In den letzen Wochen durfte ich mehreren Kollegen und Freunden hier die Vorzüge des Tarifssystems der Deutschen Bahn erklären, weil sie dringend zu Konferenzen nach Bonn mussten oder das Bedürfnis haben, die Wunder des Ruhrgebiets bzw. Berlins für wenig Geld zu erkunden. Was nun folgt, ist sozusagen der "director's cut -- extended edition" der Erklärung:
People who champion complicated tasks, are usually admired by their contemporaries. Neurosurgeons, for example, manage to poke around your brain without (at least on their good days) messing you up too much -- a task, the less motorically gifted among us completely suck at. Therefore we admire those who champion it. On a similar footing we should admire those people who have a grasp of the fare system and ticket machines of Deutsche Bahn, Germany's railway company -- not because buying a ticket requires outstanding motorical skills, but because you need to complete a decision tree of astounding complexity in order to do so.
Buying a train ticket sounds simple enough: You just have to know where you want to go when. Well, that's not even half of the story -- at least in Germany at ticket machines. Do you happen to have a 25 per cent discount card for second class? Or a 25 per cent discount card for first class? Or the 50 per cent discout card for either first or second class? No? So maybe you have
a 100 per cent reduction card? And while we are at it: What kind of train do you want to take? The regional IRE, S or RE trains, some intercity or eurocity train, or even the highspeed ICE train? Do you want to leave now, today or somewhen else? Oh, and by the way, do you need a connecting ticket for public transport at your destination? And last but not least, are you interested in collecting bonus points? And finally: How do you want to pay? Cash? Credit or debit card? Or you want to be billed via your discount card? If cash, be advised that most ticket machines only accept bills worth 20 Euros or less, and even those only very reluctantly. Plus, all change is given in one Euro coins or less -- you'll win a checkpot! Well, that was just to give you a flavor how it is to buy a simple train ticket at a machine in Germany.
But we haven't even scratched the surface. Take for example a bike with you. After going through with selecting your flavour of discount card, destination and favourite train type, you end up with a ticket for you, but not a ticket for your bicycle -- those are found in a very obvious location: Select "Special Tickets", then "Regional Tickets" followed by "Leisure time tickets" or something similar outrageous in the main menu. Crazy isn't it? Or another thing: In many areas all public transport (trains, buses, subway, donkeys..) are integrated into some regional public transport network. That means, that while outside the area of whatever public transport in question you can buy a ticket from every place in the network's area to any other, you can't while you are in it. Then, the ticket machines will still collect all information (25, 50 or 100 per cent discount card for either first or second class, a desire for bonus points, the works) in order to inform you just when you get ready to pay that you are not at the right machine. The ticket machine for your local public transport network is somewhere else -- usually in some remote, damp corner of the trainstation.
But that's still not enough. The real fun starts, when you try to safe money by looking for special offers. You can safe tons of money by buying tickets which are restricted to specific connections. However, the logic according to what connections are cheaper cannot be the human one. Take for example a trip from my hometown Friedrichshafen to Cologne. The simplest way is taking the
daily intercity and six hours later you are there. But last time I took this route, I got hold of a cheaper special ticket by leaving my hometown five minutes after the intercity in a regional train, changing after an hour in Ulm to some random intercity and finally change again in Stuttgart (the next stop after Ulm) to the intercity that has just left my hometown five minutes before me (why a connection involving a regional train that stops in every village on the way is faster than an intercity on the same itinerary is yet another thing that baffles me). Summary: five minutes travel time and almost half of the full price saved for the price of two changes. But one can even save more money, if one is masochistic enough to limit ones journey to regional trains only. Because then, you also have the option to buy flat fee tickets (the mysterious Schöne-Wochende-Ticket and Länder-Tickets) and then travel all day long or till you can't take it any more -- in my experience, the former usually comes first.
So let me slowly stop. I guess I have sufficiently demonstrated, that making the right decision when it comes to buying the right train ticket in Germany, it takes at least the intellectual capability of a moderately intelligent genius. If you don't have that capabillity, you either pay too much, spend hours in front of the ticket machine or are kicked out of the train by German railway's friendly staff for having a ticket but not quite the right one. Wonder why I still love taking trains -- either I am just a masochist and don't want to miss out on that experience or I love the intellectual challenge of going through the ticket acquisition process, which is a welcome change from the theoretical physics I do every day.
P.S.: An niederländischen Automaten kriegt man sein Ticket innerhalb von 30 Sekunden: Einfach oder Rückfahrticket, Ziel, Klasse, Bonuskarte ja/nein und Zahlungsmethode in einem einzigen Schirm auswählen, PIN eingeben und fertig. Es geht also.