Irish Rail light years ahead of Germans

Published 23/07/2013 | 05:38

At the beginning of July I was in Freising, which is north of Munich, doing simultaneous translation at a conference in sociology. Whatever about my German, I know little or nothing about sociology.

The conference dealt specifically with secularisation. It meant there were many technical words and phrases in use. It would have been difficult enough to follow it in English never mind trying to translate from German to English. But it went fine and I managed to get to the last day.

After the conference I took a few days holidays and travelled by rail from Munich to Berlin. Rail travel is not cheap in Germany. I boarded ICE 1608 at Munich main station. There were two trains at 09.00 to Berlin. One was going through the former German Democratic Republic (east Germany), the other through central Germany. The former took an hour longer but I was assured it had WiFi facility whereas the other train did not.

Heaven on wheels but no WiFi. I asked the train manager, who tells me we would have WiFi after Nuremberg, which was two hours away. So I decide to write his column. Come Nuremberg no sign of a WiFi signal. I keep messing with the iPhone but with no success. I did notice the train was getting warmer and warmer, indeed, becoming uncomfortably so. Then about 10 kilometres north of Nuremburg two train staff come to our coach and tell us that because the air conditioning has failed we would have to move to a different coach. Blast. I was quite happy where I was. I wait till almost the last to leave the coach.

The woman sitting in the aisle across from me refuses to move. A row gets underway. She is told that she is breaking the law by staying put. Suddenly a German policeman in full uniform arrives on the scene. I have no idea from where he emerged but it really was incredible. He is all smiles and friendly too but under no circumstances is this little women going to be allowed sit in her seat. She remonstrates. The railway staff quote the relevant law. The policeman stays put.

I'm smiling away and of course could not resist saying my penny's worth. I ask the policeman where he sprang from and had it all happened with the help of the National Security Agency in the USA, via the German Secret Service (BND)? I ask were we now living in a police state and because I had mentioned the NSA they presume I am American and tell me life is no easier in the US. I at once tell them I am not American. They could not make out where I came from so eventually I tell them.

By this stage the little lady has scuppered off to another coach where she just about finds the last seat. I keep walking through the train. Walk up to the front and find myself sitting right behind the glass partition separating the coach from the driver's cab. Like a child, I sit in awe from south of Bamberg right to Leipzig. Guess what happens at Leipzig? It's an end station, which means the train is pulled from the other end and all my childish plans of my pretend train driving are no more.

Most of the journey from Munich to Berlin was through the former GDR (East Germany). And that had a whole new charm for me. Back in 1986 I spent a month in Weimar. I remember one day standing at the rail station and observing a train from West Germany to West Berlin travelling through the rail corridor. The passengers in that train were hermetically sealed off from the people of the GDR(East Germany). The people on that platform were so close to the passing train and yet lived in an entirely different world. It was an amazing experience.

Fortunately East Germany is no more, it is almost impossible to spot that it ever was. Once the Berlin Wall came down I became convinced that anything is possible. It is too.

Believe it or not but when it comes to WiFi Irish Rail are light years ahead of German Rail.

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