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.