Since moving to Germany in August, Brian and I have been to three of the biggest festivals the country has to offer. These include Oktoberfest, Carnival, and most recently, Frühlingsfest.
All of the festivals themselves have been great fun – there was dancing, there was drinking, and there were celebrations galore! I’ll preface the following by saying this: we would absolutely go back to all of the aforementioned festivals if given the opportunity to.
On the other hand…
Getting home from each one of these festivals has been an absolute nightmare.
I would say 90-95% of the time Deutsche Bahn (the German Railway System) is on time and has no complications to the schedule. Apparently, major beer festivals comprise the remaining 5-10% of the time.
Because it was insanely expensive to stay in a hostel in Munich for Oktoberfest (think 100 Euros/night/person in a 50-person dorm), we decided to stay in a hotel in Ulm, a not-so-nearby city. This was beneficial for a few reasons – it was much cheaper for 3 of us to stay for 2 nights at 30 Euros/night/person, and it was a private hotel room with a private bathroom. It even included one of the most glorious continental breakfasts I’ve ever had!
The disadvantage is that Ulm is about 2 hours away by train. We left the hotel at about 6 a.m. to ensure an early arrival to the beer tents at Oktoberfest, and it was great! The train arrived on time, and we even got seats because it started in Ulm, so we were some of the first people on the train.
Getting back was not so easy peasy. We caught a train back to Ulm sometime after 5 p.m., and this was apparently the same schedule that all other 10,000 people in our beer tent were hoping to follow, too. For the first 30 minutes of the ride back, we were standing in the corner of one of the train cars, squished between the lovely smelling drunks whose only method of balancing themselves was by putting their arms onto the wall approximately 2 inches above my head, which, when you’re 5 feet tall, is prime armpit air space.
Then, these lovely folks thought it would be a good idea to start fighting with the less offensive-smelling drunks who were standing opposite the area we were in. Luckily, this was reason enough to lower arms from the train’s ceiling, but unluckily, this meant that there was lots of sweaty, cursing, and violent pushing happening right in front of us. I was fortunate enough to have Erich and Brian try to block my face from flailing elbows (again, being short really has it’s downfalls), but I know we all suffered a few blows. What they were fighting about, I have no idea. I’m sure it was totally worth it.
Then, as a final middle finger to our 2-hour journey, we were almost able to grab 3 empty seats with about 30 minutes left in our trip, but of course, we weren’t quite fast enough, leaving us with only one. Again, since I was with two gentlemen, I was the one sitting down, but they had to stand the remainder of the way. Although, as a reward for my seat, a guy several rows back thought it would be friendly to throw an open beer can at the person sitting across from me, but unfortunately for me, you know, gravity. And, although I had a lap full of room temperature beer, the older gentlemen sitting next to me, in his “very expensive corduroy trousers,” was extremely angry to have gotten a few drops of beer on him, and decided the appropriate way to express his anger was by punching the intended beer recipient in the leg. Over and over again.
End of travel nightmare #1.
This story actually explains our train ride home from Brugges, Belgium, but as this is the same trip in which we went to Carnival, I count it as such.
The first leg of our trip was a flawless one-hour train ride from Brugges to Brussels. Then, at Brussels, we got onto an ICE train (the awesomely fast and comfortable German trains) that was headed for Frankfurt, which was about a 3-hour ride away. Everything was going along wonderfully until we got to Cologne, which was just supposed to be a regular station stop. To this day, I’m still not sure what happened, but we sat on the train for about 30 minutes at Cologne, with them constantly reassuring us that we would be on our way shortly. It wouldn’t have been a problem, but we had a connection to catch in Frankfurt that was slowly becoming more and more unlikely.
Finally, the conductor came on the loudspeaker and told us that this train was no longer in service, and that we would have to catch another train to Frankfurt instead. Great! If only you had told us this 45 minutes ago, it wouldn’t have made anyone blink an eye!
Anyway, we had to catch another train to Frankfurt, and as we approached, we knew the only chance we’d have to make our connection to Freiburg was if that train was somehow delayed. LUCKILY…. no, just kidding. Of course we didn’t make it.
When we talked to someone at the Frankfurt train station, wouldn’t you know it, they told us that was the LAST train out of here to Freiburg for the evening! Of course it was. Our options were as follows: sleep in a hotel in Frankfurt and catch a train in the morning (which would have been covered 100% by Deutsche Bahn; I will say that about DB, they do take responsibility for their actions), or catch a train to Karlsruhe (about halfway between Frankfurt and Freiburg) and tell the train manager our problem about missing the train. There, we would be able to get a voucher for a taxi ride that would take us all the way home, at no cost to us. We decided on the latter since we both had to work the next day.
Upon getting to Karlsruhe, we presented our voucher to a taxi driver who drove us (and a Canadian woman who spoke Russian and broken English but no German) all the way to Freiburg. The ride was actually pleasant, as it was a good opportunity for us to practice our German, but we didn’t get home until 2 a.m., which was a bummer when our original ETA was about 11.
End of travel nightmare #2.
My final story comes just days after actually happening. Brian, 3 friends, and I took a trip to Frühlingsfest, which is a miniature version of Oktoberfest in the springtime. We decided to take slow trains the whole way to Stuttgart (which totals 3 hours) because it was insanely cheaper than taking the fast trains.
As always, getting there was easy and convenient. (I have to say, I guess it’s better that the day starts off well and then ends poorly, no? Maybe?) But when we decided to head out and catch a 6:40 p.m. tram from the festival back to the Stuttgart main train station, the situation turned. The tram we were hoping to catch would get us to the train station with enough time to catch a 7:15 train to Freiburg (with connections), which was the last one until 11 p.m. Unfortunately, as the tram we were going to take pulled up, the train station manager came on the loud speaker and told everyone that the tram that had just pulled up was not, in fact, going to the train station because of a dangerous situation on the tracks. We were going to have to take the underground tram instead.
We ran to the U-Bahn stop and saw that the next tram coming wasn’t for 6 minutes, but it also didn’t stop at the Hauptbahnhof. We decided to take the tram as close as possible anyway and then run the rest of the way. For comedic relief, imagine 5 adults running through crowded gardens with families, elderly adults, children and all kinds of formally dressed post-Church goers. It looked as ridiculous as it sounds.
Anyway, since we were hoping to catch a 7:15 train, what time would you guess we got to the train station? That’s right! 7:18!
Instead of getting home at 10ish, the next possible arrival time in Freiburg was 1:30 a.m. So we waited in the train station Burger King for about an hour, caught a ridiculously crowded train to Karlsruhe, then waited about 30 minutes in Karlsruhe before catching a train to Offenburg, where we were going to have to wait 1.5 hours for the next train to Freiburg. Luckily, and I suppose we have to find the silver lining in this, there was an open Imbiss shop that served doners, noodles, and other assorted food just across the street that we were able to wait in until about 12:30 in the morning. They were even showing “Full Metal Jacket” on a big screen TV (albeit with no sound), so that provided some level of entertainment and a reason to stay awake.
We finally pulled into Freiburg at 1:30 in the morning, immediately after which Brian and I had to walk another 30 minutes to get home since the street trams were no longer running at this ridiculous hour.
End of nightmare travel #3.
You know what they say….
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