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Bundestag hearing on long distance rail, night trains, Autozug

Screen Shot 2015-01-13 at 15.05.33On Wednesday 14th January at 1100, 3 members of the Bundestag from Die Linke – Sabine Leidig, Herbert Behrens and Caren Lay – are organising a public hearing about long distance rail in Europe. The title of this is “Rückzug der Deutschen Bahn AG bei Nacht- und Autoreisezügen stoppen – Nachhaltige Reisekultur in Europa fördern” (“Stop withdrawal of Deutsche Bahn AG night and car transport trains – Promoting sustainable travel culture in Europe”). I’ll be going along to the hearing and will live-tweet if possible using the tag #EUZuege in English and German.

The documents so far available for the hearing are: (all PDFs)

  1. Tagesordnung
  2. Stellungnahme DB Mobility Logistics AG
  3. Stellungnahme Jakob Kunze
  4. Stellungnahme Thomas Sauter-Servaes
  5. Stellungnahme Verbraucherzentrale Bundesverband
  6. Stellungnahme IGES
  7. Stellungnahme Joachim Holstein
  8. NEW: Stellungnahme Eisenbahn- und Verkehrsgewerkschaft

There are two interesting parts of the DB evidence, translated roughly here into English:

The night train connections Copenhagen Amsterdam / Basel / Prague ran on the night of 2 to 3 November 2014 for the last time. This business decision of the two partners DB and DSB preceded the decision of the Danish state, set the end of 2014, to subsidize the overnight train and to support the night train offer the DSB. In order to maintain the overnight train offer was no longer mapped to and from Denmark*. To compensate DB will offer long-distance together with the partner DSB in the high season from mid-June to early September, two additional connections between Hamburg and Copenhagen.

I cannot work out what the sentence marked * actually means – I presume it means that the paths had already been cancelled, so the train could not be reinstated. How this correlates with what Danish transport minister Heunicke has been saying on Twitter here is hard to determine. This is the key issue to work out in the hearing tomorrow. Can it really be true that Denmark offered to save the train, and DB declined? And does that mean there could be a chance to reinstate it?

The DB commitment for extra trains is OK, but not super. Normally there are 4 ICEs each way each day, with 4 carriages each, and 1 additional EuroCity (composed of 1 or 2 DSB IC3s – so the same sort of capacity as an ICE) each way each day at peak season. Two additional EuroCity services will be added, slightly improving early and late connections, and also helping to ease the chronic overcrowding on this route in summertime (and that was even before the abolishment of the night train).

Then to France:

In addition, at the timetable change in December 2014, the connections Hamburg / Berlin / Munich-Paris, mainly due to the high cost in France, taken from the offer. The total cost per train kilometer for the operation of the overnight train are in France to 70% higher than in Germany.

This is interesting for two reasons. First, it confirms what campaigners had long expected, that track access charges are at the root of the problem in France. Secondly, this vocabulary is harsh – DB talks of its partners DSB in Denmark, but there are no soft words for SNCF or RFF!


Berlin. From 26th October.


At 1747 on Saturday October 26th my train will pull into Berlin Hbf and I will be arriving at the place I hope I will be able to call home. Since a short period living in the German capital between October 2001 and March 2002 I have longed to return, and now I am actually going to finally manage it.

So why am I moving to Berlin?

Berlin is my favourite city. Nothing else comes close. It has the brilliance of a big city, without the downsides of London. It’s liberal and also (relatively) organised. It’s both historic and modern. It’s a city where you can find absurdity and tranquility within a few metres of each other. It’s a place that after all these years visiting still excites me, still gives me a spring in my step.

The move is of course not going to be without its problems. I moved from London to Copenhagen just over a year ago, and to some extent I am now just running away from how Denmark has emphasised my own inadequacies – my inability to find my place in Copenhagen, and to build any sort of personal or professional network there. I cannot look myself in the mirror in Denmark and have any idea what I could contribute that could not be done better by a local, someone better versed in the rules and norms of the society than I can ever be. Even were I to learn Danish to fluency I still have no idea what I could ever do in Denmark, what I could ever be. The fault for that lies with me, and with me alone, and my inability to fit. For personal reasons I am going to be back in Denmark reasonably regularly though.

Somehow as an outsider to Germany I find the challenges easier to surmount than elsewhere. I speak near fluent German already, and through working intermittently in Berlin as a freelancer over the years can call on a big network of people to work with. Many of these people do extraordinary things, they inspire me, and interesting things happen when I talk to these people. Also the whole environment around work is so much better in Berlin – I can go to events and perfectly understand what is going on (so far impossible in Denmark). More than a dozen old friends also live in Berlin, so socially things are going to work out fine too.

I am also fascinated by the prospect of throwing myself into German politics. I found myself behaving more like a typical German than a typical Brit when it came to my reaction to the NSA / Snowden scandal. Also on green energy and EU matters my views are reasonably mainstream in Germany, while I feel I am in a minority of one in the UK, and so far do not have the cultural understanding to be political in Denmark.

I will continue to essentially work freelance, running training courses about online communications and social media for political and governmental clients. That will still mean regular trips to Brussels, but I hope to be able to get more work in Berlin – I have some contracts there already and will actively seek more.

I will stay in a friend’s spare room in Berlin immediately after moving, and will then find my own place to live – trying to use social media to do that will be a subject of a further blog post.

Denmark is where I live. But I think it will never be home.

carlsbergIt was a normal enough Copenhagen situation; that’s what makes it frustrating. I was introduced to some friends of my partner’s in Copenhagen yesterday evening. Two of them persisted in speaking Danish conscious that I did not understand what they were saying, and the third – rather than politely enquiring about anything – proceeded to lambast me in English for not speaking Danish, asking me why I was not spending my whole summer going to an intensive course to make sure that I learn.

The problem, I have come to see, is that I actually do not want to learn the language, because actually I do not want to be in Denmark. Actually, taking that to its logical conclusion, I am actually not really in Denmark now. Denmark is just the place I live. The county where I have healthcare cover and a mobile phone contract. But all my work, all my friends, the vast majority of my purpose in life, are elsewhere.

In essence the guy lambasting me about language was right – to manage to really be at home in Denmark, the language is vital. It’s central. That’s correct, fair and justifiable. But with the language critique comes this kind of edge of incredulity – why would I ever not want to integrate in Copenhagen? The answer is that I have things to give up elsewhere, that taking children to kindergarten in a Christiania bike and drinking Carlsberg are not my sole aims in life, and that thanks to the nature of my job I can actually live in one place and not work there, and hell I am only here for personal reasons anyway. Yes, damn it, for me Denmark is not actually the best place in the world.

When I am in Copenhagen I have this kind of a craving for a conversation over a beer with a good friend (but I have no good friends here), or a chance meeting in the street with someone I know (but I know very few people here). But to get to that stage I have to give up more elsewhere, to travel less and work less, and to commit properly to learning Danish, and those are things I cannot bring myself to do. I cannot sketch out a future here that would be to my liking and hence I need to resort to a more minimal strategy to cope for now, and look forward to trips to Brussels or London for those beers with friends or chance encounters.

In short I think this place will never be home, and I only have myself to blame.

If I get 50MBit/sec ethernet, then do I need choice?

I’m moving later this month to Copenhagen, and I will be living in a 1930s block of flats in Vesterbro. The house is run by a housing cooperative (andelsbolig), and all flats in the block are provided with 50MBit/sec download, 20MBit/sec upload internet connections – for each flat separately, not shared. Details in Danish here. There’s an ethernet port on the wall in each flat. The cost for this? DKK 100 / month. That’s £10.63 or €13.43. If it works at the advertised speed that’s almost as fast as BT Infinity broadband in the UK, and for less than half the cost. There are only a select few places in the UK that can get ultra quick speeds.

So what’s the problem with this in Copenhagen?

Most Brits would cry foul. Choice is so central to UK broadband provision, where all suppliers seem to over promise and under deliver, yet the market is fierce and competitive. Yet in Copenhagen I have an offer that’s both faster and cheaper than in the UK, but I have basically no choice.

If Fiberby, the provider, turns out to be rubbish, what do I do? They are the sole provider for the house. To get an alternative provider I would have to pass a vote with the housing association, a lengthy and complex process. Yet of course the high quality, low cost internet can only be provided in the first place because all the flats in the block can bargain collectively…

I could of course go for the ballistic option and go for DSL down a phone line instead, but then I would be relegated back to UK sorts of speeds with that second-rate technology…

Anyway, I’ll report back at the end of August once this is actually up and running!

Destination Copenhagen

So it turns out that this has been a significant week for me personally. Only three days after I took the decision to cease the pursuit of selection to become a MEP, a further decision taken by someone I don’t know and I’ve never met has had further important implications. My partner’s efforts to get employment here and hence stay in London beyond August this year have not succeeded, and so she will be returning to Copenhagen this summer, and that means I will be going there too. Theoretically something could crop up which changes the plan, but that’s highly unlikely. From September I’ll be living in Vesterbro.

So what am I going to be doing there? Essentially the same sort of stuff I do just now – social media and web communications training, and communications consultancy. I’m my own boss, my work is flexible, so I can base myself anywhere. I’ve done some work in Denmark in the last 12 months anyway, I know some folks just across the Øresund, and I could theoretically do some work in Stockholm. There’s also a daily ICE train from Copenhagen to Berlin. I’ll have to cut back my UK and Brussels work a bit, just due to the practicalities of travel.

I am of course going to have to learn Danish, a process that fills me with dread. I know I will eventually succeed, but the process of learning Italian and Swedish in the past as an adult has been neither fun nor especially successful. Friends assume that because I can speak languages I enjoy the learning process – sadly not so. I enjoy communicating, not the process of slogging away learning rules and vocab. Døde røde rødøjede rådne røgede ørreder med fløde… Plus to get to the level I need to be able to work in Danish is going to be a long and tedious slog.

There are advantages of course – Copenhagen is a charming, beautiful and cycle-friendly city, and it’s much more relaxed and somehow normal than London. It’s not going to frustrate me in an everyday basis in the way London does. I’m looking forward to understanding what makes Copenhagen tick, and to do new things and meet new people. And of course the main reason for going is because of the person I am going to be living with, and that matters more than any of the other things.

Fingers crossed all of this works!

So who attends a Presidency press trip?

One of my questions before arriving in Copenhagen was: who are the others who are attending the Danish Presidency press trip? Now I have the answer – albeit only on paper. This is a picture of the pages from the programme (click to enlarge)

I’m glad to see Bruno Waterfield (@brunobrussels) and Peter Spiegel (@spiegelpeter) among the names, and also that EUObserver is represented. But what about European Voice (covered by The Economist?) and Quatremer / Libération?

UPDATE: I’m informed that Simon Taylor is from EV. Typo in the list above!

Danish Presidency Press Trip

Sometimes unexpected doors open thanks to blogging, and next week is one of those circumstances. I am spending four days (Monday-Thursday) in Copenhagen on the Danish Presidency Press Trip.

Did you even know Presidencies organise press trips? I didn’t before getting the invite to this.

Anyway, what am I going to try to do? I have the advantage – unlike the rest of the regular journalists on the trip – that I do not have pieces to file to newspapers or radio. I can choose my take, write as little or as much as I like. I’m going to try to give an impression of how a Presidency works, my impressions of the ministers and their level of knowledge of their briefs, and try to determine some of the prospects for Denmark’s stint as Presidency for the next 6 months. The trip features – among other things – briefings with Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, Foreign Minister Villy SøvndalRadikale leader Margrethe Vestager, Minister of Finance Bjarne Corydon and Europe Minister Nicolai Wammen. As well as blogging I’ll be tweeting on the hashtag #eu2012dk.

For the sake of openness: my accommodation in Copenhagen is being paid for by the Danish Presidency (and I imagine that is the case for the other journalists attending). I am covering the costs of my own travel. I am not paid to blog or report on this. I am invited to attend thanks to contacts I’ve made in the past with communications people in the Danish Presidency, both in Copenhagen and Brussels.

Comments and questions you would like me to pose are most welcome!