Sleek, streamlined - and late

In this blogposting…
* Robinson’s German Journey - Day Eleven
Go for it….

...will take place at 1100 next Thursday 21 June at Birkheads Nursery, just off the Sunniside to Stanley road.

If you have any agenda items, keep them to yourself.  There are quite enough already.

Agenda or no agenda - a splendid time…..



German inter-city trains are comfortable, roomy, frequent, affordable - and invariably late.

Whatever other stereotypes about Germany you believe, you can forget the one about how meticulously businesslike and efficient it is.  On my two European journeys I have used ten German railway services and none of them - not one - has run to time.

On my Grand Tour two years ago, my worst experience of this unexpected phenomenon occurred when my train from Cologne to Munich arrived fully two hours late.

(As a matter of fact, only half of the train was late - my half.  The other eight carriages arrived in Munich on time.  To find out how this could have happened in a country as notoriously well-organised as Germany, flip back to blog 201, posted in June 2010.)

This unfortunate tendency for German trains to run more or less as they please hit my journey plans below the belt yet again on my final morning in Hamburg.  I was already feeling disconsolate as I trundled my suitcase noisily along behind me and mentally compiled a list - as tends to happen on departure days - of all the things I ought to have done but hadn’t.

The sunshine didn’t help either.  As everywhere else, Hamburg looked different with the fresh Spring sun beating down on it; for the two days of my sojourn it had been a city of wind, sleet, rain and even snow.  Now, just as Winter seemed to be finally leaving it in peace, I had to leave too.

I shook a metaphorical fist at the heavens, swearing I would get my own back somehow.  This was unwise.  A few seconds later, the announcer at the Hauptbahnhof told me - and everyone else on platform 13b - that our train would be half an hour late.

Half an hour’s delay does not, at first sight, seem all that cataclysmic.  What’s thirty minutes between friends?  But there’s a ‘however’.  However...my journey to Amsterdam involved two changes of trains, one at Osnabrück and the other at Hilversum.

The first was crucial.  Osnabrück is where I was meant to be picking up the train from Berlin into Holland, and they run only every two hours.  And my connexion time was 20 minutes.  A Dickens-style calculation would have run as follows…

Train from Hamburg makes up time, you reach Osnabrück in time to catch your connecting train = happiness.
Train from Hamburg stays 30 minutes late and you miss both your connecting trains = misery.

It turned out to be misery.

The train finally left Hamburg almost 40 minutes late, thus adding an unwelcome edge of tension and weltschmerz (not to mention Sturm und Drang) to what are normally sentimental and hopelessly over-romantic departures; me looking wistfully out of train windows, sadly wiping a tear from my right eye and whispering Thankyou, Brussels/Verona/Venice/Cologne/Florence etc etc etc for looking after this lonesome traveller on his journey of discovery to your city blah blah blah.

Wistful I wasn’t.  Anxious and irritated are closer to the mark.

Once late, the train obviously decided that it may as well be hung for a Schaf as a Lamm and ambled along the line as if it was admiring the Saxony scenery through which it was meandering.  I was half-expecting the locomotive to stop for a sunbathing break or don its knapsack and go for a hike in the surrounding woods.

But it picked up speed considerably after Bremen - which, from the station, looked a bit like Ipswich on a bad day - so that we arrived in Osnabrück slightly less late than we had left Hamburg.

But it was still too late.  My connexion for points west had left 10 minutes ago.  And the next train wasn’t due until two hours later.

Insofar as an ageing, tired traveller with a gammy leg and a suitcase can ‘storm’ anywhere, I stormed into the Information Office prepared to bang my British fist on the desk and wave the Union Jack for all it was worth.  I was going to tell them that their trains were a disgrace, that I was due in Amsterdam for the funeral of a dear friend (or that I was supposed to be the Best Man at a Dutch wedding), that DB had single-handedly ruined the rest of my life here on Earth and that, if they didn’t compensate me in some way, I would picket the station and/or (probably ‘and’) write to the Queen - who is, after all, German.

It didn’t quite work out like that, though.

As I put on my best ‘frustrated, anxious and worried’ look and entered the booth, I was confronted by a Germanic Greek god of incandescent beauty.  Close-cropped hair and beard, carefully trimmed.  Clean, strong features and unblemished skin moisturised and cossetted to within an inch of its life.  A wide, smiling mouth revealed ‘American’ teeth.  And his bright, brown komm näher eyes were almost obscene.

Naturally, he knew I was English without me saying a word.  He helped me with my suitcase, smiled as if I was his long-lost father and offered me a cup of coffee.  I couldn’t help but think of the disgruntled harpies that usually man our English equivalents and have the attitude of circling hyenas.

Amazingly, he already knew the names of all the delayed passengers and had a compensation voucher ready for me - cash to spend on food and drink while I waited for the next train.

By now - and admittedly under the seductive influence of this adonis of the iron way - my irritation had evaporated such that, when he told me that the next rain - not due for another two hours - was already running 20 minutes late, I smiled and said So geht’s! - That’s life!

I was putty - and possibly several other substances - in his hands.


The train arrived - as, eventually, they do - and carried me across this journey’s last remaining fragments of German territory.    And once again, I was distracted from tearful, parlour-poetry style, farewells by something I noticed outside in the fields…


I am generally - and quite rightly - regarded as having the incisive perspicacity of creosote; the mature wisdom and sagacity of a compost heap.  Naivety was designed with me in mind.  I am the two short planks people talk about.  I am the fool that’s soon parted from his money, the one born every minute; the one people don’t suffer gladly.  The old fool the like of which there isn’t.

It’s much worse than mere gullibility.  I seem to be impervious to hints, tips and winks.  And if you present me with a series of facts that can only lead to one possible conclusion, I will arrive, via illogicality, immaturity and straightforward wishful thinking, at entirely another.

Thus it was that, by a process of elimination and deduction that would have plunged Sherlock Holmes into bottomless despair, I ascribed a national characteristic to German people that they did not merit.  Namely, that there was a German equivalent to the RSPB and that every single citizen was a member of it.

But there isn’t and they aren’t.

The first thing I noticed as the train headed for the border was the copious amounts of mistletoe hanging from the trees.  It looked lovely, as if Germany was saying Goodbye to winter.  And other heavily romantic things like that.

Then it was the sentry-boxes.  I saw dozens of them, standing quite alone in the middle of turnip fields, in marshes and on the edges of forests.  They were raised on stilts about 3 feet off the ground, each with a short ladder for access.

Confident that I was right about the mistletoe, I deduced, with razor-sharp intellectual panache worthy of Lord Peter Wimsey or Hercule Poirot, that these structures were hides.

So far, so good.  Then the two-short-planks effect kicked in.

I worked out that Germany must be packed to the riggings with birdwatchers.  Every weekend - and on some fine evenings, too - hordes of town-trapped Germans would cycle into their glorious countryside, expensive binoculars draped round their necks, clamber up into one of the hundreds of hides, and happily tick off the warblers, buntings, waders, finches, larks and woodpeckers.  And occasionally get excited at the sight of a hedgehog or a fox.

And I was half right.  But the important half was the half I got wrong.  Substitute a powerful rifle - or, as far as I know, a Gatling gun - for the binoculars, add a hip-flask of schnapps and it all becomes clear.

Our German friends do indeed sit in their sentry-boxes and look at birds.

And then they try to kill them.

And so.  And so…..

To Amsterdam again.  Friendly, comfortable, beautiful Amsterdam.  And it wraps itself around me and hugs me and says - Hello again, wanderer!


Post comments on this blog or email me:  truckshunters@googlemail.com


Ellie said...

Hello, Ian
Wonderful words as usual - I was enthralled! Please forgive me Ian, but I start a new job tomorrow (in Newcastle) so will not be able to make the AGM at Birkheads. I was so looking forward to it too. I hope you all have a wonderful time - I will be thinking about you. When you decide which date the July AGM will be I will book the day off, Ellie x

Sid said...

I to will be missing the AGM tomorrow Ian. We have had a few 'good' days weather here in the Scottish Borders and are going to take advantage of it for at least one more day...