Commuting as a Community

Zach Cohen
December 8, 2016

Every morning at 8:38 a.m., I walk through Vauban, the alternative/hippie/college dorm community in which I live, and board the Line 3 Tram to head to school.  Freiburg’s trams are sleek and clean, inviting and colorful.   They are models of German efficiency; the entire tram system is so finely tuned that the city literally feels like it’s at your fingertips, and you’re rarely left waiting for a ride. Well, except when they only run on the half hour in the evenings, and it’s 11 p.m. and below freezing.  And you have to stand in the cold for thirty minutes before the tram arrives.  And your fingers and toes become deathly numb.  But that’s another story.

Three months ago, when I first rode the tram alone, I was just a wee-bit terrified; I didn’t know what stop was where, or what the intercom was saying, or what I would do if someone started talking to me.  Yet, with the passage of time, so too passed my anxieties.  The voice which announces stop names now feels like an old acquaintance. The names themselves, which once sounded so strange, now roll off my tongue.  My favorites include Paula-Modersohn Platz, Heinrich von Stephan Straße, Johanneskirche, Bertoldsbrunnen, Stadttheater.


My daily journey from my apartment to the IES Abroad Center is only a fifteen minute commute, but weirdly enough, it’s when I am on the tram that I most consistently feel like a part of the Freiburg community.

Though there are typically many Uni Freiburg students taking the same tram as me, there is nonetheless always a diverse load of passengers.  There are groups of rowdy school children, and there are little old ladies.  There are hippies and businessmen.  On any given day, I am just as likely to be standing next to someone speaking German as I am someone speaking Spanish, French, or Turkish.  It’s a true microcosm of the Freiburg (and Vauban in particular) community.

And despite the fact that the tram is often jam packed, it is sometimes dead silent.  One of the stereotypes of German people is that they are cold or impersonal, and while I can understand why that is perceived, spending time amongst these people lost in thought has given me a very different impression.  I do not feel a sense of coldness from my fellow tram-riders; if anything, I feel warmth in the face of the cold temperatures outside, as I know that I am a part of their daily routines as much as they are of mine.  We are lost in thought, traversing through this beautiful city, making our way through the world - but in this moment, we are all together.


Perhaps my view of riding trams is far more reflective that necessary - after all, it’s just a tram, right?  Well, if there’s anything I’ve learned over the past few months, it’s that while exploring and adventuring may help you get to know your city, it's the boring, banal, and insignificant things like riding a tram that can help make it feel like home.


Zach Cohen

<p>Hello! &nbsp;My name is Zach and I am so happy you are here! &nbsp;I grew up in Tucson, Arizona, and am currently a Junior at Occidental College, where I am double-majoring in History and International Relations. &nbsp;I&#39;m fascinated by the connections between the past and the present, and the role that history plays in modern diplomacy. &nbsp;Be sure to keep up with my travels as I explore Freiburg and the European Union this semester!</p>

2016 Fall
Home University:
Occidental College
International Relations
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