Where I reflect on the peculiar vibe of Berlin, I speak about cross border passenger services, and we spend the fourth night on the Connecting Europe Express.
Berlin is a very hard place to describe, at least for me. It has such a central significance in the recent history of Europe, it carries such a memory, such a weight. You feel like sharing some of that burden when you walk its streets.
It isn’t something you can just shrug off, as for many other things, in many other places in the world would be easy to do. Yet, I am not completely sure to be allowed to share that burden, the city doesn’t want me to.
There’s a restless, unsettling vibe here. Despite the vibrant cultural life, which leaves all kinds of marks around the city with photo exhibitions, graffiti and street art, museums and galleries. Despite the multi-cultural melting pot this capital has no doubt become.
I see colourful street food stands from all over the world all along and around corners of the Spree river. I can smell the aroma of speciality coffee shops nestled in some post-industrial buildings in hipsters neighbourhoods. I see malls with budget shops and fast food chains, and picturesque courts looking like corners of a small French town.
The expression on people’s faces around the city is serious. It isn’t the expression you see in absent-minded by-passers or those absorbed in their daily routine, even troubles. There is a thick graveness I can’t quite figure out.
I see white collars, blue collars, artists, punks, goths, hipsters, lots of homeless and lots of cyclers. I see trains, lots of trains connecting the various parts of the city, sliding between post-communist buildings, often with some of the city landmarks in the background, like the famous TV tower.
A city with many faces, many underground bellies, many stories. I remember one of the biggest party nights of my life here, a long time ago, on another occasion. This city doesn’t sleep, perhaps neither its inhabitants do, and you never know who you might meet. Yet, I always feel the weight it carries.
Perhaps it’s me, perhaps I am under some kind of conditioning, suggestion, charm. A fascination perhaps. Perhaps a desire to romanticise, as storytellers do. Perhaps it is this electric grey day, with that bright light and the cold wind suddenly rising from nowhere. Perhaps it is the weight of history that is still too present, too strong, for too long isolated in this small geographical point in Europe. Perhaps, it is time to let that burden be shared…
As I spend my morning walking around the Spree river, trying to decipher my feeling for Berlin, my colleagues participate in a conference, somewhere. The subject of the day, I am told, are the obstacles to long-distance cross border passenger services.
Now, I think I can decipher this much better than I decipher Berlin. It is actually quite an interesting subject for all those people who wish to travel by train from one country to the other.
One of the biggest obstacles is ticketing. How can I buy a train ticket to travel across countries? (except from the well known high-speed connections, like the Eurostar from Paris to Brussels, Amsterdam or London etc..). Have you ever tried? It is actually not that easy. There is no website, platform or app that will allow you to do so, not for the whole of Europe, not for all the existing connections.
One of the reasons is that rail operators need to cooperate and share data in order to make this possible. So, the discussion verged on whether this cooperation should be voluntary, as operators would have it, or compulsory by law, as consumers associations would have it. The discussion is ongoing.
Another obstacle would be the cost. I have already mentioned this in some other posts, but if costs for train tickets don’t become competitive vis-à-vis other means of transport, then it is going to be hard for many people to pick rail, even if it is more sustainable, and in all honesty more fun.
I will mention yet another obstacle, which is reliability, in terms of punctuality for the services but also for what would happen if there are delays and we miss a connection. For this, there are new rail Passenger Rights rules, which are going to ease this particular problem as from 2023.
Our journey goes on. Because of the conference, we boarded the train only around 3 PM today. So I have my face down on my laptop, writing and editing the photos I took in the morning. I have very little time to look outside, but I notice a lot of wind turbines. I have already declared my aesthetic love for this clean form of energy, and I know that Germany is one of the strongest countries in the field, so I am not surprised to see so many scattered around.
We are close to Hambourg, and after that we will spend our fourth night on the Connecting Europe Express as we travel towards Copenhagen. We will arrive there in the middle of the night. The train will have to go for a wide circle around to the west of Denmark and then back towards the capital.
I learn from some of my colleagues that in the future this connection Hambourg-Copenhagen will be much faster, as one of the TEN-T projects will build the world longest underwater tunnel from Fehmarn, which will point trains and cars straight to the capital. That will shorten the journey by about two hours by rail, beating both plane and car commuting.
Good to know, but for now let’s get ready for another night on the train.
Our mascot Chickee is also travelling on the Connecting Europe Express and having his own special journey. She also has her own Instagram account. Here are some of her adventures.