A Women’s Only Train Compartment?

A Mitteldeutsche Regiobahn Train at Leipzig Central Station awaiting departure to Chemnitz. Photo taken in February 2016
A Mitteldeutsche Regiobahn Train at Leipzig Central Station awaiting departure to Chemnitz. Photo taken in February 2016

 

Imagine this scenario: You travel on a regional train from Leipzig to Chemnitz, but wanting to get off at Geithain for an interview for a teaching post at a local school. The train has seven coaches like the picture above, but are mostly full of passengers. You try to find a seat somewhere so you can practice your presentation to give to the interview panel. You walk through one coach full of children returning to a school in Bad Lausick after a field trip to a popular church in Leipzig. Another coach is full of football hooligans from RB Leipzig as they prepare to crash the party in a friendly match with Chemnitz FC, taking place in the evening, the next two coaches are full of passengers, but one male is spying on a woman in the next coach you are entering, which is full of women and children. The sign says for women as well as children up to 10 years of age only.  You see mostly women occupying the seats, ranging from nuns and teachers to businesswomen and mothers nursing babies. You find it awkward but decide to pass on to the next coach, where you finally find a seat. Two seconds after you sit down, the aforementioned male predator sits next to his prey and pries her privacy open, only to get the “Blauste Wunder seines Lebens”- in other words, the biggest but most unpleasant surprise of his life (I’ll leave the scene up to the women to complete the story to their liking). 😉

Then the light bulb goes on!  Having a women’s compartment on the train is a great idea, but is it really worth it and why?

This experiment is being attempted by the Mitteldeutsche Regiobahn (MRB), where such a compartment mentioned in this situation is being reserved for women and children. Unless granted, men are not allowed to sit in the compartment reserved for this group. The experiment is intended to make the female passengers feel safer while traveling, according to a statement by the MRB. Other countries have similar coaches reserved only for women, such as Japan, Indonesia, Egypt, Brazil, Mexico and India, while Great Britain is experimenting with reserving areas of the public transport trains, street cars and busses for women. While the goal is to protect women from being sexually harassed or assaulted, this measure presented by MRB has nothing to do with that, nor the incident on New Year’s Eve in Cologne, where over 1000 reports of women being sexually assaulted were made. Only one person has been charged. The attacks have sparked a backlash against refugees coming to Germany, as many assailants originated from the Middle East and Africa, according to the reports. Many refugees have been harassed and assaulted by right-wing extremists, their places of lodging were set ablaze, and the right populist party Alternative für Deutschland has been gaining success and votes as their anti-immigration policies have gained enormous support and traction.

Yet the idea of having a women’s only compartment on trains have sparked emotional outrage between those who are for such measures and those who consider it absurd. The article and question for the forum posted on many facebook pages including that of the Files’ have been met with mixed results. Proponents of such a measure believe that it would serve as place of refuge against people who are potential predators, giving them a warning of not to cross into their territory unless (….). Some who have supported this either experienced such incidents in person or know someone who has encountered such a person. Opponents claim that by designating areas solely for women would be going back to the age of segregation, where every facility was divided up between White people and Black people only, resulting in the likes of Rosa Parks breaking the barriers on the bus and Martin Luther King Jr. having a dream in his historical speech in Washington in 1963. Some people responded sarcastically by proposing everyone wearing burkas and having a men’s only cars, which had existed in Saudi Arabia until just recently. Others claim that such an arrangement is not enough and that more police protection and stiffer penalties are needed to keep predators and stalkers away. This includes longer sentences in prison and heavier fines. The German government has introduced tough measures to deport refugees committing such crimes, yet psychological counseling is patchy and only a fraction of the population, both victim and perpetrator alike, receive treatment, regardless of country of origin.

This leads to the question of the effectiveness of such a designation in the trains. Speaking from personal experience traveling in the family compartment of an ICE Train such designations are crowded and unwelcomed by “normal” passengers who believe that the safest and most convenient way to travel is by car. A 2011 article explains why (click here). Furthermore, should it be successful in the MRB, how can other railroad providers designate them in their trains, as the newer models are either double-decker InterCitys or sleaker Abellios, both of which have a major caveat, which is space availability, especially if other passengers have bikes to take with (another article written in 2011 on bike space can be found here).  The intentions are there, but better is civil courage either by standing up and saying NO or having others nearby stand up and help by shooing the person away. Then the person should be reported and tough(-er) measures will help him understand the meaning of NO! There are many reasons why women say no, and an article written by a columnist explains the meaning and reason why NO is used and many times ignored (click here)

Inspite of the opinions from all sides, the question will be whether this new experiment will be the norm for all rail services in the future, or if it will become a fad and other measures to protect people regardless of gender and ethnic background. Right now, the experiment is being tried on the trains traveling between Leipzig and Chemnitz along the Black-and-Blue Line, which connects the two with Halle and Magdeburg, each city having a storied history with their soccer teams and rivalries. If successful, it is expected to be expanded to other lines, and eventually to other train services, including the Bahn.

But is it really necessary?

frage für das forum

 

 

1. Do you think having a women and children’s coach in the train is appropriate? Why or why not? Make a list of advantages and disadvantages before answering, apart from the ones mentioned in the article.

2. Does your country have similar arrangements to the one being performed by the MRB? How does it work?

3. What measures does your home country have to protect women from predators and stalkers? Have they worked to date?

4.Using the two pictures below, how would you envision a women only compartment? Keep in mind that the double-decker train is an InterCity train with 10-12 coaches and the Abellio is a regional train similar to the MRB but has only one whole coach that can seat up to 300 passengers. Use your imagination. 🙂

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ICE-Line Erfurt-Leipzig/Halle(Saale) Open to Traffic

Galloping Gertie (the author's bike) and the ICE-T train at Leipzig Central Station. Photo taken in Dec. 2015
Galloping Gertie (the author’s bike) and the ICE-T train at Leipzig Central Station. Photo taken in Dec. 2015

 

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ERFURT/LEIPZIG/HALLE(SAALE)- It took 25 years of planning, of which 19 years of construction and delays, but now, the new ICE Train Line has become a reality. Several prominent politicians, including German chancellor Angela Merkel, the ministers of Thuringia, Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt and the CEO of the German Railways (Die Bahn) were on hand at Leipzig Central Station to open the new rail line between Erfurt and Leipzig/Halle to rail traffic. According to information from German public radio/TV MDR, the ceremony featured two special ICE-T trains, carrying invited guests, travelling side-by-side from Erfurt to its final destination in Leipzig, where they were greeted by hundreds of people including those involved in the 2.9 billion Euro project. “The new ICE line is a gift for the 25-years of German unity,” said Merkel at the ceremony in Leipzig. Thuringian minister Bodo Ramelow considered this day a historic one and the line would turn Thuringia into a economic hub.  The Erfurt-Leipzig/Halle line is part of the project to connect Berlin and Munich via Erfurt and the Thuringian Forest, and the northern part is half of the two-part project, which will start serving passengers beginning on Sunday. The southern part from Erfurt to Nuremberg via Suhl is expected to be completed in 2017, even though all of the bridges and tunnels have been completed already.

The opening of the northern half of the new line will mark the beginning of the end of long-distance train service for Weimar, Naumburg and Jena, for Weimar will lose its ICE stop by year’s end and will have InterCity trains stopping in the city. Jena and Naumburg will still have their ICE stops until the end of 2017. Afterwards InterCity trains are expected to serve the two cities with Jena-Göschwitz train station to become Jena Central Station and serving InterCity lines between Karlsruhe and Leipzig (after 2023) and between Chemnitz/Gera and Cologne (after 2017). Also planned after 2017 is ICE to Berlin from Jena twice a day. The cities will also lose its night train network, as Die Bahn plans to decommision the City Night Line service altogether by 2017. A CNL line connecting Prague and Berlin with Basel and Zurich runs through Naumburg, Weimar and Erfurt. Whether another international line connecting Paris and Moscow via Erfurt will use the new line or the old one remains open.

 

Halle(Saale) Central Station. Photo taken in Dec. 2015
Halle(Saale) Central Station. Photo taken in Dec. 2015

Here are some interesting facts to know about the northern half of the ICE line between Erfurt and Leipzig/Halle:

  1. The new rail line is 123 kilometers long, which is half the distance needed with the older line going through Weimar and Naumburg
  2. One can reach Leipzig in 40 minutes and Halle (Saale) in 35. This is half to a third as long as with the old line, counting the stops, regardless of what type of long-distance train used.
  3. The trip to Berlin from Frankfurt (Main) is reduced by up to 50 minutes.
  4. ICE Trains travelling the new line can maximize their speed to 300 kilometers/hour (187 miles/hour)
  5. The opening of the line will also usher in the ICE-Sprinter connecting Berlin with Frankfurt with stops in either Erfurt or Leipzig. Before, the Sprinter travelled north to Hanover before heading east to the German capital.
  6. Seven bridges and two tunnels serve the new line. The longest tunnel is the Finnetunnel, which is 6.9 kilometers long and located at the border between Thuringia and Saxony-Anhalt near Bad Bibra. The longest bridge is the Saale/Elster Viaduct, located south of Halle (Saale) near Schkopau. The 8.5 kilometer long bridge features a 6.4 kilometer long viaduct (Leipzig-bound) crossing the two rivers and the 2.1 kilometer long branch viaduct going to Halle (Saale). The viaduct is the longest of its kind in Europe.
  7. Freight trains can also use the new line, but will be restricted to night time use only due to less train traffic.
  8. Die Bahn plans to install a automated man-less train system on the line in the future- most likely when the entire line is finished in 2017. Basically, trains would be operated automatically from the train stations, and can stop automatically when problems arises. The Shinkansen high-speed train in Japan is the only system known to have this function.
  9. Citizens in Halle (Saale) will benefit from the connection as its train station is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year.
  10. The opening will mark the total completion of the renovation of Leipzig Central Station, which included an underground tunnel connecting the station with the Bavarian railway station south of the city, and the introduction and expansion of the City Lines (S-bahn) connecting the city with Bitterfeld, Halle, Geitahin, Altenberg and Zwickau.
  11. The opening of the line will also usher in the introduction of the Abellio train service to serve Erfurt and points to the east. Abellio is owned by the Dutch Rail Services.

 

Erfurt Central Station after the snow storm in December 2010
Erfurt Central Station after the snow storm in December 2010

More information on the ICE-Trains can be found here. Otherwise, here’s a question for our travellers: which is better: train lines that get you to your destination directly without any chance of seeing much of the view because of speed and time or train lines with stops in between to provide some scenic views? It depends on which line has to offer, but what is your view?

 

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Genre Feature: Thank you for travelling with the Deutsche Bahn

Delays, Cancellations and Strikes, as seen in this photo taken in May 2015
Delays, Cancellations and Strikes, as seen in this photo taken in May 2015

“Meine Damen und Herren, bitte beachten Sie: ICE 1209 nach Berlin Hauptbahnhof, Abfahrt 13:37 fällt heute aus.”

“Auf Grund von Streiks endet alle Züge in Buxtehude. Wir bitte um Verständnis.”

“Meine Damen und Herren, wegen der Klimaanlage sind Wagen 3 bis 5 im IC 2230 nicht verfügbar. Wir bitten um Entschuldigung.”

Cancellation of an ICE Train, trains ending in the middle of nowhere because of strikes, and three coaches are inhabitable because of a malfunctioning air conditioner. Factors which one would normally not find in Germany, especially with the Deutsche Bahn. Yet, they are the norm. And with each unexpected announcement comes more head shaking and many people looking for other forms of transportation because of announcement’s absurdity. Living in Germany for many years now and being an avid fan of train travel, one has to get used to the unexpected, despite the promises made by The Bahn to make services more convenient. But with each attempt comes another “Panne!”  Another strike, another broken down computer system in an ICE train, train detours because of people setting fires to cables along the tracks, and fights over how to utilize the children’s area on a regional train. One has to witness them all in order to appreciate what the Bahn has to offer. 🙂

There are many works written about the Bahn, some of which are poking fun at the way the train service has been treating their customers- one of which I will get to in a not so distant future 😉 – yet this genre of the week looks at the a capella version of the Bahn. Featuring Daniel (Dän) Dickopf, Edzard (Eddi) Hüneke, Marc(Sari) Sahr, Andrea Figallo, and Nils Olfert, the group Wiseguys is in its 21st year in business, and is known as one of the most popular vocal groups in post-Reunification Germany. Formed in Cologne in 1995, the group has released 16 single albums featuring many satire songs mainly in German, but also some in English. They have performed mainly in German-speaking countries but have made rare appearances in the US, Canada, Poland, Luxembourg and the UK. The song “Thank You for Traveling with Deutsche Bahn,” produced in 2012, is a pun in connection with the attempts to make announcements on the trains in English, only to be ashamed of the strong German dialect that comes out of their mouths. While some announcers have done a great job of trying to conceal that flaw, others I have heard were way too over-confident when speaking that they have been analogized with the Americans trying to learn French (Believe me, you don’t want to go there!)  In either case, if you choose to travel by train next time, whether you are a tourist or someone wanting to take a vacation, this is what you can get into while traveling with the Bahn (Enjoy! 🙂 )

But yet there are some things a person can be happy about, when traveling with the Bahn. One of which is in the next entry…..

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Single and Businessman Bahn: No Children Allowed!

ICE Train on the Berlin-Munich route at the Saale River Bridge near Grossheringen (Thuringia)- Photo taken in June 2011

 

 

 

 

After getting bombarded with non-column-related commitments in the last weeks (which explains my reason for my absence from the Flensburg Files) and almost losing it in the entire process, I decided to flee the world of academia and all the proliterian politics that went along with that and spend my Pentecost weekend at the Baltic Sea again, this time in the northeast corner of Germany on the island of Usedom, where I was able to enjoy a good dip in the water and a good bake in the sun for the entire time I was there, no matter where I went.

Going roundtrip by train to this destination was a bit of a challenge, though. While I had to put up with crowded people going north to my destination, feeling scrunched after being surrounded by women sitting across from and next to me on the first leg going from Erfurt to Berlin via Halle and a bit displaced sitting in the supposedly good carriage provided by the Deutsche Bahn on the EuroCity to Züssow (where I got off to board my train to Usedom), even though the Czechs provided more luxurious and sexier coaches and food, going back to Erfurt was an experience not worth forgetting, but worth writing about.

On the stretch from Berlin heading south via ICE, I saw an incident which if one has a child like I do, one can relate to it. In the children’s compartment of the train, which was a small room about 4m long and only 1 meter wide, a mother with a 2 ½ year-old daughter were boarding the train and wanted to move the baby carriage to the Bord Restaurant, which was next door, as there was some free space there and the little one wanted to play around in the child compartment. The ticket personnel, who saw this, ordered the mother to bring the carriage back into the compartment claiming that it was not allowed to park it in the Bord Restaurant and that there was enough space to store it- IN THE CHILDREN’S COMPARTMENT!  Why do I have the last ones in capital letters? Well, to elaborate more about the children’s compartment further, I should provide you with a further but brief description so that you have an idea what I’m talking about:

  1. Over half the space in the children’s compartment consisted of seating, which is almost impossible to reserve in advance- unless you book half a year in advance; almost like booking your plane ticket for a Trans-Atlantic flight.
  2. There was limited possibilities for children to play with their toys, let alone use the playground equipment provided on the train- there was one rocking horse and a puzzle board, whose pictures were missing. By the way, one should mention that it was made by a very popular puzzle company named Ravensburger.
  3. Most irritating was the fact that the armrest was all made of wood and NOT padded. That combined with the fact that the seat was right next to the rocking horse, it provided less space for the child to move around and more risk of a child bumping his/her head against the armrest, even if it is adjusted.

It was at this point that I concluded that the German railways should change its name from the Deutsche Bahn to the Single and Businessman Bahn (SBB) for its lack of sensitivity to the increasing needs of families with children. While one cannot use SBB, as it has been taken by the Swiss, they and some of the neighboring countries have done much better in terms of accommodating the needs of families.  Since the German government has introduced incentives to encourage parents to have children in 2006- by providing more financial incentives for mothers to stay at home to care for their children for 2-3 years as well as allowing fathers to stay home while the mother is working- the birth rate in Germany has increased in the last three years to its current rate of 8.3 out of 1000, up from its lowest rate in history in 2009 at 8.18 per 1000. While that puts the country still near the bottom of the rankings (the USA has a birth rate of 13 for every 1000, ranking it at 153rd), it does not reflect on the difference in regions where the baby boom is taking place. In the eastern and northern parts of Germany, the rates are much higher than those in the western part. Aware of the fact that the German population is slowly dying off (with one statistic from 2006 claiming that this far-fetched prediction will happen in 2080), there has been an attempt to try and increase the birth rate to offset the aging population.

Yet still, when looking at the current situation and the ICE incident as an example, it shows that Germany is not ready for change and more so for encouraging families to have children, despite initiatives by the government. For instance, jobs are going to regions in the western part of the countries, in places like Frankfurt, Munich, Stuttgart, and the Ruhr Region (where Cologne, Duesseldorf and Dortmund are located), where housing is scarce and expensive and the environment is child-unfriendly. More women are choosing a career over children, fearing that maternity leave would mean being a stay-at-home mom forever.  And when it comes to even the tiniest conveniences, like travelling by train for example, Germany falls flat on its face, although the country does a very good job in providing as much green as possible for children to go out and play, such as parks and other natural places along certain bodies of water.

It is logical that a train should not be converted into a jungle gym for children. But by the same token, more space for families with children is needed; especially on long trips when children become bored and ancy to a point where they do not sit still in the end. Children should be allowed to walk around and play with other children while they endure many hours of travelling. In order to do that, I do have a few suggestions that might be useful:

  1. Replace the wooden armrests with those made of cloth for more protection against head injuries

  2. Fewer seats and more space in the children’s compartment of all ICE trains, while at the same time,

  3. Add another compartment in the ICE train making each one have two of them

  4. Provide more space for baby carriages so that the children’s compartment is not used as a parking lot

  5. Empower the families to ensure that the train crew keep to the rules and respect the wishes for more space for the children.

The problem with these plans is the fact that many of these trains will be replaced with the new InterCity trains, which will be larger, with half of them being double-decked. The first ones will be rolling out by 2013. Other ICE models, like the one in the picture above will be modernized to prolong its service life even more. Whether these suggestions will be considered remains to be seen. But it is a foregone conclusion that should the Deutsche Bahn continue with its current policies, then families will resort to the last form of transportation that is really expensive (because of gas prices), which is the car. Then the DB can change its name to SBB, for after all, most of the passengers are either single, a couple with no children, or businessmen who love to travel in comfort. This will make neighboring countries shake their heads; especially the Danes in the north, as their trains are more spacious and more child-friendly than that of the Bahn. Perhaps a trip with their trains to Copenhagen and points to the north and east will testify to that argument. If not convincing enough. then I’m sure the French, Swiss, and even the Englishmen can help in that department.

 

Now that I’m finished bashing the Bahn, it’s now time for some rum……

 

Some useful links:

http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,3804991,00.html

http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,4527195,00.html

http://www.indexmundi.com/germany/birth_rate.html