by Valentin Vassilev (text) and Olga Ostapenko (photos)
Shortly before arriving in Germany for the first time last year, I read an article about a train that had failed to make a scheduled stop in Wolfsburg. It just continued on its way, much to the passengers’ disbelief. It was the third time in a year that a Deutsche Bahn train had missed the city. For me, it was an indication that German public transportation is not all it’s cracked up to be.
While reading travel guides to Germany one may well come across sentences as: “Punctuality is highly valued,” or “Buses and trains are always on time, being even two minutes late is rare.” This, I regret to inform you, is a myth, and it would easily be debunked if you live in Bonn for a longer period of time.
Waiting for a bus or a train in Bonn could be quite an intense and annoying experience. Every so often public transportation is disrupted by strikes, but even if it’s not and trains and buses have no reason to be late, time schedules are only loosely adhered to. This came as a shock for most of the IMS students, since we, having come from abroad, had a slightly different notion of Germany and its much-vaunted punctuality.
Growing up in our chaotic countries in Africa, South America, Eastern Europe and Asia, we were taught that in an arbitrary cosmos randomly generating situations, in a universe of disorder and confusion, there is a place, a neat and tidy one, where order, punctuality and discipline reign. A place where people don’t cross the street at a red light, where blackouts never occur and where trains arrive on time. A place called Germany.
I expected Bonn to be a world away from the one I had known growing up in Eastern Europe. In Bulgaria, Germany has always been held up as an example of punctuality, a direct opposite of the chaotic, rough-and-tumble post-communist country I was familiar with. And indeed it is a world away so far as order is concerned, but the transportation just does not fit in with the general pattern.
This blog post may come across as a slight exaggeration, a tale narrated in a voice that rises to a strident pitch. And it possibly is. But this is a result of the shiny image Germany has. You expect everything to be insanely right here. And when it’s not, you are apt to exaggerate.