Saturday, October 25, 2008


Today I nearly got myself arrested.

I took the tram to and from the city center, to visit some Saxony fortifications, the Moritz Bastien. These, the last of the old medieval walls that once surrounded Leipzig, date from the sixteenth century. It was, however, the first thing in Leipzig that I found disappointing. Over the centuries, brick walls were built onto the small remaining portion of medieval stone. The vaults below are now a student club, to which I have no access. Above ground, the site is covered with a cafe, a now-deserted outdoors bar, and a lot of graffiti. I had a latte in a coffee bar and caught the tram for home, which is where I got in trouble.

Sebastian had explained to me how to buy tram tickets and then to have each side punched, one side per trip, by the machine aboard the tram. However, each time I've ridden the tram, I never saw anyone sticking a ticket into a machine. Okay, I thought, they punch the tickets at the end of the ride, as in D.C. But nobody seemed to punch a ticket as they got off the tram, either. Nobody punched anything. So I decided that the tram must be free at rush hour, the way buses are in D.C. on air-pollution days, or the downtown bus in Buffalo always is, and so I've just been getting on and off without punching anything.

Then yesterday a stern person came around demanding tickets. He did not speak English. I do not speak German. Frantically I produced an unpunched ticket from my purse. More exchanges unintelligible to both of us, accompanied by arm waving. Other people on the tram were interested but non-committal. Finally he took my ticket, punched it himself, and delivered what certainly sounded like a very emphatic warning, possibly with penalties attached. I smiled and tried to look even stupider than I already felt.

When I got off, I bought a whole bunch of tram tickets. At home was an email from Sebastian: It is possible to buy a month-long pass to show ticket inspectors, which is why no one was punching. I don't want a month-long pass, having convinced myself that walking nearly everywhere is good for me. But I certainly will punch my tram tickets. Now and forever, amen.


Julia said...

I had a similar incident on a train coming from Munich to Augsburg as a young soldier. I had a coach ticket but I inadvertently sat in the first class car instead. I could still picture the irate conductor chewing me out in incomprehensible Bavarian German when I read your blog post.

Another faux pas to avoid, when you buy fruit at the grocery you must weigh it in the produce section and put a label on it yourself. Cashiers go ballistic if you bring your American self to the checkout with un-labeled apples.

Have you had any gluhwein yet? Highly recommended when it's cold out.

Nancy Kress said...

I have not had gluhwein yet, no. What is it? Do you eat it, drink it, huddle under it?

Mindy Klasky said...

Jane and I had a similar tram experience in Switzerland, years ago. We were sending home "helpful hint" postcards to my mother every day, recording our trip and filling her in on whatever helpful hints we'd discovered. One hint, early in the trip was "Don't bother buying bus tickets; no one ever checks for them." (We foolish American girls continued to buy them.) A later helpful hint was "Always buy and validate bus tickets so that you pass snap inspections."

I'm glad you escaped without being jailed :-)

Julia said...

Gluhwein is a warm spiced wine served at the outdoor Christmas festivals in Southern Germany. You go to the gluhwein stand and they give you a coffee cup of warm gluhwein. You can walk around the festival with your toasty toddy and then return the coffee cup (or come back for a refill.)

Unknown said...

I really have got to comment on this, because it would be a shame, if you missed out on the Moritzbastei. Actually there's a café during winter as well, but beneath the ground. You've got to access it by going down some stairs. There are also cultural events almost every night. Just have a look at their website and maybe you might try going there again.
Here's the web adress:

TheOFloinn said...

They have the same system on the Wiener U-bahn. The honor system with random inspections. Except there you stick it into a date-stamp machine.

Nancy Kress said...

Moonrising -- Okay, I'll try again to find the cafe, and I'll access the website. Thanks!

Orion said...

I had very nearly the same experience using the tram service in Amsterdam. I was given only the vaguest of instructions by my Dutch hosts when they took me to buy the tickets that I would need for the two weeks I was there. So, tickets in hand, I boarded my first tram with the idea that I would just do what everybody else did.

Everyone else on the tram was using a monthly pass, unbeknownst to me, and all I saw was people getting on and off without punching tickets or showing their passes to the conductor, which was very confusing.

I managed not to run afoul of the conductor only because I decided to try my luck and see if he spoke English (my command of Dutch is sufficient for reading, but nowhere near good enough to carry on a conversation). Luckily, he spoke enough English to explain to me what I had to do (fold the correct number of tabs down on the little ticket and stick in into the machine to be time-stamped). I felt like an idiot, but at least I managed to avoid committing a crime.

It seems that everybody takes this everyday thing for granted- which, I suppose, is only natural if you have grown up with the system. It's not so obvious to non-European visitors. I wonder how many of them, Americans in particular, run afoul of the system.