On a train near Hamburg

Located in:

Hamburg, Germany - June 1999

Mossman and I were in the 3rd week of our European hostelling trip and we needed to get to Stockholm for soup while on our way to Estonia for the song festival. (the song festival happens once every 5 years and it's massive) Anyway, budget travellers know that overnight train rides are the same as overnight accomodation so the Paris - Stockholm train was a no brainer.

The train was packed for the first leg of the journey with only scattered empty seats. It was late at night and we made a brief stop somewhere between Paris and Hamburg to pick up more passengers. Heck, maybe it was Belgium. Maybe Holland.

All the passengers were dozing and the train was quiet. Breaking the silence was a loud, unrestrained grunt. The best I can describe it is probably how a man would sound if he had to give birth. The grunt was followed by a large THUD. Grunt, thud. Grunt, thud. I turned around to see a middle-aged man with two giant suitcases. He would strain to lift them, take a few steps and then let them drop. The train was arranged in rows with a set of two adjacent seats, an aisle and then two more seats. One of the vacant seats was just behind me and a young woman was sleeping across it. The grunting guy eventually "grunt thudded" his way to her set of seats and lifted one of his cases and dropped it on her sleeping body. She must have been scared or very tired because she didn't move.

"Is she dead? It's o.k., I think she's already dead."

Great. The grunt guy (GG) speaks, but it's English with a German accent and he's obviously crazy because he just threw his suitcase onto a sleeping woman and assumed she was dead. Now he's crazy, German, grunt guy (CGG). But wait - now that he's just behind me, I notice his terrible body odour. He badly needs to shower and change into clean clothes. His name is now stinky, crazy, German, grunt guy (SCGGG). Clearly unaware of SCGGG's stench, a male passenger gets him to take the suitcase off of the girl and invites SCGGG to sit with him. SCGGG completely blocks the narrow aisle with his two suitcases and takes his seat. If memory serves, he is two rows back from me...and I can definitely still smell him. The train, though now stinkier, enjoys peace.

During the next hours, I do my best to doze and I amuse myself watching washroom bound passengers climb over SCGGG's aisle-blocking suitcases. He doesn't seem to care. Another brief stop is made and half the train car empties because a group of school-aged kids deboards. Within seconds the familiar "grunt, thud" begins anew. SCGGG is moving past me to get a set of empty seats, and to put his luggage on the luggage rack. (to SCGGG's aisle blocking defense, there was no space on the luggage rack until the school kids left) Struggling valiantly, SCGGG manages to lift his cases onto the luggage rack and then sits down. The seat he now occupies faces me, but there is one row and the luggage rack between us.

Because I must be a nerd, I made a diagram diagram of seat layout on train so you can see the layout of the train and where the main players were.

Dawn approaches and the train continues on its merry way. In front of me is a dark-skinned French-speaking gentleman wearing a suit. He takes advantage of having his seat in front of the luggage rack and sleeps with his legs stretched out, resting against it. SCGGG gets up to check on one of his cases. He tries to lift it, struggles and then purposefully, according to Mossman, loses control of the heavy suitcase and it falls onto the sleeping Frenchman's outstretched legs. A small commotion ensues and SCGGG apologises and puts his luggage back where it was. He didn't open the suitcase or do anything with it, so why did he get up to play with it in the first place? He basically got up, dropped it onto the Frenchman's legs and then put it back.

This latest odd behaviour has really aroused Mossman's suspicions. In the meanwhile, one of the Frenchman's friends from the back of the carriage has come up to see what the fuss was about. He checks to see that his friend is o.k. and then returns to his seat. Now this is where it gets interesting. SCGGG has put on a jacket but he's going nowhere. He stands by his seat and just sort of hovers. I hear Mossman ask, "Why does he have scissors?". On closer inspection, he does indeed have a pair of scissors partially concealed in his right sleeve. He lunges and swipes with the scissors at the unsuspecting Frenchman in front of me! The Frenchman jumps up and fights with SCGGG in the aisle - right next to me. For whatever reason, my fight-or-flight reaction was to immediately join in the struggle - we had to scissor that French guy! Just kidding, I guess I feared that if I stayed put, those scissors could strike me. Mossman followed right behind and the three of us subdued the stinky creep. The scissors were taken from his hand using Mossman's clever, "I'm gonna bend his pinky till it breaks" technique. By this time the Frenchman's friend had arrived from the back of the carriage so it was 4 against 1. As we overpowered him, SCGGG was yelling that he was being attacked. I guess he thought he could trick witnesses into believing that we four strangers had ganged up on him. He also used a racial slur which resulted in his getting a slap from guy #4.

With the scissors safely out of dangerous hands, Mossman and I pushed SCGGG back to his seat and ordered him to sit. (kindly, he obeyed) I was bewildered, but Mossman was furious. Later he would say that if SCGGG had attacked a white guy, then fine but he attacked a black guy - and that's plain racist! There was a single row of seats across the aisle from SCGGG and that's where Mossman plunked himself to guard and glare; I remained standing and together we kept watch on the guy while someone went to get security. During that time, SCGGG began to speak to us.

"Do you speak English? Parlez-vous Français? Sprechen Sie Deutsch?"

<< pause >>

"What gang are you from?"

<< pause >>

"Are you nervous?"

That, claims Mossman, is when he began to feel nervous.

Eventually a very casual security official arrived on the scene wearing a normal suit with no indication that he worked on the train. He seemed amused by the situation and was non-plussed by our serious and worried demeanour. Perhaps this sort of thing happens all the time. We continued guarding the man while the security official simply observed. We would soon be arriving in Hamburg and police would be waiting for us there. Hamburg happened to be where we needed to switch trains for the next leg of our journey - and there wasn't much time until that next train left.

The casual guy must have done his job because there were lots of very official looking, uniformed police officers waiting on the platform and a couple of them came to escort SCGGG off the train. We were ordered to go with and Mossman was already worried about getting to our next train on time. A detective began to question us and Mossman just walked away to find our train. Fortunately, they didn't stop him. The detective didn't speak much English and I spoke even less German. He got my name and address but all I kept saying was, "Meine züge, zwei minuten" which means, "My train, two minutes." The detective didn't seem to care that I could miss my train but eventually he was satisfied and allowed me to leave. It must have been a strange sight for an onlooker to see police questioning someone who then abruptly turns and runs away. I feel a bit badly for the two French guys though. As I left, the one who got attacked clearly wanted me to stay and back up his story. I suppose they would want all the support they could get with the German police.

As fast as I could with my big pack did I blindly run down the platform. In the distance I saw a lanky figure holding onto a train and I heard, "Märt! Märt!", over and over again. Mossman had been pleading with the train porter to hold the train but to no avail. As I ran, it looked as though Mossman was trying, with one foot on the train and the other on the platform, to physically keep the train from moving! Without a moment to spare I got on the train and it began to move only moments after we lurched into our seats. We looked at one another and asked ourselves, "What just happened?". It's hard to prepare yourself for a scissor fight on a train against a stinky, crazy, German, grunt guy.

After that the rest of the journey was uneventful. Well, except that the Paris to Stockholm train boards a ferry in Denmark - not just the passengers, the whole train gets on the boat. And that's pretty neat.

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