The world according to Sven-S. Porst
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• South Africa 2010 »
Going to Athens last month, I was reminded that unlike most people I really like travelling per se. Moving by train or even by plane is nice in my book. I collect the mental notes I made – and didn’t forget – here.
By sheer luck my travel plans saw me leave Göttingen with the first train of the day at 4:07 in the morning which was perfect to catch the plane at the airport in Hannover at 7.
This time I really benefited from the online check-in as I managed to cram everything in my rucksack and didn’t need to give up any luggage. The check-in site run by swiss/Lufthansa was surprisingly nice and well-working. It let me pick my seat for one of the legs of the flight and handed me over a PDF with the relevant barcode and even gate information within a minute. Much better than I expected.
Of course I have come to expect very little from any software in the airline sector. And, obviously, they fucked up my name to SVENS once more because hyphens are just too rocket-science for their booking systems.
Hannover Airport is a convenient 15 minutes by S-Bahn from the main station. And it’s not really big, so it’s relaxing to fly from there.
In an attempt to please international visitors they make announcements in German and English on the airport S-Bahn. The English announcements are mostly just repeating the name of the station. So I wondered whether they’re really that useful, seeing that the airport is the end of the line and our English visitors are usually smart enough to get off there. In particular I wondered whether it helps to make the English announcements for all the stations on the way as well. If you get off at Langenhagen-Pferdemarkt, say – which is just copied as Langenhagen-Pferdemarkt to English and not translated as Langenhagen-horsemarket, by the way – it’s probably German hinterland enough that you’d better speak German anyway.
The final bit about announcements that keeps irking me is that they started announcing the side of the train you need to get off on with the station name. I am wondering whether that really helps (are there studies?) It effectively doubles the length of the announcements to bring you some information which you would have figured out at a glance anyway. In addition to that many people, myself included, confuse left and right from time to time and those words are only meaningful when you’re supplied with a frame of reference. Hence, to provide that tiny bit of information, we end up with a statement like
Exit to the right in the direction of travel. Doesn’t seem worth it to me.
That said, on one busy metro station in Athens – Ομονοια IIRC – they had a similar announcement. But there it made total sense as on that station they opened the doors on both side of the train and wanted people to get off on the right while new passengers were entering on the left.
As I was changing planes in Zürich, I had a (little) bit of time to spend there. Well, it seemed very Swiss. Not spectacular, but very reasonably. Except for the silly prices they have. Not only that it’s in the funny currency of Swiss Franken, also that everything’s reassuringly expensive. There comes your 30 Franken box of chocolates or your 5 Franken bottle of water.
But, Switzerland or not, that whole airport shopping thing keeps confusing me. OK, I can see how the busy business traveller needs to buy some perfume or that expensive box of chocolates for his wife when coming back from those important whore-laden negotiations. Likewise I can see that people want to buy a book or a snack before a long flight. But what about all those luggage, clothes and electronics stores? In terms of choice, price, and – quite likely – staff competence, I’d suspect an airport shop to be pretty much the worst place for buying a suitcase, a suit or a laptop. Yet, those businesses seem to work, so people must be leaving their money there.
On my way back I had contracted a nasty little cold which blocked my ears and made the air pressure difference in the plane rather painful. I decided to get some painkiller in Zürich so the flight to Hannover would be more tolerable. And people were very helpful and friendly. The assistant at the next kiosk apologised for not stocking them and explained the way to the next pharmacy to me. I happened to be far away, at the very entrance of the airport. I still decided to go, despite the inconvenience of having to go out of the security check and back. But eventually I didn’t need to as one of the friendly security people just gave me one of her painkillers, which was a great help at the time. The internet later said they’re more for rheuma, but – by chemistry or psychology – they still did the trick for me.
Speaking about security, I remain baffled. On my way to Athens I didn’t need to show an ID once. Which seems perfectly reasonable, of course, but isn’t what I expected in these paranoid times. I still couldn’t take a coffee through the security check though, which I’d consider equally reasonable. Yet, my luggage was checked twice on my way to Athens, once in Hannover, and again in Zürich, with me having to unpack all the toothpaste, and electronics and so on. Despite me asking I didn’t need to unpack my 1970s SLR camera but then they wanted to x-ray it again anyway, commenting that they didn’t see many of those these days. When being re-scanned in Zürich I then automatically unpacked the SLR but forgot to unpack the MacBook. Which was no problem as those people just politely asked whether there’s a computer in my bag and then let me take it out.
Checks in Athens were even more relaxed. They scanned everything, but turned down my offer to unpack the electronics from my bag, scanning it in one go. No need to take off the belt either. Reasonable travelling. Rather oddly, I was not checked when changing planes in Zürich on the way back. Either they have a weird scheme of doing things or I walked the wrong way the first time (which I doubt because everything was quite simple).
Once I arrived back in Hannover, I was happy to see our plane was very punctual, hoping I could catch the train an hour earlier than I had planned. But friggin’ German customs prevented that plan from working. The thing is that German customs have a history of loving to dig through my dirty clothes. I don’t know which of their profiles I match but got in my way quite regularly in the past. Of course their incompetence wasted taxpayers’ money every single time. As I was a bit drowsy at the time, I had forgotten my scheme of refusing to speak to them (my experience shows that whatever I say, they’ll search my luggage anyway, so I can save some time and hand them my dirty clothes right away with a note to enjoy digging around in them) and didn’t quite ‘get’ what they were after anyway. Turns out that stopping over in Switzerland makes you suspicious of money laundry and whatnot. They cleverly asked whether I had more than 10000 Euros in cash on me, all I could say was
I wish I had and there they dug through my dirty clothes with the uniformed state employee’s eyes starting to sparkle when he found a little film tub in my bag. Of course I had a film in there – and someone with a brain might have figured that after seeing the camera a few seconds earlier – but German customs probably just enjoyed this to much to let it pass. I, of course, missed my train by a minute because of that, giving me an extra hour with a headache at cold railway stations. Well done.
July 11, 2010, 19:36
Concerning the notice in which direction to leave the train it’s most likely because of the blind.
July 12, 2010, 14:32
Okay, here is a working link.
July 12, 2010, 15:12
Good point. (The link seems to have been broken by the site, but others suggest the same.)
That said, I have yet to see a blind person on a train.
July 12, 2010, 15:57
I need to figure out a way to work the phrase “whore-laden negotiations” into conversation somehow at every opportunity.
July 12, 2010, 18:04