A short, humorous story about a train ride in Germany.
It is our first day on our own in Germany. We walk for 30 minutes along the dirt and cobblestone path through the beautiful green fields and rolling hills. We can see the rooftops and the church steeples of the neighboring villages through the morning mist. The air is incredibly crisp and clean, and you can see for miles. It is gorgeous. We are taking pictures like crazy!
We arrive at what passes for a train station. Just a stop really, as there is no actual station. There is nobody there but us. There is a dilapidated, boarded up building. There are no other homes or buildings anywhere near. There is a deserted country road that runs along side the tracks. There is an old ticket machine near the boarded up building. We are relieved to discover that it actually works. All the instructions and options are in German. We spend 20 minutes trying to figure out how to buy tickets for the 45 minute Eurail train ride to Frankfurt. We finally coax the machine to accept our money and spit out tickets. To where, we are not exactly sure.
We sit on the little bench inside a little shelter. We try to read the German graffiti on the walls while we wait for the train to come, looking up words in the little pocket English/German dictionary I brought. We are excited to be in Germany, beginning our adventures! As we are waiting, a person walks up pushing a bicycle but stands a distance away from us, in the wind, outside of the little shelter.
It is clear when the train arrives that this is not a frequently used train stop, as the train almost passes us by. The conductor sees us at the last minute and looks surprised as he slams on the brakes, and the train screeches to a halt a little further down the line, causing us to jog along side till it stops. We stand at the doors of the train, waiting for them to open. They do not open. The conductor gives us a funny look and the train begins to pull away. We frantically wave and shout as a signal to him that we want to get on the train. He stops again and waits. Still the doors do not open.
The person on the bike gets our attention and makes a stabbing motion in the air with his finger. We get it! We laugh at ourselves, a little embarrassed as we push the button to open the door! We are used to public transportation in the United States, where the doors of the buses, the subways, etc, all open for us automatically!
Our angel with the bicycle (one of many angels who would rescue us through out our trip) did not board the train and we wondered what they were waiting for there at the train station , if not a train?
We are finally on the train, on our way! In five minutes we arrive in Stockheim where we need to change trains. Stockheim is more of a traditional town and train station. There is even a little coffee shop inside the station. We debark and go into the coffee shop to buy coffee while we wait an hour for the connecting train. We make conversation with the proprietor, who speaks just enough broken English to communicate with us. She confirms for us that the train to Frankfurt will be coming along in an hour. We sit outside on a bench to wait, sipping and warming our hands on the wonderful strong, hot German coffee. A train comes and stops on the track directly in front of us, but this train is going north and we need to go south to get to Frankfurt. We wait for it to leave so our train can come. We watch as the train in front of us leaves.. .heading SOUTH! We have just missed our train and must wait another hour for the next one. (Who knew the train could run both directions?)
Laughing at our own ignorance, we go back into the coffee shop and order more coffees. The proprietor gives us a puzzled look. She asks in her broken English why we didn’t get on the train to Frankfurt. We are still laughing as we tell her we missed the train. She raises her eyebrow at us. She clearly doesn’t understand how we could possibly miss the train that was stopped directly in front of us. “How you miss train?” We just laugh and say “Don’t ask!”
We decide to sit inside the coffee shop at a little table and drink our coffee while we wait another hour for the next train. A man enters. He is dark skinned and skeleton thin like a character from a Steven King novel. He is wearing a black pin stripe suit, matching hat, black shoes and white cotton gym socks. He buys a coffee and sits at the table next to us. We can feel him staring at us. He sits there with his skinny legs crossed; his arms wrapped around his body and his white gym socks showing. He holds a cigarette in one hand, the smoke causing him to squint with one eye as it curls around his head. And he stares at us… HARD. He is looking at us so hard he is actually leaning forward in his seat. He says not a word. We can feel his stare burning holes in us! He is creeping us out.
We decide to take our coffee out to the bench to escape his glare. A few seconds later, he follows us out and sits in the bench next to us. And continues to stare at us. The train finally comes, and we climb aboard. The train is all but deserted. We quickly decide to go up to the second level believing that he may not see us go up there and would not follow us. But, a few seconds later, here he comes. He sits in the seats across the aisle from us. Still staring. We are entertained, but a bit nervous at the same time.
At the next stop the dark thin man gets off the train. We look at each other and, relieved that he is gone, we begin laughing a bit too hysterically at the bizarreness of the situation.
We have had so much coffee and laughed so hard, we realize that we both need to pee. My friend scouts out the train looking for a bathroom. She comes back to me and, with a look of panic on her face, tells me that this train has no bathroom! We hope that we can wait until we get to Frankfurt. After about 10 minutes we realize that we are in trouble! We can’t wait! We are going to have to get off the train at the next stop and pee in the bushes somewhere! The next stop… Bodenheim.. We exit the train, and run as fast as we can to the closest set of bushes, drop our pants on the side of a residential house on a country road, bare our butts to the world, and pee and pee and pee. When we finish we walk back to the train station and sit down to wait another hour for the next train. We have decided to rename this town … Booty Shine.
When the train comes, we get on again. For the first time today a conductor comes by to check our tickets. We show him our tickets and he looks at us and frowns. He tells us these tickets are expired. We try to explain to him that we are American tourists, that we missed our train and we had to get off again in Bodenheim, That this is our first time riding the train, blah blah blah. He does not care. He instructs us to get off the train at the next station, in the town of Bad Vilbel, and buy another ticket if we want to go to Frankfurt.
We get to the Bad Vilbel station; knowing the train only stops for a moment, we fly off the train, run down the stairs, under the tracks, up the stairs to the ticket machine. We purchase two tickets, run back down the stairs, under the tracks, back up the stairs, jump back on the train and fall into some seats with a sigh of relief. We made it!! The train pulls away. After we catch our breath and look out the window, we realize that this train is going the wrong way!! We have gotten on the wrong train! We are going to have to get off the train again at Booty Shine and wait one more hour for the next train.
As we are waiting to get off the train again at Booty Shine, we happen to notice that there is a little door in the car we are riding in, with a sign above it that says WC. Someone opens the door to go inside and we can see that it is a bathroom!!! There was a bathroom on the train the whole time. There are bathrooms on ALL the trains. They are called Water Closets.
Get off, wait, get back on. We are finally back on the train heading the right way!! We don’t have to exit the train again until we get to Frankfurt! We are growing tired and hungry. We do have water with us, but no food and haven’t eaten anything today. Finally, we see the signs for Frankfurt! We have arrived!
We get off the train at the Frankfurt stop. We are meeting my son and his girlfriend at the Starbucks on the ground floor of the Commerzbank. The tallest building in Frankfurt. We look around and immediately see a building that says Commerzbank on the top of it not to far off. We can already taste the hot coffee and warm pastry! We head off walking towards the building. Knowing that we are finally nearing the end of our journey, we have a new energy and a bounce in our step! It is very very windy and a bit chilly. We wrap our coats tight around us and lean into the wind and continue walking. After a few minutes of walking, we arrive at the building. We walk around the building, but we don’t see any Starbucks. We walk another block or two thinking maybe it is NEAR the Commerzbank instead of IN the Commerzbank. We find no Starbucks. We walk back to the Commerzbank building. We go inside. There is an information desk. We ask “Where is the Starbucks Please?” We get a puzzled look. “No Starbucks here.” She explains that the Starbucks is in the OTHER Commerzbank building about 25 blocks away in downtown Frankfurt. Ah yes. We remember now, that we were supposed to ride the train to the third Frankfurt exit but instead, we got off at the first Frankfurt exit!!
We discuss our options. Get back on the train? No, we decide not to risk that! We see a bus station. Take a bus? No…we don’t know anything about the buses here! A cab? No.. we don’t want to spend the money. So, we decide we’ll walk, and stop somewhere along the way to eat. We get directions from the information lady and off we go!
We walk and window shop and eventually we find a nice little Italian place.. It is after “lunch time” so the place is deserted except for the proprietor, a plump Italian man, standing behind the bar, and a man who appears to be his friend, sitting at the bar. When we enter they stop chatting and the proprietor gives us his full attention, welcoming us to his establishment in German with a thick Italian accent. When we respond in English, he switches to broken English. He asks “You want “menu” yah? We say yes please! He says in a triumphant tone “Okay.. you have ze Sausage Pizza!” We look at each other, with an amused raised eyebrow, silently communicating “Where is the menu he just asked us if we would like to see??” But being hungry and just wanting some food we nod our heads and respond eagerly “Great! Yah! We’ll have ze Sausage Pizza!”
Maybe it was because I was so hungry and I was in a foreign country and I was enjoying every second so far, but that was the very best Sausage Pizza I have had in my entire life!
We learned later that in Europe, “menu” means “the special of the day” and if you want to see a “menu” you ask for the “Card”.
So, after getting some food in us we are ready to go back out and face the wind and the chill and continue our journey to the Starbucks at the Commerzbank. We walk for another hour or so and finally, exhausted, we are there. At last! Our destination!!
It has taken us 7 hours to complete the journey from TJ’s flat in Rohrback to the Starbucks in Frankfurt, which should not have taken us more than 90 minutes, counting walking time!!!
We go into the Starbucks more than ready for some hot coffee. The Starbucks looks exactly like any Starbucks in the US. Even the menu is identical. Everything is in English. After seeing only German all day, it seems strangely out of place to us. I almost couldn’t read the English words. We order giant coffees, and manage to grab two comfy overstuffed arm chairs. The hot coffee, the exhaustion, the full bellies, it all makes us very sleepy and within minutes we are both zonked. I don’t know how much time passed while we slept there, undisturbed by other patrons, in the comfy chairs in the middle of Starbucks in the middle of Frankfurt Germany.
I awoke to TJ standing over me, gently shaking my shoulder saying “Mom..Mom..wake up Mom!” I woke up, woke my friend and we stood up, stretched, wiped the drool from our chins and the sleep from our eyes. Then, my friend and I suddenly broke out in laughter, pointing at each other when we noticed we both had corduroy marks imbedded on our cheeks from the chair’s upholstery…
Then we went out and had a nice dinner at an Asian restaurant!
It was a great adventure for our first day on our own in Germany.