Dearest S. and A.,
Whilst I was experiencing it, I started, bit by bit, to realize that a report on my trip from Frankfurt to Amsterdam could be worth a little story. I dedicate this text especially to our friendship, but also to the friendship between Germany and The Netherlands in general (please see attached Exhibit A).
After being so kindly dropped off at Frankfurt Hbf by you, Susan, I easily found my way to the correct Gleis (19) where my train already had been patiently waiting for me and my fellow travelers. I found the chair that was reserved for me, tucked my little golden-orange suitcase in a safe place and installed myself. I made sure that I had your wonderful goodie-bag at hand, opened my Anthony Bourdain book and was ready to go. The train left according to schedule (as opposed to the first train I ever took in Switzerland to get me from Zürich to Basel, which had a delay of 15 minutes, despite the great name of precision that the Swiss have concerning train travel). The chair next to me remained empty, even though, according to the digital description had a reservation attached to it: Lucky Me (LM).
I always felt that ICE, both as a train as well as the Pistachio-version, is a great invention and my first leg of the trip home, until Cologne, proved that for the umptiest time. Arriving at the Gleis closest to the Dom I was allowed a great view of it and thus a minuscule feeling of having been in Cologne too during this voyage. When are they planning to finish the restoration of this enigmatic building, by the way? 2057, 100 years after I was born?
Anyway, without any trouble I found my connection, ICE as well, which would bring me to Oberhausen. Deutsche Bahn kept there promise immaculately and, while showering me with DB-chocolates, dropped me off at the immensely boring and ugly Oberhausen Central Station. Despite the station’s rusty state, I didn’t become aware yet that it was as of here that things would start to go ziemlich wrong, but as of now, I will interpret such demise as a warning signal.
The next train I was to take was a regional one. All fine, you could say, but I am not partial to this kind of transport quality, certainly not since I was supposed to be moved, from you to Amsterdam, in First Class Mode (FCM). The sign above the Quay mentioned Wesel, Emmerich and Zevenaar as stops before we would reach Arnheim, where my 3rd and final transit would await me. Immediately after gaining speed leaving the station it started to diminish that wonderful aspect of travel to prepare for the stop at Oberhausen-whatever (not Oberhausen-Flughafen!). And this announced a stop-and-go rhythm (which I felt as a penalty (ask Adrian what this means in Formula-1)), whereby it seemed that, as decided by some DB-overlord, it was absolutely necessary to have a train station every 900 meters between O’hausen and Wesel (Dinslaken comes to mind). All these “stations” were in an even more decrepit state than the aforementioned and practically devoid of travel aspiring passengers.
I have to admit that the train personnel was forthcoming, but the fact that First Class was completely NOT DIFFERENT from the class for farmers and laborers troubled me. There was a difference, admittedly, namely a piece of cloth, to be hung by Velcro on the head rest of one’s chair, on which was printed “1. Klasse” (please see Exhibit B). All very unconvincing.
Just before driving into Wesel things started to get worse. Over the board radio it was announced that our train was Kaputt and wouldn’t be able to make it beyond Wesel. A bus would be waiting for us outside Wesel-Hbf which would transport us to Emmerich where we then could continue our trip on the Eisernen Weg as planned. This all came as a surprise to me, since, apart from the aforementioned, I did not have any complaints about this local thingy’s qualities in terms of moving in the forward direction. But since I am not a mechanical engineer, I am clearly not the person to judge these aspects of transportation, even though I would like to turn such a hobby into my profession.
Since I had, at Oberhausen, acquired two half liter cans of Veltins of which I had finished the first one during this village trip, and since the train I was traveling in had no toilet facilities, I started to bother about my bladder. In the end I managed to keep everything in until a correct moment appeared to release myself, but exiting it was!
En Fin, everybody out of the train and into the bus. I hurried to be secure of a place to sit and I managed that. But since I have spent already nine Months in a fetus-like position, I wasn’t very happy to have to relive such a state for close to 45 minutes. The fat German guy next to me did in no way gave me any room and I had forgotten to eat my suitcase. A comparison to sardines in a tin comes to mind as well.
In general I do not particularly object to being in a bus for a while, but in this case, ladies and gentlemen, it was horror. It would have been, zum Beispiel, better if night had already fallen, but we were driven around in brought daylight. Of course the bus had to visit every hamlet where the train would have stopped, the Abellio-transport company clearly being to much of a coward to forward us directly to Emmerich where everything was supposed to get normal again. So, sitting at a bus window, I was treated to many a boring landscape, Wiesen, a boring forest (in which sheep roamed, separated by gender) and completely avoidable gatherings of houses accompanied by even more avoidable shops and hairdressers. Unfortunately I clearly remember, for instance, the Konditorei in the village of (“Welcome in …”) Willingen (or a concoction of a similar name). Think Bitburg, but then really, really small and without any historical highlight, let alone a brewery). Deeply engraved in my memory too is the house and its surroundings, apparently belonging to a collector of ornamental garden decorations including a, probably hand-painted, concrete gorilla of some sort. In short: all of them places where you wouldn’t want to be found dead, not even when you were in hell or heaven already.
At a certain point cars with number plates starting with KLE- began to appear. This signals the area around the city of Kleve which is way, way south of the line between Oberhausen and Arnheim. Soon I might be back in Frankfurt, I thought as of then.
But naturally, in space and time, we reached Emmerich. Sometimes, and without love, I can stare in amazement at monuments of “industrial architecture”. Characteristics are usually a grandeur of concrete and steel and an ergonomic connection of elementary parts of the production site, be it a coal mine or a factory for animal food. The Emmerich train station has none of this! Leaning against a pole will destroy your coat forever because of the rust stains it will leave and walking around over the platform demands a strong eye-sight to stay away from a stumble or fall.
Twenty five minutes later more or less exactly the same train arrived as we had left one-and-a-half hours before. Same nice personnel again, different but similar. Suddenly, probably planned, there were no tiny stations anymore, just Zevenaar (which is not a place to long for after having visited Naples), before arriving at Arnheim Station from which, ten minutes later, an ICE departed for Amsterdam, chocolates and all, me in an empty 4 person cabin, but not before having peed in the ICE-water closet that sucks everything away with such great Sound and Vision.
Of course I was able to endure all of the above because of the Great Bad Homburg Experience (GBHE)!