A few weeks ago I decided to treat LSB to a weekend away on Rügen (Germany’s largest island) for his birthday. I did a quick Google of accommodation and stumbled upon a nice holiday apartment at an attractive price.
I booked it immediately and told LSB not to worry about a thing; I had this whole trip under control.
Shortly before we were due to leave by train on Friday morning, it occurred to me to bring our bikes.
LSB looked out the rain-splattered window at the black clouds and reminded me that SNOW had been forecast for the weekend.
I told him not to believe everything he saw on TV. (I’m an insider, so he had to listen.)
Next, he expressed concern about the regulations governing bicycles on trains.
(As you can see, LSB has integrated very well into German society).
Defiant (because I wanted to bring the bikes) and grumpy (because it was morning) I grabbed the phone and called Deutsche Bahn’s Fahrrad (bicycle) hotline.
What – you haven’t heard of it? Rest assured; it exists. An entire service dedicated to urgent enquires about bringing bicycles on German trains.
After waiting on hold for several minutes (evidently they are very busy) I got through to Bicycle Hotline Lady (BHL).
“Where would you like to travel with your bikes?” she asked.
“I’m sorry. Where?”
“Could you spell that?”
“Um, okay. I haven’t heard of it. Give me a moment please.” At this point, it may be worth pointing out that I do not have a reputation for consulting maps very carefully.
I chose to stay in this town (“town” is, in fact, a remarkably generous description) because, unlike Bergen (Rügen’s so-called capital) Rambin is by the sea. Also, the charming holiday apartment there may have been one of the first on the list of Google search results.
Anyway, the BHL told me that although she had not heard of my destination, she was sure the same rules applied as to all other places on the island. Taking the bikes on the train would be no problem though we would have to purchase tickets for them.
Feeling considerably more gruntled, I told LSB the bikes were coming with us.
Several hours later, the four of us were safely installed in a train compartment. Like a model Deutsche Bahn couple, we cast our glances away from our bicycles only to admire the passing northern German scenery.
We were nearing Stralsund, a few stops away from our destination, when an announcement on the intercom told us that we must get out and avail of Ersatzverkehr (replacement transport) for our onward journey.
We disembarked awkwardly and followed the signs pointing to the Ersatzverkehr.
They led us to a bus outside, where a line of passengers from our train had already formed. Seeing us approach with our bikes, a woman in front of us said: “Boah! Are you going to be let on with those?”
“I’d better be!” I reply. “I have a Fahrrad ticket!”
“My best advice is to flirt with the driver,” she said ruefully, living up to the German reputation for practicality.
I approached him tentatively.
“No bikes,” he said.
“Yes. The plans for Ersatzverkehr have been well publicised in the last few weeks.”
“But what about my Fahrrad ticket?” I asked.
“It does not cover Ersatzverkehr. If you would like to complain to Deutsche Bahn for providing insufficient information, you can contact them via these channels,” he said, slipping me a card.
This flirting thing was not going well.
“There is nothing we can do. This is company policy,” he continued, climbing into the driver’s seat and shutting the door.
It was only when the bus drove off and the wind began to howl that it really hit us.
We were stranded.
And headed for a place no one seemed to have heard of.
To be continued