An odyssey through Europe (page 2)

Live in the moment

I end up relaxing on the train station, and just wander around – it’s surprisingly full, there are a lot of people, and also employees of the station that guide you around. After asking one of them how I get to my platform, they quickly get distracted by a fight between an officer and a few other people, apparently over an abandoned piece of luggage. Backing off, I make my way to the train platform, leaving the fight behind and passing the DEODS (the bomb squad) on my way there. 

After waiting there for more than an hour – not sure if I just dodged a literal bullet – I take the next train. My destination: Duisburg. Shortly after boarding that train, and right after crossing the border – where nobody did any passport checks, nor health checks like they said in the news –  I get a message from home: my mum is telling me that the Netherlands are trying to close the borders, and at least reduce the transit between them and Germany. That was close, apparently. 

The rest of the train ride passes trouble-free; Shortly before arriving I check for my next train. There is one 50 minutes after I’m scheduled to arrive in Munich. Perfect, if I make it in time, I’ll arrive at 5 pm and take the train to Innsbruck not even half an hour later. 

Shit is getting real

My train arrives in Duisburg, now it’s lunch time and I’m already almost 3 hours behind schedule. While I wait for my next train there, eating a little sandwich I packed in case of emergencies, I see several trains passing by, most of them out of order. The creeping certainty settles that shit is getting real, it’s getting serious.

My next train arrives, and I board it. It’s an ICE (which is already giving me flashbacks to the start of the trip), and it has great WI-FI, plugs and everything to make this next 5 hour journey pleasant. Shortly after we start rolling, a ticket inspector passes by. Having a short heart attack, I pull out my phone and show him the QR code of my original ticket. Is this gonna be valid? Is he going to fine me, throw me out of the train on the next stop? After all, I am in the wrong train, at the wrong time, and this train isn’t even to the right city anymore, it just stops at one of the cities I need to be in… 

Dreadful seconds pass. The inspector scans my ticket, glances me over… Then he smiles at me, says thank you and leaves. 

My heart drops.
Whoever you are, wherever you are now; dear inspector, have a good time.

The rest of the journey is great – listening to my music, playing Plague Inc. on my phone and just waiting for this train ride to pass, for the whole thing to blow over. How fitting for the situation.

Around 5 pm I arrive in Munich. I’m on time, and if everything goes right I’ll be home shortly before midnight. Or so I thought at that point, at least.  I exit the train, looking for the display to see the departure platform of my train to Innsbruck. There are a lot of people, most of them wearing face masks, all of them keeping distance from each other even in this crowded environment. 

“This train is cancelled today.”

After wandering around, I then see the display and there spot the dreaded words: “Dieser Zug fällt heute aus.” (This train is canceled today). My hopes of getting home at a reasonable time shattered, immediately I start to look for an information desk. A short time of looking around passes, until I realize: Although the station is crowded, there is not one person of authority. No information desk is open, no police officer inside the station to be seen, even some kiosks have tape meters in front of them to keep customers at a distance. I even find a piece of paper taped to the Info station: No trains to Austria today, whatsoever. 

I despair for a second, but then quickly realize – this is an adventure. I can’t do much but tag along here, find the next train, hope to get as far as possible. Despair is not going to get me to Italy, despair is not going to get me anywhere.

I call my parents, contact the friend in Austria: The news I get to hear is devastating. The borders are closing, and they closed everything for international trains – just shortly before I arrived in Munich. Maybe I’ll be able to cross the borders on foot, who knows. I feel stranded in Germany, don’t know exactly where to go, and long since gave up coming home today – maybe I’ll manage to get to Austria today, that would be the best case scenario.

The borders are closing.

The view of the Munich East trainstation.
The view of the Munich East train station.

After discussing it a bit with my parents, I decide to take the next best train to Kiefersfelden. That’s as close to the border to Innsbruck as I can get, and maybe I’ll be able to reach it still today. My hopes are not high, but after a bit of looking around I find a train. Departing at 5:30 pm, taking a bit more than an hour – Great, at least I’ll be able to be in Innsbruck at a reasonable time. That is, if I manage to cross the border. 

The train is somewhere off at the side of the station, it takes me a while to find it, but I manage. We depart – apart from an Austrian couple, who are very disgruntled and bickering about everything they can – I’m alone on the train. 

Half a minute after departing, the train stops dead in the tracks. We hear an announcement: “There are people in the tracks, sorry for the inconvenience caused, we need to wait until the tracks are cleared again.”

“There’s still people in the tracks.”

At this point I almost become hysterical, chuckle at the disgruntled curses of the couple, and just wait. Half an hour later, we start moving again, but stop immediately after. Another announcement: “There’s still people in the tracks – It’s kids, and the police are on their way. We don’t know how long it will take.” The conductor said in, not on the tracks twice. This upset the bickering couple even more.

More information followed, that we were one hour behind schedule, and had to exit the train in Munich East. Why? We didn’t get any info. We were supposed to take the next best train to Kiefersfelden instead.

15 minutes later, the train started moving again. Two minutes of driving, and we arrive in Munich east, where we need to leave the train. The next one is scheduled to arrive in half an hour. By then, I lost track of time.

Forced to leave but not allowed to

For a while I sat there waiting, listening to the few people on the platform, telling their horror stories to each other. Plane prices that increased by 300%; Relatives stranded in the USA; A couple that was tracking through Germany and now has no idea what to do since they can’t leave the country but also aren’t allowed to stay… 

The train arrives, and slowly the sun begins to set. During the ride I realized – I’ve been traveling for 15 hours now, and I’m still not in Austria… The train is awfully quiet. There were 5 other people in the train, one family with two kids, who asked me if this is the train to Regensburg – it was not – and a guy my age. The time passes like walking through thick jelly, everything seems out of place.

After a bit more than an hour later, the train arrives in Kiefersfelden, it’s the last stop. The family had left several stations earlier, and upon leaving the train I see a few other people leaving it as well. More than I expected, but I didn’t know what to expect anymore after all.

In front of us, the exit of this tiny station, two police officers guarding the sides. Cautiously, I leave – and they don’t even look at me. They seem more preoccupied on if the train will leave again, than any person stepping through the stations doors leaving towards Austria.

“How do I get a taxi?”

Good, now I’m right at the border to Austria. Now to cross the border… How do I get a taxi? As a student, I’ve never gotten a taxi. The only thing I knew how to get was an Uber – and those didn’t drive at this time of day, especially not over a border and during a pandemic. 

After googling for a few minutes, I get approached by the person from the train, the guy around my age I noticed earlier. He asks me if I also need to cross the border – in my own dialect, I might add. I affirm, and we quickly decide to get a taxi together. At the same time, a few other people approach – a backpacker from Austria, a couple, and an older man loudly talking Italian to someone on his phone. We manage to call a taxi, and get told it should arrive within half an hour or so, around 8 pm. I’m slightly worried, since the news was that Germany closed its borders – but I’m an Italian citizen trying to get home, they should let me leave, right?

“They should let me leave, right?”

The taxi arrives, and I realize: I don’t have any cash on me. Of course: I left in a rush, and being used to using my card in the Netherlands I didn’t bring any cash. I probably can’t pay this taxi. Fuck. I ask the driver, he tells me I can’t, but before I can even worry the guy from the train steps in and tells me he’ll pay for me. I’m thankful and write down his number to pay him back later, and quickly save him – without a name, just to be able to text after this whole trip. 

We start driving with the taxi, and within a few minutes arrive at the border – or what I assumed was the border. The other side of the street was blocked by a few police cars, a bright spotlight shining down on our side of the road, and we barely slowed down. Meters before we get to the check, the driver ever so slightly decelerates, the policeman waves at him, he waves back, and we continue without stopping. So much for the border controls so far.  

We arrive at the station in Kufstein, and enter to figure out the next train to Innsbruck. It’s in half an hour, and I’ll arrive at 10. The people from the taxi and I talk a bit more, and I share how I got this far – with a friend of my mothers she knows from work, who had been guiding me. He said he’d let me crash at his place, and even cook something for me (Thank you Bene).

Upon hearing this story, and hearing the name of my mother’s workplace, the young man mentions that his mother works there as well. Realizing that I still don’t know his name, we exchange them, and I ask for his mothers name as well. Unsurprisingly, it’s a friend of my mothers – and the young man and I even were in contact already, since his mother asked me about my Uni for him. The world is tiny, and I realize you can always find somebody you know anywhere, even with pure luck.

The world is tiny

Finally, the train arrives, and not even half an hour later I’m at the station in Innsbruck. I manage to find the place I’ll sleep at easily, and after my first proper meal in  more than 24 hours, I start worrying about how I’ll get to Italy tomorrow. I knew that there are a few trains to Steinach, and then busses to the border, but my mother organized a bus ride from Innsbruck directly to Meran. Happily, I fall asleep.

The next day, I walk to the station and wait for the bus. I’ts unbelievably hot, I’m burning up under my winter clothes, and I’m even slightly anxious: “What if those policemen over there come over and check my temperature?” They don’t, but they give me a dirty look.
Then the driver of the bus calls me, they are late, and will arrive soon. Half an hour later, they are there, and I get on the bus – or better the minivan. It is full, the driver and the front seat passenger are sporting a mask, there is a dog in the back seat and the car has a cracked front window, but it’s a transport back home.

A fast one, at that: Minutes later we are cruising with 170 km/h towards the Austrian-Italian border. Up on the mountain pass, where there is nothing far and wide, nothing indicates that this is an international border – apart from a very lonely sign that says “Italy”. And a long trail of Trucks all trying to leave Italy, slowed down by what is probably a border control I didn’t even see.

Not much later we arrived in my hometown, which looked almost like a ghost town. A couple of lonely cars, a single police officer, and an eerie silence…

Much like coming home, the whole trip felt surreal. Like starting in a world that is whole and nice, and arriving in something that is so obviously a quarantine zone was the most surreal experience of the whole journey.
Nothing felt right, not coming home, nor seeing familiar faces, and being unable to hold the people dear to me, seeing everyone in despair or disbelief of the situation. 

Here is to hoping this all blows over soon.

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