Friday, March 21, 2008

Is Germany Sinking?

In Warsaw I had no particular problem connecting to the online world. No sooner had I arrived in Germany, however, a curtain of disconnectedness settled around me. Had I put my mind to it it would have been possible to find Internet cafes or other such solutions, there's no doubt about that, but the point is that my mind was elsewhere, doing the things I had come to Germany to do, and I didn't have the time or even inclination to run around looking for Wifi connections. The point of being connected is that it's easy, and you don't need to think about it.

So I lived without for a few days, and nothing serious happened to me. At the airport yesterday I picked up a newspaper to see what the world had been up to in my absence - what a quaint experience.

There may well be a deeper level to this. I travel often to Germany, and speak the natives' language so I don't look like a tourist, and it seems to me that Germany is on its way down. Not in a dramatic way, but rather in a Spenglerian way - it will take time, perhaps it's even reversible, but for the time being one of the world's powerhouses of the 2nd half of the 20th century (and the first half, too...) is slipping and sinking, losing it.

Here's a short piece I wrote after a previous trip, not long ago. If I hadn't already written it then, I could have written it this week:

The German train system is unusually easy to use. Every train station in the country prominently displays its tailored double set of schedules of arriving trains (white) and departing ones (deep yellow). These schedules not only give times of arrival and departure, but also the entire route so far or onwards, with the time of arrival at each station, the type of train, the track on which it will pass through, and other technical data that is useful to tidy minds. Once one reaches the appropriate platform one finds color-coded diagrams of all trains on that track, listed by time of departure, informing where on the platform one should stand for the first-class cars, or the on-board restaurant, or, say, car number 6 from which your visiting aunt can be expected to alight because she reserved seat number 36 a week earlier. A series of signs hanging above the platform reassure you that the charts can be trusted, since the next train is indeed whatever they said it would be. All this information is relevant 364 days a year, with some lines cut on Christmas.

The one thing the charts cannot deal with is delays. This used to be no problem since until recently you could set your watch by the trains, but alas, those days have passed. On a recent cold afternoon on platform number 5 in the Hamburg central station the tinny voice coming from the speaker above our heads told of 5 incoming trains that were all late; most of them had also been redirected to other platforms. Having lugged our baggage up to the concourse and down to platform 12, we were subjected to a different announcement, tailored to the delays of the trains that had originally been scheduled for this platform.

Harsh a thought as it may be, there is a faint whiff of Italy about the German train system these days. And it’s not only the trains that exude a hint of decline. Traveling with a Wifi-enabled laptop in the hope of being constantly in touch with the office repeatedly leads to disappointment, as this technology is far from pervasive. Otherwise intelligent people still allow themselves to bemoan the loss of jobs to automation, rather than the gain in jobs in automation – perhaps if there were more installers of Wifi routers this would be less of a thorn.


Anonymous said...

wann gab es denn mal pünktliche züge in deutschland? kann mich trotz meiner 32 jahre nicht daran erinnern...



Anonymous said...

In the seventies, there the trains used to be punctual. But nowadays that seems to be wishful thinking.
By the way, the Wifi routers you are so sorely missing are ofttimes not being installed because of opposition from people convinced that the radiation emmiting from them is harmful!!!????

Gruesse callahan

Anonymous said...

Better not judge Germany by their train punctuality ;-)
Next time just use the time to study the reaction of people to these delays. Germans don't have the Italian mentality concerning unpunctuality yet.
And as someone already mentioned, Germans are as health oriented as ever. This really is one of the reasons for missing WiFi here.
I mean... we are the country that has "Bioweather" (Biowetter) what do you expect?! ;-)
Interesting article none the less,

LuCkYlUcK said... ist schon sehr nervig, wenn man vereinzelt mehr als eine Stunde auf einen Zug warten muss. Das beste ist aber, dass man für so einen tollen Service fast jedes halbe Jahr noch mehr bezahlen muss. Eine sichtbare Verbesserung im Bahnverkehr habe ich aber noch nicht mitbekommen.

Anonymous said...

I returned from a year in Hamburg in August I had the same thought (that Germany is losing some of its German precision) while I was there. I was in Germany in the Army in the mid-eighties and again in the early to mid-nineties, and the trains seemed much more punctual then. There may be regional variations, but I doubt that since it is a national system. Maybe there is simply more traffic on the lines owing to trains coming and going from/to eastern Europe.

lebowski said...

Es ist zwar etwas weit hergeholt, aber dass die Deutschen etwas schlampiger werden, hat auch seine gute Seiten.
Die Tatsache, dass Eichmann noch hunderttausende Juden mit Zügen nach Auschwitz schaffen konnte, obwohl die deutsche Ostfront zusammengebrochen war, war eine logistische Meisterleistung.
Würde das Mehdorn heutzutage versuchen, würden die meisten überleben.

Dass die Deutsche Bahn heutzutage leicht degeneriert daherkommt, liegt übrigens an ihrer Privatisierung. Die hat auch der englischen Eisenbahn nicht gut getan.

lukaslehmann said...

das mag sein...
es liegt aber auch viel daran, dass Herr Mehdorn sich anscheinend entweder Gelder selbst in die Taschen steckt oder einfach nur zu geizig ist, was dann zu peinlichen Auswüchsen wie dem Bahnstreik oder mit der Abzockerei des Projekts Zug der Erinnerung seitens der Bahn die Grenze der guten Moral erreicht.

Anonymous said...

is this article meant as a joke? i mean, he goes from the lack of wi-fi to train arrivals and concludes that germany is sinking? i'm a little confused here, sorry, as this seems more like the reasoning of a child - oversimplification, generalization, completely flawed result.

Lydia McGrew said...

If one didn't already have independent reasons to think that there are problems in Germany, perhaps it might seem like overinterpretation. But as it is, it's just extra confirmation of what I already suspected.

Bjoern said...

mehdorn schafft es auf andere arten und weisen die unpünktlichkeit der bahn zu kompensieren. immerhin macht er noch kapital mit dem zug der erinnerung, der gerade auf den strecken der deutschen bahn ag ( und damit auch auf den gleichen gleisen der deportationszüge während der ns - zeit) unterwegs ist. vielleicht lassen die "deutschen tugenden" allmählich nach, aber da wo es geboten scheint, wird noch mit bürokratischer präzision deutsch gehandelt. z.b. wenn man aus ein paar toten juden/roma/sinti-kindern an die erinnert werden soll, noch ein wenig geld rausschlagen kann...warum nicht gebühren verlangen für jeden meter und jede stunde die sich ein deutscher zug durch deutsche lande mit ziel auschwitz bewegt? im fernsehen lief anfang des monats noch ein untergang, der der gustloff im zdeutschenf. passt doch alles wunderbar zusammen.

Anonymous said...

Trains being late could be one indicator of decline. But certainly it takes more than one to come to satisfying conclusions about german decline. I'll name some more:
1) The "Soziale Marktwirtschaft" is on the retreat. The gap between rich and poor widens. Now - THAT is a sign of decline of a country.
2) Germany will certainly - in spite of Merkel's couragious inviting the Dalai Lama - participate in the Olympic Games in Beijing. That is decline of morals and engagement for freedom.
3) The majority of Germans shows anti-american and anti-israeli tendencies. Again - disaffection for the power that guaranteed german freedom for such a long time and inability or unwillingness to stand up for the right to life and freedom of the israeli people - again a decline in morals through not appreciating freedom.
I could go on.