Beaten by the Bahn
This past week I have sung the praises of the well organized and efficient nation of Germany. Allow me to retreat from this narrative for a moment.
As I write this, it is 3:AM and I an in the Leipzig airport. The place is pretty well empty except for two cleaners and about six other travelers with the same idea as me: get to the airport early, hang out, and save an evening’s hotel price while we await our 6:AM flight. I’ve been here since about 1:AM.
I’ve spent the past weekend in Berlin (and a bit in Potsdam). An excellent time was had, wherein I got to see old friends I had not seen in over 20 years. Not speaking a word of German, I’m also quite proud that I managed to navigate (nay, master… sort of) the German train and subway systems.
The frustrating part of my story begins on my return trip from Berlin to Leipzig, which was a necessary leg because my return flight to Canada departs from Leipzig at 6:AM Monday (this) morning.
My plan was to take the midnight Deutschebahn (intercity) train from Berlin to Leipzig, arriving at 1:15am, and from there the S-bahn (local surface train) at 3:AM to the airport, arriving at a reasonable 3:30AM, a healthy 2.5 hours before my international flight.
Fortunately, I had a lot of time to play with. I got bored in Berlin at around 7pm and decided to get an earlier train to Leipzig. I got my ticket at 7:20, and awaited the 7:50 Deutschebahn train. It arrived. I got in, choosing a comfy seat in the rear. No one told me not to. Imagine my chagrin with the train then separated (how did it do so that fast?!)
Yep, the front of the train to Leipzig left for Leipzig, and I was left sitting in the unmoving back half of the train, still in Berlin.
So I waited an hour for the next train, got it, and arrived in Leipzig with plenty of time to kill.
The other (what I thought clever) thing that I had done was to plan my every euro expenditure down to the last coin. I hate having leftover foreign currency when I get back from an international trip. At this point in the tale, I had about 50 euros remaining. It was now 10pm, so I spent 5 euros buying my ticket to the airport, which would leave at 11:30pm.
On the track, I met a young Punjabi man who simply hated being in Germany. He complained about how badly the police treat him, how difficult it was to make ends meet, and how finalizing his immigration status was a particular kind of heck. All I could offer was sympathy and my eight words of Hindi.
The train to the Leipzig-Halle airport arrived. It would take 10 minutes to the airport, and from there go on to a city called Halle. The digital map on the screen even announced the remaining time to the airport. I started thinking about how I would spend my remaining 45 euros. Perhaps a lavish meal at the airport?
Now, imagine my surprise when the train blew past the airport, and the screens all went blank. After midnight, we arrived in Halle, a cold empty station, and the train went out of service.
Shivering, I checked the schedule on the station platform. Next train back to the airport would leave in…. 2 minutes. Great! No big deal. Two minutes came and went. No train. A young man on a bicycle arrived arrived. He was also confused. Finally he figured out that the next train to the airport had been delayed and would not arrive until 12:40. Okay fine, I would wait.
At 12:40, an announcement was made in German. The young man told me: this train now will not be stopping at the airport. In fact, the next train that likely would stop there would not leave until 4:30 AM. I would freeze my ass off before then.
He suggested that I could spend 20 euros on the taxi to the airport, but advised that those 20 euros would be better spent in the pub, while I awaited the 4:30 train.
I was cold and tired and frustrated at this point. I figured I could afford 20 euros on a taxi. So, in the empty dark train station environs, I managed to flag down a taxi and headed to the airport.
Now, that fare ticker moved quite fast. I kept a nervous eye on it, knowing I only had 45 euros left. The ticker hit 45 just as the airport came into view. Shit. Pulling up to the terminal, the final fare was a nice round 50 euros. Fuck.
Somehow I managed to explain to the taxi driver that I needed to find an ATM. This meant he had to drive another few miles in the East German boondocks looking for one. Thereupon, I withdrew another 100 euros, paid the man off, and was returned to the airport. So much for my big plan to have spent my last euro right on time.
Now the airport at 1:AM was interesting. A few chairs were occupied with sleeping travelers, as I mentioned. I claimed one myself, and hunkered down for a nap. I felt like a hobo, especially since the place is so bloody cold. The guy on the other side of my bench had surrounded himself with used beer bottles. So yes. Hobos.
Gradually, travelers have been arriving as the airport wakes up. Weirdly, they are all over 60. Is there a special seniors’ airline that operates before dawn? Oh yes; Eurowings.
Know what the weirdest part is? There are no airline employees here yet. None of the check-in kiosks are open. Their lights aren’t even turned on. And yet the few travelers that are present have already begun lining up for the check-in.
So now I have about 100 euros to spend, but nothing is open. And the worst of it…. there are absolutely zero AC outlets here for public use. So very soon all my toys will be expended and useless.
Sigh. First world problems.