Liv Hambrett

Germany + Australia + Culture + Motherhood + Home

Travel + Life Abroad, Travel: Germany

Public Transport Anxiety (PTA)

Few things inspire such anxiety in me as public transport. Specifically, the moment of boarding and/or ticket checking, depending on when I come face to face with the elected authority. I carry with me an ongoing suspicion I am doing something wrong and will be publicly called out for it, despite any or all evidence to the contrary, despite whether or not I have taken the precise same route with the precise same ticket, numerous times. This anxiety, I believe, stems from an innate ability I possess which is to do the wrong thing, go in the wrong direction, get on the wrong vehicle and end up in the wrong place. That, and being publicly reprimanded for doing the wrong things (something I am fairly certain goes back to my days spent in an, at the time eccentric, all girls junior school, at which public reprimanding/shaming was a form of discipline favoured by my Year 4 teacher)

This general transport-related anxiety trebled upon arrival in Germany, quite simply because when I was called out for doing the wrong thing – and the chances of that are always high – I couldn’t understand what was being said to me. The second time I caught the bus in Münster, I did what I had seen numerous other people do, and hopped in the middle doors, as opposed to up the front. I punched my ticket and sat down. The bus driver’s voice coming over the speaker phone, as he pulled away from the curb, didn’t much interest me because I had no idea what he was saying and simply assumed he was informing people of the next stop. Turns out he was trying to make me come to the front and had identified me by my yellow jumper. Which is why the entire bus was staring at me. As it transpires, you’re not supposed to use the middle doors, or if you are, there is some unspoken rule as to when and I broke it. My heart rate increases and my face flushes, by simply recalling that day on the Münster bus, in my yellow jumper.

The Deutsche Bahn, something I have spent a lot of time on over the recent years, brings with it a fresh host of anxieties mostly related to getting on the wrong train or not switching at the right station and then panic-disembarking somewhere completely unknown. Like Koblenz. When I needed to be at the Köln airport. (Indeed I often sit in the Deutsche Bahn, zooming off somewhere, and if there is a period of time in which the upcoming stations are unfamiliar, or indeed a kernel of anxiety is seeded, without warning and indeed reason, begin fighting the urge to panic-disembark at the next station.) But it isn’t my simple dimness that makes the Deutsche Bahn and my relationship so rocky; it possesses its own idiosyncrasies, like constant delays that mean missed connections, and an aptness to change platforms willy nilly and not tell people.

Additional to geographic concerns, I am always terrified I’m sitting in the wrong spot – seat and class of cabin. It can’t be that hard, I hear you say, and no, I suppose it isn’t. But. It isn’t particularly smooth sailing, either. The seat-reservation system of the DB means, upon reservation, a little green light above the seat flicks on with the names of the two stations which bookend the journey that has been reserved, eg: Hamburg – Kiel. Then, from the point of the train arriving in Hamburg, en route to Kiel, you have thirty minutes to claim your reserved seat and if you don’t, you lose it. And budging a German from a seat they know has not been claimed within the 30 minute bracket – even 31 minute bracket – is like trying to teach a German how to queue. It doesn’t slide.

A lot of people reserve a seat and then don’t bother finding it, if either the train isn’t particularly full and they embark on a carriage too far from there reserved seat to bother finding it, or if the train is too full to move in and they are physically unable to find their seat. Which then leaves their reserved seat as fair game (or indeed most likely occupied by someone who knows it is reserved and doesn’t give a fuck). Should I opt to sit in a seat that is technically fair game, you can bet your bottom euro, the seat-reserver will arrive panting after 35 minutes and decide to try and oust me. If I take a free seat, you can bet in the time it takes me to read a chapter of my book, someone will happen to reserve the seat I am in and I will end up sitting down in the corridor outside the toilets. (Which is, incidentally, where I often sit in a semi-full train, because I know I can’t be ousted.) As a result of the seat reservation system, I spend any long distance train trips developing a repetitive strain injury in my neck from obsessively checking the light above my seat, to see if it has, unbeknownst to me, flicked on while I’ve been watching the German countryside whiz by.

I have recently partaken of the Bayern Ticket a couple of times, and despite travelling from Weiden (in Bayern) to Nürnberg (in Bayern) and having the assurances of SG and the DB information desk that my ticket is valid for the Regional Express trains, I sat like a stone in my seat until the ticket inspector had checked my ticket. And like a stone in my seat until he had checked it on the way back, too. My heart always starts pounding when the inspector takes my ticket, breathing through his nose as he raises his little clippers, eyes trawling the text, looking for my mistake. 

The sweet, sweet relief that courses through my veins, as my ticket, punched and valid, absolutely correct, is handed back to me, is like a drug, the high doubled if I am in a sparsely populated carriage with no threat of being evicted from my seat. Perhaps, and here’s a new theory, it’s this high keeps me coming back.


  1. gmtnunez

    4 October, 2013 at 7:21 am

    Oh, public transport anxiety. Definitely went through it in Chile. It was pretty easy to figure out on the metro in Santiago, but the buses were an entirely different story. During my first month there I ended up in a shady part of town at 3:30 AM on a Friday because the bus changed routes while I was on it, and I couldn’t recognize where I was. That was far from the last time I ever screwed up the bus. The language barrier and being blonde sooooo did not help.

    1. Liv

      4 October, 2013 at 8:21 am

      The old ‘wrong bus/wrong train’ situation – I always have visions of ending up in the middle of nowhere on a freezing, tiny platform, with no phone credit. As for ending up in the wrong part of town as a visible foreigner – pretty damn scary!

  2. Carmel (@carmelblanch)

    16 October, 2013 at 7:57 pm

    Loved reading this, I have so many stories about riding the DB with ridiculous connection times and ‘questionable’ tickets… sitting there with a racing heart while the inspector looks over the ticket..the sense of relief when he says something (incomprehensible) but move on to the next passenger…ahhhh..

    1. Liv

      16 October, 2013 at 8:56 pm

      Yessss, the racing heart as he glances over it, I hate it! But the relief … the relief.

  3. shellahudaya

    5 November, 2013 at 4:10 am

    First time got into public bus in Singapore and I entered the “OUT” door instead of “IN” door. The driver yelled at me and my friend, and all eyes stared…Gosh! I hope that would be the first and last time :p

    1. Liv

      5 November, 2013 at 8:56 am

      Nightmare! I would have gone bright red, like a tomato!

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