SJ on the Move

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Riding the Rails

Here we are on the way to Cologne, while SJ enjoys her morning Rosinenbroetchen. Once we got on the train, it was a nice trip. Unfortunately, it took us an hour at the train station before we could get on the train.

The pricing for the train system here is incredibly confusing. There are all these different levels of discount cards you can buy, different prices for different regions, times of the week, etc.

For example, we wanted to go from Bonn to Cologne, which is 12 Euros round trip for an adult. Easy enough. But, the person at the information booth told us that the all-day pass (including subway) was 17 Euros for 5 people. We thought they were trying to tell us that for 5 Euros more, we could get all day subway added on to our round trip ticket, and we weren't interested in that. Eventually, we were able to figure out that for 17 Euros up to 5 people can travel all they want between Bonn and Cologne, and have unlimited travel on the bus and subway. Which is quite a deal, so we decided to get that. At least that's what I hope the offer was for.

Unlike the U.S., where you can't get on public transportation without a ticket, the public transportation in Germany works on the semi-honor system. Everyone is supposed to buy a ticket before you get on the train/bus/subway, but anyone can just walk on without paying. In order to prevent this from happening all the time, they have these students that randomly check people for tickets. In the 5 weeks that we've been here, we've taken public transport at least a few dozen times, and we've seen a ticket checker only once. Supposedly if you get caught something really bad happens, but I'm really curious what percentage of people actually buy tickets.

After we figured out what we were supposed to buy, we went to the automated machine to purchase our ticket. Unfortunately, this is when we ran into our second problem. The machine said that it accepted 50 Euro bills (which is all we had), but it didn't seem to want to accept 50 Euro bills on this particular day. Nor did any of the other machines. And they of course don't take credit cards.

Germany is somewhat of a cash only economy, which is interesting, because although a lot of places only take cash, they often seem annoyed if you have anything but exact change. I was at the bakery the other day and the fellow in front of me purchased about E 2.50 in goods and gave them a 5 Euro bill. The baker huffed and puffed and asked if they didn't have anything smaller. I knew I was in trouble because all I was carrying was a 10 Euro bill. As you could foresee, the baker was doubly upset when I had the audacity to present a 10 Euro bill in exchange for about E 2.50 in goods. Maybe I need to break down and start carrying around a change purse.

So, here we are in the train station, trying to buy a 17 Euro train ticket, but they won't take our 50 Euro bill. I briefly thought about going into the convenience store to buy something, but I knew that if I purchased anything less than 49 Euros worth of tic tacs, I was going to get yelled at.

There was actually a bank at the train station, and I thought that might be a solution, so I went and stood in line. Unfortunately, the line didn't move at all for about 15 minutes, so I gave up. Evidently there was some Nigerian prince at the front of the line trying to wire money to the U.S. and it was taking awhile.

Eventually, we found a place where you could buy tickets from an actual human being, instead of the automated machines. The line took quite a while, since I imagine most of the people in the line were non-Germans who were completely befuddled as to what they were supposed to buy, but eventually we got our ticket and boarded the train.


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