I forget the exact saying, but something along the lines of “running on time like a German train.” Nothing could be closer to the truth.
Taking a train back from Vienna today to Amberg, Germany, to hook up with my friends Steve, Dave and Melynn to hit another beer festival. As a sidenote, swapped a couple good emails yesterday with Dave about the evening. The key one being, “still looking for another designated driver to drive back from the festival.” This festival isn’t in town and is apparently a 30-45 minute drive away. The important thing I took from the message was that he at least had one designated driver, most likely Melynn, which meant to me that the festival is a go. Crowded single car is fine by me; I’ll leave it up to him if he can find a second driver. It should go without saying that I did not volunteer.
So when I buy my train ticket in Vienna, the ticket agent was nice enough to print out the itinerary, since I’d neglected to write down the connection cities and times and such when I looked it up online earlier that day to see when I was leaving. Problem was that the printout was all muddled because she had some printer problem. Some of the letters and such were printed over each other. I had a pretty good idea of the two cities I needed to change trains in, but was a little unclear what time the trains arrived and departed. After the first train stop, I figured out that the numbers were juxtaposed. On the printout I had, the departure was listed as 12:03, when in fact the real departure was 12:30. The last two numbers were inverted.
That’s all well and good — figured it out and such – the platform numbers appeared to be correct, but I look down and see the arrival time and the departure time for the first town I need to change trains in: Regensburg Hauptbanhof, arrival 16:72 on platform 5, departure on the train to Schwandorf at 16:13 from platform 1. Switch the numbers and you get arrival at 4:27 p.m. and departure at 4:31 p.m. A smooth 4 minutes to get from the first train to the next. Admittedly, the train stations aren’t that big and getting from platform 5 to platform 1 at these places, but any platform whose number isn’t immediately adjacent to yours (platform 5 and 6 or 5 and 4 share the same area, depending on the train station), means you have to go up or down a flight of stairs, down a hallway or tunnel and then up or down another set of stairs to get to your platform. A diagram would be handy, but I’m not computer literate enough to put one in here.
I’ve missed plane connections when they’ve scheduled an hour for the transfer AND the plane I was on landed on-time (long, long bus ride in the Charles De Gaulle airport in Paris – I think I’ve written about it). The four minute allotted time that was scheduled for this exchange did not fill me with confidence. If the first train was just a little late. . .
But German trains really don’t ever run late. It is amazing. When they say they are going to arrive at 4:27 p.m. and depart at 4:31 p.m., they mean exactly that. It’s not an estimate, it’s a guarantee. Off the train, up the stairs, over the walkway, down the stairs, on the next train – with at least 90 seconds to spare. Piece of cake. Only an hour and a half away from another beer fest. Frankly, I deserve it.
Of course, I say this and then the next train is actually late. Its not like I’ve taken a ton of trains over here, but this is the first one that was more than a couple minutes late. It was actually about five minutes late. It must be a reasonably unusual circumstance, because right around when the train was supposed to arrive, the Germans all started looking at their watches, and then each other. Got up off the benches, if they were seated. Slung their knapsacks or whatever over their shoulders. Walked right up to the painted white line that marked the area you were supposed to stay out of when the train was arriving and started looking up and down the tracks – back and forth – good God, where could that train be? An orderly little German life thrown a minor