew was exactly what he wanted. With G’s job, he can’t “react” like a typical guy would in that situation, so he remained alert and quiet. As scary as that situation was, we found it more odd than anything. Neither of us had our adrenaline pumping – something we both found interesting; we had our wits about us, and knew though he was spewing some pretty nasty things, would never touch us. G knew because of how the guy refused to make eye contact, and I knew because I’ve been in enough hairy situations, and my body wasn’t reacting like it would if I were in danger.

fight or flight! bodies are amazing and definitely should be listened to in times like this!

BUT thanks to this guy throwing us off with his crazy antics, we didn’t realize our train had changed platforms, and ended up missing it! Thankfully, because it was the station’s fault for the change, we were put on the next train without charge, though it made us four hours behind schedule.

– Trains leave on time: One time, G and I arrived at the station 15 minutes early (our standard, apparently), so we got in line for two coffees at a little bistro booth next to the platform. We were second in line, but the attendant only had one coffee machine that was as slow as molasses, with four coffees before ours. As time was ticking, I told him to get on the train with our stuff, and I’d wait for our coffees. With only one coffee in hand, the other still brewing, and two minutes before the train left, I took off running. I ran to the closest car I could and was told to hop on (and walk through the train to my seat), and within 20 seconds of boarding, the doors closed and we were off. I was sweating buckets!

Bad

– Despite reserving a seat, people will still take your seat. This has happened on half of my trips, and I’ve had to tell each one that it was mine. There’s even an electronic screen above the seat that shows whether or not it’s reserved, but I think people bank on you not showing up. Thankfully, each person has moved without issue.

– Trains leave on time: They don’t care you’re literally five steps away calling out for them to wait, they will close the door in your face and pull away. I’ve actually seen this happen! One conductor saw a guy coming, smirked, turned her back, and closed the door. I stood their stunned.

Some may say, “well, they should have gotten there earlier.” and I agree, however, there’s always extenuating circumstances, ie. their connecting train could have delayed, shortening their transfer time. Regardless, it still stinks to be rightthere and still miss the train.

– There’s lots of construction and delays. Completely counters my previous statement, but I have a dear friend who travels twice a week, and is constantly having her trains delayed by hours which make her miss her connecting trains. To say she’s constantly frustrated is an understatement.

– Some conductors are…shall I say, unfriendly. I’ve been yelled at in English AND German by one because I was halfway in the train with the door closing on me. Now! There was a lot of chaos happening with several passengers to make him extra irritated at me for my {little} indiscretion, and truthfully, I deserved it, but darn, it’s not fun getting yelled at – in two languages, no less.

– The trains are loooooooong and you never know where your car will be, so you have to walk very fast when it pulls in to get on before it leaves. Everyone, and I mean everyone, is scrambling like headless chickens and it usually has everyone gasping for air by the time they take their seats.

Good

-Prices are cheap! I’ve scored first class roundtrip tickets for only $120. This was on a trip that was six hours one way, so, very long! Had I chosen second class, it would have only been $40. Quite the difference, I know, but we agreed I could splurge a bit, and I was glad I did.

Had the car all to myself for 1 1/2 hours. It was wonderfully fun!

– Free wifi on most trains, ie. ICE, IC. This really comes in handy because Germany is not known for exceptional cell service, and 80+% of your trip will have you without any connection.

– Trains leave on time.. yes, this goes in all three categories!! Germans are known for their efficiency. If the train is supposed to leave at 2:52pm, doors will close at 2:51 and 40 seconds.

– Many conductors speak English and are helpful. Last night, while waiting at the train station for my connecting train home, I saw my train (that was still 20 minutes away), was going to be at least 10 minutes late. I was tired at this point, and just wanted to be home. While my train was delayed, another train going to my same destination was on the platform about to leave.

I walked up to the conductor, asked (in German) if she spoke English, and proceeded to ask if I could board this train despite my ticket showing for the other one. She gladly allowed me on.
Bonus: the car I got into was virtually empty, so I had plenty of seats to choose from.

– You can reserve your seat for only 4.50Euro (one way). I do this for every trip. I don’t want to risk a crowded train, and not be guaranteed a seat. I know some who have had to stand for hours because they didn’t reserve their seat. No, thanks!

Overall, riding the train is fun, affordable, stress-free, and my go-to way of getting around Germany. It beats driving in terrible traffic, and when you arrive at the station with plenty of time to spare, don’t get accosted by crazy psycho strangers, or yelled at by conductors, it can be quite an enjoyable experience.

If you’ve ridden the DB, I want to hear some of your stories. What are some goods, bads, and scaries you’ve encountered?

14 years in the making

When I was 21, I did what every sane 21 year old does: quit their steady job and move to a new city in a new state to start from scratch. Totally normal.

Also normal, and something I recommend no one do is believe the only way to leave a company that loves you is to say you’re moving to another state…take out a loan for $2,000 to pay for the move…move without any job prospects…and rent a room from a complete stranger *who happens to be a heavy smoker that owns a constantly puking cat.

That was my favorite.

I chuckle now thinking that a company would actually be heartbroken to have me quit. I’m great to work with and all, but to think they’d only accept me leaving by saying I was moving is pure craziness.

But, it got me out of my comfort zone, and threw me into adulthood. I might not have been ready per se, but who is? When I moved from Las Vegas, NV to Los Angeles, CA, I did everything possible to make it work. I worked two jobs, barely making ends meet, and learned what it meant to be a grownup.

I could tell countless stories of roommates stealing my mail, food, and toiletries; playing extras in tv shows, and watching film crews out the window while I worked, and maybe I’ll share those one day, but it was in one of those jobs fourteen years ago, I never thought would connect me to Germany today.

I got a job at a physical therapy office that catered to those in the movie industry. Most days it was fairly slow in the office, so my coworker, who was from Germany, and I had a lot of time on our hands.

She took to teaching me German while I took to helping her with her English. It was a perfect match.

Unfortunately (or fortunately in my case) I could only tolerate Los Angeles for eight months (that city, I’m tellin’ ya!and ended up moving away; but that time was enough to forge a lifelong friendship. We stayed in touch, and I oddly remembered all the German she taught me, which sure came in handy when we upped and moved to Germany in 2016.

I never thought though, that I’d ever get the chance to meet her mom, her Mutti, who lived all the way in Eastern Germany. She talked about her a lot and was always someone I wished I could meet.

Mutti lived through WWII as her dad fought for the Germans. He got captured by the Americans, shipped to the states, and worked for two years running a cotton farm. After the war ended he got sent back to Germany where he learned he had four kids, not three (his wife was unknowingly pregnant when he left for the war!), and got back to farming like before.

Crazy story, isn’t it?!

Now, 14 years later, I’m living in Germany and my friend (who is now an American citizen still living in Los Angeles) is visiting her Mutti. We planned it all out and I hopped on a train – several, actually – and seven hours later, was in a little village outside Leipzig!

It was my first time in Eastern Germany, so I was excited to see just how different it was from the West. Her Mutti (and Tanta..her aunt) ended up being as delightful as I imagined, and though communication was rough with them only speaking German and me very little, we still managed to have a sweet connection.

What I found most interesting was their house. A 300 year old farm house fitted with a 300 year old toilet! A toilet that was still being used up to 25 years ago!! Apparently the house was the first in the village to have an “indoor toilet”. I can only imagine how excited everyone was.


Can you imagine using this every day for your toilet??!

The tiny entrance into my room.


I slept in that little bed in this little room. It was cozy with a sweet view of horses grazing in the field across the road.

Their grandparents.

There were only short people apparently 300 years ago. I had to duck every time I walked in with the ceiling only 2 inches from my head!
Sweet flowers on the 300 year old staircase. I think I like this idea!

Everything about the house and the village was like being transported in time. People still drove old DDR cars. Wifi and cell service are still fairly non-existent. And tractors still dominated the roadways.

My friend walked me around and showed where she lived when the Berlin wall was up. Sharing stories of 3in. thick ice on her bedroom walls, no heat, once-a-week baths (poor Mutti being the third and last in line for the same bath water), sharing one toilet for the whole apt. complex outside on the balcony, and tasting Nutella for the first time once the wall came down.

Stories I can’t even imagine experiencing.

It was a lot of fun to see everything through her eyes, and despite being constantly covered in bugs that were floating in the air – I’m not a bug person – it was a trip I’ll not soon forget.

I never imagined making that rather irrational decision to move to Los Angeles at 21 would lead to a trip in Germany where I would stay in a 300 year old farm house and sleep on an 80 year old bed in a tiny little spare room, but it did.

It goes to show that sometimes, irrational decisions lead to the best adventures.

Views from the top


Time surprises me. Just yesterday it was the weekend; a couple days prior I was visiting a friend in Leipzig, and a week before that it was the new year. But in reality: the weekend was three days ago, my visit over a week ago and the new year, seven months! How oh how does this happen?!

In just eleven days I’ll be 36. 36!! My mind is blown.

I hear parents always say, “time slow down!” as they watch their kids grow too fast, and despite no kids, I feel like shouting the same thing.

slow!down!

Though it’s practically almost the new weekend, I still want to share last weekend’s fun. If not for you, for me so I can remember it all.

In the little village I live in, every Saturday, I get to choose between two farmers markets. One is the main one that’s in a big church parking lot, downtown. They have meat, flowers, produce, cheese, eggs. You name it, they have it. The other is smaller and right by the train station with only fresh produce and eggs to choose from. This one is a two minute walk vs ten minute, so its typically the one I go to most.

just call me lazy!

The women there are really nice and mainly speak German and after going there for almost a year, they have a good understanding that I’m American. They let me speak German and they speak it right back, but fast! I understand a good 20-30% of what they’re saying and sometimes after a blank stare, they either repeat what they said or revert to broken English. They’re all quite friendly, and though the prices are steep, I like to stop in each Saturday to get my eggs.

Though, I’ve noticed if I make it to the bigger market, they’re always generously throwing in extra vegetables for free for me. So, it’s a toss-up on which location is better overall.

This is just one of the things I love about my little village I live in. Plus, the train station being so close makes travel so convenient. Trains here are nothing like in America. They’re clean, safe, reliable, and overall very easy to use. Any American coming from the states who rides them think they’re the best ever. But if you experience Japan and their rail system, then you’ll realize real fast they don’t hold a candle to Japan’s, but are still far superior to America’s subways.

(for the record, I’ve ridden plenty of American subway, too.)

Other things I find neat about living here is all the WWII history. Granted it’s the other’s side of history, but history nonetheless. We took a short drive to Birkenkopf, aka “Rubble Hill.” Because Stuttgart was a major hub for the nazis and had 45% of the city destroyed by allied bombs during WWII, there was considerable amount of debris.

Over four years, they took 1.5 million cubic meters of rubble and piled it on top of this little hill as a dumpster of sorts, raising it by 40.2 meters. Pretty remarkable. In the sixty years it’s been there, it’s had a lot of vegetation growth, covering up the majority of rubble. Some areas, though, have the more decorative stones visible for those who pass by, and I found it quite interesting walking up the hill to see it all.

Leading to the top of the hill.

“This hill, after the second world war, built up from the ruins of the city, stands in memory of the victims and as a warning to the living.”

Kind of chilling, don’t you think?


Beautiful views of Stuttgart.

Heading back down the hill.

Some of the more decorative stones on display.

Hiking up Rubble Hill was definitely worth it. To see the history, have the reminder, and enjoy the beautiful views of the city. It’s just short and “easy” enough that anyone can do it and not feel like they’re going to die, so, add it to your list of places to see if you happen to be in Stuttgart.

That was our main attraction for the weekend, taking it fairly easy, and I’m glad we did it. The hubs isn’t too much into hiking, so it was a refreshingly different way to spend the weekend together. One can only guess what next weekend will bring. Here’s hoping you had a memorable weekend…all those days ago, yourself!