7 October 2009


What has Laura Jesson (played by Celia Johnson) in David Lean’s Brief Encounter got to do with Deutsche Bahn? You might well ask.

Train fares are going up a whopping 1.8% on 13th December (how convenient – just in time for the Christmas exodus) and this at a time when inflation in this country is practically ZERO.

To be fair, the organisation does need an urgent injection of funds: there are new axles to be bought and brakes and such like, and someone has to be paid to fit all these new technical things. It’s not much different to having your old banger serviced – it’s not the spare parts that cost an arm and a leg (especially now that China has flooded the market with “original” copies) but rather the labour costs. So far we haven’t been able to import cheap Chinese labour here to do the job for us – qualified German technicians must apply themselves diligently to the task in hand.

I recently had occasion to travel to Munich. Three travel options were available to me – train, plane, car. Naturally, I opted for the latter. As a conscientious European citizen, not unaware of my impact on the environment, it goes without saying that I originally wished to travel by train. However, not being in receipt of a banking executive’s salary, this mode of transport was way out of my league, since two return tickets cost way over 400 Euros and were MORE EXPENSIVE than flying!!! Also, the whole city is plastered with advertising hoardings proudly announcing: “Mit Dauer-Spezial reisen Sie schon ab 29,- Euro durch ganz Deutschland.” Don’t believe a word of this fairy tale! Tickets at this ridiculously low price are severely limited (in fact, I don’t think I have ever heard of anyone traveling cross-country for this meagre amount) and you have to book years in advance. Furthermore, the cheapest option by rail involved THREE changes and a stretch of the journey to be undertaken BY BUS, if you please!

I now realise why the train platforms are deserted and why traffic jams on the nation’s motorways are inevitable – it’s cheaper in the car and the more people that travel with you, the cheaper it becomes. A full tank of petrol (about 70 Euros for the good quality stuff) is all you need to reach Munich from Berlin, and this is still cheaper than even the bus! The tedium and the endless pile-ups are minor inconveniences when you think of how much money you are saving.

I realize I sound too much of a Socialist (is that bad?) but it is a fact that people need an efficient, safe, and above all, affordable system of public transport. Not everyone can afford a car, or even know how to drive one and they must have a free choice, rather than being forced by economic factors. Public transport should not evolve into an ‘elite’ service, accessible only to a privileged few. The powers that be should not look to make a profit out of what is essentially a social necessity, on a par with schools, hospitals and provision of clean water. Unless this trend (of milking the system for all you can get) is reversed, then Germany and many other European countries, will go the way of the United States, where public transport is derided as a means used only by dropouts (I have here a picture in my mind of Midnight Cowboy – the two hustlers took the bus to Florida, not the train).

In closing, I shall answer the question I posed at the beginning of this diatribe. The suburban housewife, Mrs Jesson, indulges in a weekly outing to town in order to do a spot of shopping, visit the library, see a film in the afternoon and take her afternoon tea in the town’s tearoom. The action is set in the inter-war period and Mrs Jesson has no car – she uses the local train (steam) for these weekly excursions. Had she lived in the present day and been obliged to use Deutsche Bahn, should could not have afforded this blatant luxury – she would have had to stay at home every day and become a Desperate Housewife.

A final plea for forgiveness for the excessive use of hyperbole, litotes, exclamation marks and block capitals –simple, unembellished text cannot adequately express my indignation.

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Squeaky Door by Elizabeth Chairopoulou is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.