Click Here For an Extended Metaphor About Trains

Michelle Berger
November 9, 2016

I had heard really, really good things about the Deutsche Bahn. Super fast, super reliable, super comfortable. Can't beat German engineering and efficiency, right? I booked my travel to and from Munich via train as a treat for myself, looking forward to a luxurious and relaxing experience.

That is how I came to be a passenger on IC 61470 as the hours of November 8th and the morning of November 9th crept by. I was suspended in transportational limbo and traveling in and out of dead zones as the US election unfolded. At the same time, it became increasingly apparent that the Deutsche Bahn is no USS Enterprise, after all.

My train coach was packed, the air becoming uncomfortably warm. Our entire section of the train smelt strongly of beer, eminating from the impressive number of empty bottles littering a table behind me occupied by two older men. It was an overnight train and I had intended to sleep, but it turns out that the seats don't recline and the overhead lights remained on permanently.  

All of this would have been tolerable, even comical, had it not been for the tortuous nature of our progress down the track to Berlin. We stopped frequently, with no explanation, sometimes surrounded entirely by the pitch black of the German countryside. At times when we did get underway, I felt conscious of the conductor riding the breaks. Our delay increased from 10 minutes to 20, and then 45, and finally an hour.

Although I tried to sleep I found myself waking frequently. Glued to my phone, I refreshed CNN every time that I picked up even the tiniest signal. Perhaps I would have had a different impression if I had been able to watch the coverage all the way through, but it seems to me that the race was not even close. My chest constricted throughout the night as if I were slowly, but unquestionably, drowning. 

For awhile, in my exhaustion and frustration, my emotions depended entirely on the movement of the train. When we were stopped—for unknown durations in remote spots along the route—I perceived Donald Trump as gaining ground. Digging my nails into my own skin on the back of my hand, I would will the train to start up again. Somehow, the forward motion was much better. When we were progressing, swaying with a gentle regularity as we sped down the tracks, I could concoct for myself an image of Hillary Clinton, swearing in to the office of Commander in Chief. I internally practiced saying “wir haben eine Presidentin” (we have a President, using the feminine form of the word).

We made it to Berlin well after sunrise. On the way out I was handed a voucher, should I want my money back (I do). By the time I stepped out of the train and onto the platform, there was no mistaking the result. Donald Trump is president of the United States. No money back on that one.

My cab driver was listening in dismay to the German radio announcers breaking the news, mixed with concerns about global security and the economy. I hated that I had to speak to him to tell him the address, because I wanted to hide my accent. I wasn’t able to. He told me how everything in America just seems to be getting “schlimmer” (worse). I didn’t know what to say. A few hours later I bought a burrito. The woman who wrapped my burrito asked me where I was from. “England?” she guessed. Say yes! My brain screamed. But I know that I cannot just discard my nationality because I no longer like the color it has been dyed. “No, the United States.” Her eyes widened. “Trump!” She said it and the meaning was clear. A few moments later, waiting for my friend to purchase gnocchi, I heard his servor ask, “how do you feel?”

How do you feel? Yikes, isn't that what people ask at a funeral? Are we living in a funeral? A funeral for what, I wonder?

How do I feel?

I feel like I am sitting on a train that is stuck in the dark and I don’t know why and I don’t know for how long and the air is getting warmer and warmer.

Pettily, I feel angry that this election is marring and soiling and overshadowing my time abroad.

I feel like I just endured one of the worst nights of my life. But my mom once taught me something important, after a night that was even worse:

You still have to eat breakfast in the morning. Because a new day follows every night, and you won’t have energy if you don’t eat breakfast. So you have to. And so I did, and I will continue to do so every day for the next four years, and that’s the first step. I don’t know what the next step is, but I think it is probably to love and cherish and celebrate those who Trump would seek to hate and blame and undignify—not just in words but in concrete actions. A simultaneous step is to really listen, because there must be a reason that so many Americans made the choice that they did, and that reason deserves respect. Take enough steps like these, and maybe we'll be able to power the train forward again.

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Michelle Berger

<p>My name is Michelle, and I&#39;m a junior from The George Washington University, where I study Sociology with a minor in Classics.&nbsp;&nbsp;I&#39;m looking forward to gaining a global perspective during my semester in Berlin and sharing it with others!&nbsp;At school I&#39;m involved in student theater and community service, and I love to explore to DC with friends.</p>

2016 Fall
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