I was happy to leave California. After a nasty scuffle with an Indian TSA agent, sod the lot, I boarded a pleasantly uneventful flight to Copenhagen. I was able to sit in an emergency exit seat with over a yard of leg-room. The aeroplane was only half full and the air hostess, an affable Swede, offered me and the pleasant Dane sitting by me a choice of any seat – or row of seats – in revolting peasant class. We were simply chuffed at actually being able to sit comfortably – and not having anyone behind us – so we could recline. My flight arrived punctually and, almost without precedent, there was no queue at passport control. In less than 10 minutes my suitcase was delivered. In stark contrast with Sub-Canadian North America there was no insinuation, there was no aggro and there was no pointless tossing about of authority.
Being the daft sort, or more charitably, being left exhausted by a Transatlantic flight, I failed to think through transport options. I could have taken an Øresundtåg from airport to Gentofte, but I made the mistake of taking metro which required me to change trains. Alas and alack, the delay did allow me to waste precious time which would otherwise have been spent waiting about for the Viking. One fears that concerned neighbours might have asked for Denmark’s esteemed politi to sort the loitering Hun vagrant out!
The next morning, after Viking went to work, I quietly snuck across the Øresund to Skåne. I had to shop in Sweden, after all. How could I survive in China without Swedish coffee? How could I manage without Kung Oskar Pepparkakor? These things must be considered! Malmö, despite its terrible reputation, is a surprisingly pleasant city. It lacks the grandeur and grace of Stockholm or the elegance of Helsingborg, but it’s a far better – and more interesting – city than it’s made out to be in the media. Malmö was at one time Denmark’s second largest city. Malmø in those days was a great trade port. After becoming part of Sweden, the city would eventually become a major industrial centre giving it something of the air of a Liverpool. Well, a Nordic Liverpool with a definite Hun influence. I didn’t suffer in the least. Shopping completed, I rushed across the Öresund to Denmark. I made sure to buy pastries in Sweden before leaving – the Viking and I had a cross-country journey ahead of us.
I will confess to being slightly disappointed by his choice of transport. I had expected a journey by Viking long-boat, or even short boat – maybe even paddle boat. No, it was a journey by rail. Then again, considering that DSB’s trains seemingly pre-date the Viking era it might have been a journey of even great cultural significance. I half suspect that Tollund Man and I shared the same seat, separated by mere millennia. I remember very little of my rail journey from Copenhagen to Jutland. Within minutes of pulling out of Copenhagen I fell asleep – jet lag had the better of me.
The weekend went brilliantly. Viking turned 30. I made sure to remember that this was his last notable birthday before absolute obsolescence. His birthday party was a stunning success. Family and friends came together. It was so very civilised. Even the sun deigned to make an appearance, filling the rooms of his boyhood home with glorious winter sunlight. I envied him a little, I admit. My family rarely can be in the same room for more than 10 minutes without limbs getting torn, hair getting pulled and blood soaking the walls. As the number of guests faded away, so did I. Long-distance flights are taking their toll on me. Post-stroke, my energy flags even more quickly. I fell asleep at 17:30, an awkward sleep that did little to help me adjust.
I returned to Copenhagen alone. Wild, drunken orgies are so much easier without constant supervision. Okay, so I actually popped in to shops to buy a few things before returning to Gentofte and… Taking a nap. The wild, drunken orgy sounds more interesting, doesn’t it?
I had to return to Hunland the next day. Instead of flying, I travelled by train. Deutsche Bahn had a special. I could spend two nights in Hamburg and travel to Trier for the same price as a single flight to Luxembourg – and no beastly times! Zealand and Lolland. The Danish countryside disappeared behind me. We had to alight for a ferry crossing to Puttgarden. Across the border in Hunland, the staff changed. The almost human DSB staff were replaced by Deutsche Bahn. I grit my teeth when they demanded to see my ticket and national ID card. I was half tempted, because of their demeanour, to sarcastically ask “Without so much as a ‘heil Hitler’”? On the Danish side of the border, announcements were made in Danish, Hunnish and English. On the German side of the border, with little exception announcements were made only in Hunnish. The train didn’t change, nor did the passengers…
It snowed in Hamburg as I arrived. Not a lot, just enough to make all pavements slick and the city white. The woman who managed the flat I hired said that it was the most snow she’d seen that winter. Hamburg was grim. Perhaps it was the weather, but I failed to see much charm in the city. If anything, it depressed me. The city picked itself up from the devastation of the Second World War, but it still felt defeated – there were signs of destruction everywhere. I couldn’t wait to leave. My mood only started to improve after Bremen. The weather brightened, the terrain became hillier. Germany has become surreal. In a state of barely suppressed chaos it holds on rigidly to its pedantry and faith in illusory order.
9 thoughts on “Les Voyages en Train”
Nice memoire, CT. I used to like Malmø in the ’70s’80s, when I sailed in by ferry from Copenhagen on business. A favourite contact of mine was the Austrian Consul, a very civilised Swedish gentleman who ran an import firm, We spent pleasant evenings playing snooker at his home in a pretty villa quarter a stone’s throw from the Sound.
Janus: Malmö has changed, of course, but it is still a relatively pretty city. Some of its suburbs are another matter, but that is being dealt with. What’s lost in the hysteria is that there aren’t actually that many differences between indigenous sink estates and immigrant sink estates.
What attracts me to Scandinavia is that it is largely a very civilised region. It’s far from perfect, but it is orderly without the oppressive excesses of Germany.
Most of my contacts with Germans were concerned with industrial standards and regulations; testing protocols and CE marks. The European committees were conducted in English – which really upset the German and French delegates, but because I could limp along in German they were reasonably helpful.
The airline I retired from was half and finally wholly owned by Lufthansa, so on our flights to the Fatherland the handling etc was done by LH and they were wonderfully efficient. Every thing, fuel, engineers, agency happened when and how it should. Transport to and from the hotel was punctilious. We used Dorint hotels and they were excellent, not over flashy like Hilton or Sheraton but good solid plain comfort and you could rely on the wake up call. We also did a few internal flights for LH. I liked Germany and it was my (and many of my colleagues) favourite European night stop. My experience of the Germans was that they were quietly efficient without being overbearing, and wandering round Cologne Hamburg Frankfurt Dresden I always felt quite at home. I had spent about 5 years on and of in Germany as a child my father having been posted there in the RAF.
I only once saw the Huns discommoded. We had turned up to the Cologne crew room to operate the early Heathrow flight, and all the computers were down, so no weather printouts, navigation/fuel logs or load sheets. The LH crews (who were a bit standoffish) were hanging about like knotless threads and everything was at a standstill awaiting normal service to be resumed, no one knew when.
Of course we Brits where unfazed by this, accustomed as we were to operating in a fairly chaotic and unreliable environment. We put enough fuel on the aircraft to get to Heathrow with JFK as alternate (just joking) and shoved off. We completed a blank nav log and as for weather, I knew from the previous day’s synoptic chart it would be ok…and so it was. The German handling guy was astonished and I expected to hear some kind of complaint, but never did, so the Germans went up another notch in my estimation. If that had been Zurich believe me I would have heard plenty. Swissair (remember them ?) were always sneaking on us for something or other.
Janus: Germans can sometimes have a hard time following along and get annoyed. The quality of English education in Germany isn’t as high as it is in Scandinavia. Even younger Germans, even if they have some grasp of the language, often don’t speak it well enough for legal purposes. That these meetings were held in English but them at a distinct disadvantage compared to Swedes, Danes, Dutch, Britons and Irish.
Jazz: Things have changed a lot over the years and Germany isn’t what it used to be. Things are crumbling here, the country has been badly neglected and more and more critical functions are being performed by under-paid, poorly-trained part-time staff. Germany is becoming increasingly chaotic, but Germans are temperamentally and institutionally incapable of handling it. Something will have to give eventually. Either Germans will have to adapt to a muddled environment, or they will have to restore order and raise standards again. As for the Swiss… They have their country in far better order than the Huns, but they’re so insufferably smug and pedantic that it’s best to give them a miss.
It’s been a few years since I visited Germany.
I hope they restore order soon.
Getting rid of that stupid old bag Merkel would be a good start.
Jazz: The problem is that Germany has a choice between Merkel and Schulz. That isn’t a choice. Merkel we’ve discussed enough already, but Schulz is Merkel after decades in the EU. I fear that Germany is lost. Life will go on, but it’s an increasingly unpleasant place to be and I’m eager to leave.
I forgot to mention that one of the leading Huns was Bernd Plonka, his British counterpart Willie Burne – all of us in the heating game!