Squished on the train – but it was fun

A tram in Munich

How is it that Munich is the richest city in Germany but seems to have the worst public transportation system?

OK, neither of these facts is backed up by fact. But Munich does have the reputation of being pretty much “the” place to live and on visits to Berlin and other major metropolises, I have never experienced as many hassles as I have in Munich on trains and trams.

Today was another of those days. Getting from Donnersbergerbruecke to Pasing where I live is only four stops and should be only about 10 minutes actual time on the S-Bahn train (“S” standing for, of all things, schnell or fast). After I finished my seminar I hopped on the train and arrived promptly an hour and a half later.

On the tram.

After waiting for 20 minutes and listening to the same announcement five times saying that there was a “disturbance” in the system and the S-Bahn wasn’t running, I had decided to give up on the S-Bahn and cut my losses. I walked over the bridge to the nearby Landsbergerstrasse, knowing that I could also take tram #19 to Pasing.

Me and about 300 others.

One of the guys waiting at the tram stop I recognized from the train platform. He was a young strawberry blond, bearded guy who I had seen running along the train platform, clearly pretty ticked, blasting away at his cell phone in some foreign language.

Russian, I wondered? It didn’t really sound Russian. Hmm, what else could it be?

He was at the tram stop for the same reason I was. While we stood there staring for several minutes at the sign that promised us that the tram would arrive in one minute, he struck up a conversation in broken German with the guy next to him.

“They always talk about environment, but they can’t get trains to run on time. It’s much quicker for me to take car!”

I was intrigued by what sounded like a French accent. How could that be? Is there a Slavic language that sounds like French?

Ja, the other guy agreed.

Luckily they kept talking so I could continue my analysis.

“I am only student and paying for trains costs a lot of money, and then they don’t even run on time.”

“True,” the other guy agreed.

“Oh look! Here she comes. I mean he…”

“She,” said the other guy. “Tram is feminine in German.”

“This is greatest problem for me. Genders of words in German.”

Ah yes. Nice to hear that others suffer from that same annoying feature of the German language.

Finally, she arrived. And she was packed to the rafters with all the other people who had given up on waiting for the train.

We managed to squeeze on. I took my backpack off and held it near my knees since there is always more room down there. I was also carrying a heavy tote bag full of seminar materials; my arm was slowly but surely getting longer and longer. I was also regretting wearing my new high-heeled boots. They’ll be fine, I told myself. I ride my bike to the station, then it’s just a short walk at the other end to the seminar. It’s a good day to wear heels. Ha! I hadn’t reckoned with standing for an hour on a packed tram.

There was a lady standing in front of me who was practically in my face. She was holding something brown and furry in her arms and with one hand wrapped around part of it.

It was a little dog. A miniature dachshund. She was afraid he would get trampled so she was holding him close to her in her arms and keeping his muzzle in her hand, presumably so he wouldn’t bite. He looked up at me with inquisitive little long-lashed doggy eyes.

“Is he afraid?” I asked.

“No. Are you?”


I continued exchanging glances with the dog. He was very cute and besides, I couldn’t help staring because he was six inches from my face.

I could also see the guy with the French accent who wasn’t French down at the far end of the tram. Next to me two Spaniards had gotten on. I peered over the shoulder of a lady who was watching some youtube video of a woman demonstrating some kind of face sander. I looked at her skin and wondered if she used that sander thingy, too. Her hair was very beautiful – very shiny. I wondered if she had watched another youtube video to find out how to make it look that way.

Suddenly the tram started turning a corner. Trams consist of two separate cars, adjoined with what looks like corrugated rubber and a round metal plate in the middle of it on the floor allowing the tram to bend in the middle. When it turns, the round plate moves in tandem with the first car but the floor of the second car swivels beneath it.

It just so happened that I was standing at that exact spot. I had one foot on the round plate and the other on the fixed floor of the second car. When it turned, my left foot stayed in place while my right one moved backwards. Through no fault or effort of my own, I started slowly doing the splits.

I’m going to fall backwards onto the guy behind me, I thought. Instead, I managed to keep my balance by taking little tiny steps to compensate for the turning floor circle. Step, step, step. It was like the motion you do when you ride a scooter: one foot stays and the other one moves. The tram car cleared the turn and straightened out. Made it.

We clicked along for a couple of more stops. Another turn. Step, step, step. I was getting the hang of this.

We pulled up to a stop and a woman pressed the button to get out.

“Hey, the door’s not opening!” someone yelled. The driver was too far away and didn’t hear.

He kept on going. She missed her stop.

I looked back again over the lady’s shoulder in front of me who was busy with her smartphone. Now she was chatting with a friend on WhatsApp. Unfortunately, I was unable to read what she was writing. Probably something about the lousy rapid transit system. Or maybe they were exchanging views about the face sander. I debated pulling my glasses out of my backpack so I could see better what she was writing but decided this would be going a bit too far.

The dog and I were fast friends by now. He was so cute and cuddly that I was dying to pet him, except there was no room for me to lift my hands. Instead, I just smiled and winked. I figured what works for a baby must work for a little dog, too. He returned my smile, too, in his doggy way.

Finally, we pulled into Pasing station. Last stop. Everyone poured out through the doors, grateful to escape the squeeze of the packed tram car. I was sorely tempted to belt out the refrain of Händel’s hallelujah chorus but managed to resist.

The trip took way longer than it should have. On the other hand, it was enough of an adventure that I was inspired to regale my family with tram tales. There’s something to be said for that.

Brenda Arnold

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On a train to everywhere – Germany’s €9 ticket and its surprising consequences

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