It’s strange to watch movies and TV shows where people without masks shop, crouch close to each other, go to the cinema or even hug and kiss in greeting. After months of the pandemic, dreams and memories that breathe freely, while the virus is now trying to grab our breath, tens of millions of national coaches have become tens of millions of epidemiologists and we only buy non-essential things by phone or online, seem strange that we also like to use. The memory of a day in late August 2019 is also strange. The last maskless summer – also meteorologically diametrically opposed to Christmas 2020, as we are in dark mode. Also, I haven’t been permanently transferred to the Bremen home office, where I’ve had a strange time like everyone else since mid-March.
A land trip with digressions, small-scale travel, the center of the world and spontaneous inventiveness: About complex systems, small causes with big effects and complicated questions that usually don’t have simple answers. A four-part (not only) for Christmas on heise online.
- (I.): Der Purist (24.12.)
- (II.): Helmut on the cooling mat (December 25th)
- (III.): The last Count of Hoya (26.12)
- (IV.): Perrow’s normal disasters (27.12.)
It may have been a flight of sparks, triggered by a freight train with a defective brake that set fire to the embankment along the Hanover – Bremen railway line on that August day. At the time I was sitting on the train on the way home from my workplace in the heise online newsroom. It was an Intercity 2 train that Deutsche Bahn has been using since the end of 2015, initially stopping on the Norddeich-Mole – Leipzig route and in Bremen. It is a double-decker train that was probably first used on this route, because local transport tickets are valid from Bremen in the IC to the north and therefore many people gather on the platform in Bremen main station shortly before 6 p.m. who return to the surrounding area after work or shopping want to commute. They can probably be served better with the new train, because the seats are less spacious in it, so more people can fit in.
Get off everything
The Intercity 2 replaced the old one-story train, which only had a few sockets per car, but was much more comfortable to sit on. The inclination of the seats of the IC2 cannot be adjusted to a comfortable position as in the previous model; instead, passengers can only change the height of the headrest and the position of the seat. That doesn’t change the angle of inclination of the backrest much. A worsening improvement that I discussed soon after in an editoral for c’t 20/2016. One reader saw his religious feelings hurt by the text and canceled his c’t subscription. At least that’s what he wrote to me in an email.
The IC came to Nienburg as always on this Tuesday afternoon in late August and did not continue from there as usual after a short stop. The announcement said that the journey would be postponed indefinitely due to an embankment fire. The fire brigade is on the way.
Embankment fires are in 13th place in the ranking of operational disruptions at Deutsche Bahn, which lead to “stop failures”, far behind train disruptions that top the list. From 2014 to 2018 Deutsche Bahn registered between 364 and 468 such fires per yearwhich can arise in hot, dry summers, especially in 2018 and 2019, primarily from sparks, but also from discarded burning cigarettes. The cause can also be broken glass, which act like a burning glass in the blazing sun and ignite the vegetation along the tracks. The fire can spread to bushes and trees in the area; no train should pass through the inferno.
On this Tuesday afternoon in late August 2019, nothing went from Nienburg. Since I had been commuting on the route for eleven years, I had already heard the conductor’s announcement in a few summers that the train could not continue because of a fire on the embankment. Each time he didn’t say how long the stop would be, how could he. There was only one IC2 in Nienburg, so no other train in front of it had been stopped by the fire, which had only recently been blazing or had been discovered. Shortly afterwards, an announcement instructed the passengers to get off, because the train should return to Hanover to make way for the next ICE. I took out my iPhone to explore the traffic connections between Nienburg and Bremen. The phone also told me that the battery was still 5 percent charged.
As a commuter, I bought the first Apple smartphone in 2007, primarily for this purpose: so that, in the morning and at the end of the day, I can conveniently and thoroughly find out whether the train is on time and what the alternatives are in a case like this. Over time, I was able to quench my curiosity on social media as to why the train I was on just wouldn’t move on when the speakers stayed silent.
In some circumstances, however, train attendants can be moody and talkative, for example at Carnival time when the train approaches Düsseldorf and the announcer clearly shows that he is from Cologne. In May 2020 a train attendant left announce the following: “And finally, a note to all conspiracy theorists on board: Please remember that the federal government secretly collects saliva samples in order to produce clones of you that you should then replace. Therefore wear your mouth and nose permanently. Cover to prevent the government from getting your DNA. Thank you also on behalf of all fellow travelers! ”
The Internet in the palm of your hand
The predecessor of my iPhone was a Philips Xenium 9 @ 9 ++, which came onto the market in 2003 and, unlike its predecessor, had the antenna integrated in the housing. It could bring the Internet to the palm of my hand with GPRS and WAP. This also made it possible to check train connections, but that was tedious, cumbersome and expensive. I opted for the Xenium because Philips had done away with all the new-fangled bells and whistles such as color display, MMS and camera and should therefore last seven and a half hours of chatting and 810 hours of standby. With the iPhone, I’d hopped a big leap forward on the mobile internet, but an equally big step back in battery life. A Xenium didn’t offer too many functions, for example to pass the time in the waiting room, an iPhone all the more diverse. It is not without reason that the Philips device has been called a cell phone for purists by reviewers.
After switching from the Xenium to the iPhone, I had imposed a rigid charging regime on myself so that the device was really ready when I needed it urgently in an emergency. I meticulously made sure that the smartphone was connected to the electricity every evening and also at work in Hanover so that it was nice and juicy on the go. If, for whatever reason, I had forgotten to charge, the power bank that I bought as a reserve canister could help out. Unfortunately, I had forgotten to load it after I had used it extensively a few days earlier on a camping holiday on the Baltic Sea.
The iPhone was just able to tell me that there is no direct bus connection between Nienburg and Bremen. I could drive from Nienburg to Hoya, from Hoya to Hassel, from there to Verden and finally to Bremen – then the battery was empty. A rail replacement service was not available, all passengers were dependent on using the conventional line service and crowded at the bus stops. Many phones were pulled out to reschedule appointments or just to let them know that someone was late for dinner.
I was in no hurry and let people get on the bus in the direction of Hoya, the first and the next buses that came until I was the only one left. The iPhone stopped making a sound. I got on the bus and asked the driver whether the three-change connections, as I still had in mind, were workable. “Yes,” he said, “get in.”
“It’s Brokser Marriage Market, all the drivers are busy. That’s why there is no rail replacement service,” said the bus driver to me, the only passenger. I sat down next to him at the front and he introduced himself as Helmut. I was only vaguely familiar with the folk festival in nearby Bruchhausen-Vilsen, although it has a similar status for the area as the Freimarkt for Bremen or the Kramermarkt for Oldenburg. I knew from immigrants from the Stoppelmarkt in Vechta that it offered them some opportunities for dancing and dolling and for days off in the fizzy drink.
The Brokser marriage market lasts five days and always ends on the last Tuesday in August. Between the tapping of the keg until the end of the market, the 400,000 visitors will be offered a morning pint, contest, rides, trade exhibition, bachelor auction and in 2019 the appearance of Victoria, the Helene Fischer double No. 1. I didn’t know any of this when I was sitting in the bus and not as usual in the train, in which many displays light up their seats.
In the early stages of my commuting, many people took their Weser courier out of their pockets on the ICE at a quarter past seven in the morning, if they weren’t sleeping a little longer. Today it can be heard very clearly when someone is rustling the newspaper. In the old IC, a man in work clothes would often greet me in the afternoons in Hanover, sit down next to me and take The rake at hand. With the change to IC2, the commuters sorted themselves again, this one unknown acquaintances I haven’t seen again since then. Would he still enjoy paper news from the Nienburg district and pull out the bread from his lunch box that he had actually made for his lunch break that morning?