More Things I Miss About Germany: Punctuality and Public Transport

Being in Ireland for the past couple of months has of course given me a new perspective about Germany and its many benefits. Every expat in Germany has some painful dealings with bureaucracy and at least one or two stories to tell that make others cringe and nod in mutual consternation. We lament the amount of stamps required and the lack of opening times. But I may have moved backward in time when I moved to Ireland. Bureaucracy is live and well, but things are most definitely not as efficient.

Like in Germany, I have gone to various offices looking for various stamps and certifications and bits of paper here in Ireland. But several times I have turned up at these offices during what should be opening times and found a piece of paper on the door proclaiming the office to be closed. I was used to being able to look up opening hours and train times and all in the Internet. The Deutsche Bahn, the regional tram schedules, the opening hours of my town’s Rathaus. Here I am lucky to find a PDF bus schedule from 2009 in the Internet, and the buses run twice a day to the town that is still 5 miles away from where I actually live! In Germany you can get a bus to just about anywhere, no matter how small. There are no guarantees that the buses will run past 10pm on a weeknight, or that they run more than once an hour on Sundays, but they DO exist!

Here the buses have funny names like “Burke’s Bus” and are run by what seems to be ten different companies. I haven’t even tried to ride one, because I can only imagine the lack of punctuality I could encounter. In Heidelberg, there was sometimes a bit of traffic going into town and it would certainly slow you down, but the tram was almost always on time. Here there is one road into town from where I live and if there is an accident, everything just stops! No detours, no diversions. Just stopped. There might be side roads, but most of them don’t have names, and I don’t trust that I would get home if I ventured out onto one, or even that it would remain wide enough to get through!

Public transportation is also vital for kids getting to school in Germany. If they are too far away to walk to school, they can take a bus or tram. Walking to school is completely normal and expected, even among the littlest kids. I would think that at least half of 7 year olds walk to school on their own by the middle of their first year of school. Here in Ireland no one walks to school. I think some of that is due to the sensationalist reports about kids being kidnapped on their way to school. I can imagine that this is quite rare, even rarer than it is in the US, but parents get paranoid and everyone drives their kids to school, even if the school is a block away. Here in Ireland part of the problem is that many roads are not safe for walking or biking, either because they are too narrow or because there are no sidewalks (footpaths) or both.

All of this means that parents are stuck with “school runs”. There are buses, which of course aren’t free, but only if you leave more than 3.2 kilometers from the school. In Germany I complained about school getting out at 12.30 most days. School goes longer here, but it starts at 9am in most cases, which means that school runs start quite late. Try starting work at a reasonable hour when you have kids to bring to school. But there is another contrast. In my company near Heidelberg it was often the case that everyone in your office would be in by 8am. Here in Ireland, people are still moseying into the office at 10am, and no one looks askance.

I have to say that I might have become slightly more German in all my years there. I am a morning person, and starting work at 9.30am makes me feel like the day is half over when I get there. And I am still very punctual, which probably annoys people here. I guess we will see how this develops as I spend more time among the Irish!