Berlin - Dear BahnCard,
Things felt so hopeful back in September. After the lifting of 2020’s original hard lockdown, life felt relatively normal compared to how things are today. Albeit with obligatory hygiene measures in place, restaurants and culture were all still open, and, albeit with masks, large numbers of people still felt comfortable soaking up the last of the summer weather at a Flohmarkt or with friends along the banks of the Spree. The things that help make this city so unique were all still there for the taking.
Newly moved to Germany at the time, I started optimistically thinking about revelling in these inter-lockdown freedoms and being able to see more of the country. In my head, I drafted a plan to visit a German town or city for every letter of the alphabet (turns out Y’s the only letter that isn’t covered). When I told a friend about my aspirations, she told me about you for the first time, BahnCard. You should definitely look at getting one, she said. You’ll save the cost in no time if you use it regularly, she said.
But as you know, BahnCard, it wasn’t meant to be. It’s now been six months since you arrived in the post in October, gleaming with my hopes and dreams of all the journeys we could go on together. A positive corona test mere days later meant I had to put them on hold for 10 days of quarantine. By the time that was over, infection rates and hospitalisations had risen so much that November ushered in the so-called “lockdown light” – and we all know what’s happened since.
Six months, and you’ve spent the whole time languishing in my wallet, BahnCard. Like DB and its perpetual delays, you’ve become something of a punchline. “You’ll never believe what I bought just before the November lockdown and haven’t used once,” I’ve told numerous people, much to their amusement. Although lockdown measures and travel restrictions have been necessary during Germany’s tragic second and now third waves of corona, I sometimes see you as a melancholy reminder of all that could have been, if only things had been done differently.
But we shouldn’t lose faith, BahnCard. In spite of everything – looking at you, defective DB air conditioning – I remain an unabashed train fan. A post-high school Interrailing trip with friends and overnight train journeys during study trips across Europe mean I’ve got the bug for life. Compared to the stress of air travel and anonymous airports, there’s a certain literary charm to watching the world go by as you travel, taking in beautiful landscapes and passing through towns you’d never heard of along the route.
Long distance buses are an honourable alternative – but the inter-city motorway can’t replace the quaintness to be enjoyed from an ICE headed through the countryside. For one thing, taking the Autobahn rather than the train between Berlin and Dresden a few years ago would have meant I never would have spotted a woman walking a chicken on a piece of string in the yard of her Schrebergarten, a scene that delights me to this day.
I’m hopeful that better times lie ahead, BahnCard. Maybe I’m just easily impressed after a year of different forms of lockdown, but Europe’s offer of international travel by rail is still a majorly exciting prospect. After all, I’m used to the rail offering back home in the UK, which as a small island only has one train link to continental Europe (love you, Eurostar). By contrast, numerous rail companies have plans to connect Berlin with cities like Amsterdam, Paris and Stockholm in a continental night-train network after the pandemic. I’m not the only one who’s convinced either: these days, plenty of environmentally conscious young people are swearing off air travel completely and turning to the trains instead. Believe in yourself, BahnCard, you still have so much to offer.
Happy six months, BahnCard. Here’s to the day things finally get back on track.