Ein Jahr, eine BahnCard 100, keine eigene Wohnung, und ich
August 25, 2015 5:00 PM   Subscribe

After a dispute with her landlord, 23-year-old student Leonie Müller abandoned her apartment in Tübingen and started living on trains. On the first of May, Müller bought a BahnCard 100, a ticket which costs 4090€ and entitles her to unlimited travel on Germany's railway network for a year, and has been calling the trains home since then, living out of a backpack, washing her hair in the train bathroom, writing her papers whilst watching the scenery go past at 320kph, and periodically staying with friends and relatives across Germany. She has a blog (auf deutsch) and plans to write her undergraduate thesis on her experiences as a train nomad.
posted by acb (34 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
 
Meanwhile, the Guardian's former Berlin correspondent (currently based in Manchester) points out how spirit-crushingly impossible this would be in the UK.
posted by acb at 5:01 PM on August 25, 2015 [12 favorites]


So geht es. Es ist shon eine shöne idee. Hoffentlich werdet sie sicher seien, und immernoch frölich.
posted by Oyéah at 5:13 PM on August 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


that is $4724.40 usd for other broke college kids
posted by shockingbluamp at 5:21 PM on August 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


European rental agreements would tempt me to live in train stations, too. It would be more secure, and offer more value for your Euro.
posted by clvrmnky at 5:24 PM on August 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


Man, I did that (also in Germany) for a week many moons ago, and was a smelly mess by the end of it. I can't even fathom doing it for an entire year.
posted by Superplin at 5:26 PM on August 25, 2015


from article: “Müller frequently travels late at night, although she tries to sleep at the apartments of relatives or friends. Often, she is accommodated by her boyfriend, her mother or grandmother. 'Normally, we would have to have a long-distance relationship, but living on a train enables me to see him all the time,' Müller told German TV station SWR regarding her boyfriend. 'Most of my friends really like the idea, although some consider it to be quite adventurous. Others, however, have reacted more negatively: They feel offended by the fact that I question the ordinary way of life and living.'”

So, uh – her way of "questioning the ordinary way of life" is to stop paying rent and basically move in with her boyfriend, staying with relatives sometimes. She doesn't actually live on a train at all. She just spends a lot of time there.

I remember feeling the same way – like I was doing something new, something different, that nobody had tried before – when I first moved in with my girlfriend after college. I'm glad they didn't write any news stories about it, though.
posted by koeselitz at 5:28 PM on August 25, 2015 [22 favorites]


An article solely about Germany's wonderful railway system would probably have been too depressing for the rest of us without the quirky, relatable protagonist.
posted by Freelance Demiurge at 5:34 PM on August 25, 2015 [9 favorites]


Eh, identifying herself as "living on the train" is a modest bit of protection against being under the thumb of the BF or any judgy relatives. Dispute with mom? "So long. I am going home to my train." BF trying to be a controlling jerk? "I am outta here. Just because I sleep here five days a week doesn't mean I live here."

The ability to just up and walk away from some kinds of social friction without notice or planning or packing etc is one of the benefits of being homeless. I sometimes wonder if I will miss it when I return to a more conventional lifestyle.
posted by Michele in California at 5:37 PM on August 25, 2015 [16 favorites]


About five years ago, the German language internet talked a lot about a homeless man who lived in trains (article in German, auto-translation here), without staying at someone's place. He paid for his BahnCard 100 with the deposit from bottles he collected in the train. Unlike Leonie Müller, he preferred to stay anonymous (which, sadly, was probably necessary); but whenever I think about getting a BahnCard 100, I wonder how things worked out for him.
posted by erdferkel at 5:42 PM on August 25, 2015 [6 favorites]


Just out of curiosity I checked the possibility of doing something like this on Amtrak. It's $900 for a 45 day pass that includes 18 travel "segments" (each time you get off one train and onto another that counts as a segment) and seats for pass holders are limited on each train so you should book tickets for each segment in advance. Oh, and Acela trains are excluded. Scratch that from my "How could I live semi-homeless" contingency plan. Back to living in a Ford Transit van bouncing from Wal-Mart to rest stop to Wal-Mart.
posted by MikeMc at 5:55 PM on August 25, 2015 [7 favorites]


I think I would define 'where I live' as where I sleep; bathe and poop; and cook and eat, in that order of importance. I'm not sure how many of these three she is doing on the train, one or two? It is a good endorsement of the quality of German trains though.
posted by Bee'sWing at 6:14 PM on August 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'd sleep like a baby. Me + train = snoooooooooze.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 6:29 PM on August 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


Just looked up the options in Australia. For US$299 (US$392 - first class) you can have 6 months unlimited travel on coach and rail with a Discovery Pass (Albury, Broken Hill, Canberra, Sydney and Gold Coast).
posted by unliteral at 6:37 PM on August 25, 2015 [9 favorites]


So, Amtrak, $7300/year would be about $608/month before taxes. Cramped, but... possible. You'd want to mix it up with couchsurfing, camping, and/or hotels, yeah. No utilities. Laundry would be difficult, might have to work out a ship-to-destination deal with some fluff-and-fold laundromats. No utilities. I think the worst part would be the food.
I've done the 15 day pass numerous times now (it's an excellent deal for cross country with stops). Maybe I'll give this a try when I quit having a tethered job.
posted by notquitemaryann at 6:38 PM on August 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'd sleep like a baby. Me + train = snoooooooooze.

I'm exactly the opposite. I've never been able to sleep in a moving vehicle. My first train ride was a 12 hour trip on the Empire Builder and I couldn't sleep a wink ( I had been up for almost twenty hours before getting on the train and drinking before and during the trip).
posted by MikeMc at 6:42 PM on August 25, 2015


In Britain, you can buy a 14-day All Line Rover for a mere £724. That's only £18,824 for the year! Converted to euros, it's €25,615, 6.26 times more than the German annual pass.
posted by grouse at 7:33 PM on August 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


An article solely about Germany's wonderful railway system would probably have been too depressing for the rest of us without the quirky, relatable protagonist.

"The Unbreakable Leonie Müller"?
posted by Greg_Ace at 8:48 PM on August 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


Gods, I do so miss the trains in Germany.
posted by MissySedai at 10:08 PM on August 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


Snowpiercer seems to have have gotten it's first resident.
posted by blueberry at 10:32 PM on August 25, 2015


Germany isn't that big, and the trains go fast. Wouldn't she often run out of country?
posted by kjs4 at 1:58 AM on August 26, 2015


and plans to write her undergraduate thesis on her experiences as a train nomad.

And after that a reality TV program.

I love traveling by train, but it's not a substitute for a bed and a shower.
posted by three blind mice at 3:18 AM on August 26, 2015


I love traveling by train, but it's not a substitute for a bed and a shower.

Both of which they have on sleeper trains, including Germany's CityNightLine ones. I imagine a BahnCard 100 wouldn't cover bunks on those, though I wonder whether it'd count for a discount on booking them.
posted by acb at 4:38 AM on August 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


I imagine a BahnCard 100 wouldn't cover bunks on those, though I wonder whether it'd count for a discount on booking them.

The prices are here, under the tab "Preise in EUR". If you have a BahnCard 100, you only have to pay the "Aufpreis" (last column). If you want to have a bunk and a shower, you need to take at least "Economy 3er Belegung", so the price starts at 46 Euros.
posted by erdferkel at 5:00 AM on August 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


I think it sounds awesome. Way to seize an opportunity to have an unconventional adventure. Plus, German scenery is gorgeous and German cities are great.

Personally, I'm not sure I'd ever feel settled what with the scheduling and the lack of privacy, but I guess it works for her!
posted by mantecol at 6:35 AM on August 26, 2015


Germany isn't that big, and the trains go fast. Wouldn't she often run out of country?

I could be wrong, but I think the Bahncard 100 is good for any Deutsche Bahn-operated route, including those that go outside of Germany (e.g. Frankfurt-Paris, Hamburg-Copenhagen, etc). Although from reading the article, it sounds like she's sticking to a handful of routes that probably run roundtrip multiple times/day.

On a tangent, while my experience with DB was less-than-stellar over the past year (hour+ delays more than once this summer, apparently lots of track work going on), their customer service was quite good, offering me pretty sizable refunds for the longer delays :) Sadly I just moved back to the US so I have to settle for Amtrak for now.
posted by photo guy at 6:40 AM on August 26, 2015


It would be €325/month in the Netherlands, but only €99/month if you stick to off-peak hours (after 9:00 AM) and weekends. However, you'd probably want to avoid the trains that lack a toilet. And the service between midnight and 4:00 AM is pretty limited.
posted by neushoorn at 7:14 AM on August 26, 2015


I could be wrong, but I think the Bahncard 100 is good for any Deutsche Bahn-operated route, including those that go outside of Germany

It's complicated. In general, BahnCard 100 is only valid inside of Germany (so you can't use it to go to Paris or Copenhagen). But there are some exceptions when a regional service ("Verkehrsverbund") crosses the border (e.g., you can go to Basel or Salzburg). Apart from those, you are limited to Germany.
posted by erdferkel at 7:15 AM on August 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


clvrmnky: "European rental agreements would tempt me to live in train stations, too. It would be more secure, and offer more value for your Euro."
Yeah, European rental agreements. They're all the same all over Europe, really. There's no way there's any difference in renter protection between, say, London and Copenhagen.
posted by brokkr at 7:20 AM on August 26, 2015 [4 favorites]


I use the trains in Switzerland as an alternate office when I feel the need to get away from my stationary office. I get a little table, a window with constantly-changing gorgeous scenery composed of mountains and lakes, a coffee cart that comes by every so often, and I can get off and explore a new little town when I need a break. And I get five minutes of internet at train stations, which lets me check email every so often but otherwise keeps me from noodling around on the internet.

Something about the ticket pricing must be hugely inefficient for this to be an available option for me. But I'm not complaining.
posted by painquale at 7:45 AM on August 26, 2015 [6 favorites]


Just out of curiosity I checked the possibility of doing something like this on Amtrak. It's $900 for a 45 day pass that includes 18 travel "segments"...

I partially did this for a month in October/November 2008. Partially as, though I spent many nights on Amtrak trains, also spent various nights in cheap hotels. Although Amtrak is a magnificent way to travel - the huge windows, the big seats, a never-ending supply of interesting passengers, and the almost unbelievably picturesque American landscape forever sliding by - there's only so much of the smell of Amtrak soaps, and their strange tasting water (and not healthy menu unless it's vastly improved) that one can take. I can't remember the cost - several hundred dollars - but it took a lot of hassle and bureacracy to maximise value. On the plus side, got to speak at two conferences, do a 7,000 mile train loop of the USA, visit LA, Seattle, Chicago, Memphis, New Orleans and a lot in between, and see Barack Obama do his victory speech in the park in Chicago. Blog index and pictures.

Now, I'd Airbnb it. Get familiar with the search system, and look for places of 7 nights minimum stay as many owners sharply reduce their nightly rate if you stay a week or longer.
posted by Wordshore at 8:06 AM on August 26, 2015 [4 favorites]


Yeah, European rental agreements. They're all the same all over Europe, really. There's no way there's any difference in renter protection between, say, London and Copenhagen.

Indeed, as the examples of laissez-faire London and Scandinavian-model Stockholm show, it's possible to mess the same situation (demand for housing outstripping supply) up in diametrically opposing ways.
posted by acb at 8:10 AM on August 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think I would define 'where I live' as where I sleep; bathe and poop; and cook and eat, in that order of importance.

I was thinking about this last night. Defining herself as living on the train means (according to the article) that she is living out of a backpack. If she defined herself as living with her boyfriend, she would probably have a lot more possessions and she would probably have to be added to his lease. Seeing herself as a nomad significantly impacts her relationship to the available infrastructure in ways that are meaningful and quantifiable.

A few thoughts on that:

As a college student, it is possible she has acess to a college cafeteria. College students in dorms cannot cook in their rooms and some have no cooking skills. Many of them get some kind of card or deal that covers cafetaria meals as their primary source of sustenance. So where she eats may not strongly impact her concept of home.

It sounds like her relationship to her boyfriend was long distance before she got her travel pass for the train. So, she may have gone to see him primarily to see him and slept at his place as a logistical thing. Sleeping there more often may not register to her mind as "living with him". She herself describes it as "I get to see him all the time." Those concepts matter and impact how people interact. So, for example and as noted above, she is probably not decorating his apartment, accumulating more material possessions than she can carry, etc. When she used to visit him and sleep over, she likely showered there. She likely still showers there. The fact that she doesn't have her own shower anymore may not seem that significant. In her mind, she showered there because she slept over, not because she has no shower.

My mother is German. She sometimes took a sponge bath at the sink instead of showering. This is more common in Europe. Americans seem to only be familiar with sponge baths as something to do for bedridden people recovering from surgery or something who cannot shower. Taking a sponge bath on the train, say, once a week, may not be a big lifestyle change. If she previously took sponge baths once in a while instead of showering, she might not be bathing any less than she did when she had a home/dwelling of her own. (I think wohnung most closely means dwelling and is used the way Americans use the word home.)

She seems to be defining her "home" on the train as the space where she has her independence. She does her studying there. It is where she has some control over her life. Women sometimes have relatively little control over their own lives. Men make more money on average and are often the ones paying the rent or mortgage. So it is common that he has an office or hobby space or home gym as "his" space and the kitchen is viewed as "her" space. Defining herself as a train-dwelling nomad means she is not defining herself as dependent on her mother in spite of being 23 and is not defining herself as her boyfriend's de facto domestic servant. She has a place of her own and it is an independent, avant guarde space to boot.

To her mind, this is an adventure and an experiment, not homelessness per se. And that does impact how she relates to the world around her and the kinds of choices she makes.

Some people with very busy lives barely spend any time at home. It ends being a glorified place to store their stuff while they work two jobs, go to school and have a social life. If that was kind of how she was living, then the main thing she did was jettison most of her material possessions.

Some people view material possessions as a burden and they like being nomadic. The human race has always had friction between nomadic peoples and settled peoples. I think this friction has increased in the modern world and nomads have been more marginalized and even criminalized. I often think we need to find a way to accept that there wil always be nomads and poor people amongst us and we need to put up fewer barriers between them and "normal" society.

I currently have a cell phone and a virtual address. The primary thing I am lacking is a means to make adequate money. I feel pretty strongly that prejudice is a barrier in that aspect of my life. I was a military wife and often visited family with my kids in tow when my husband was elsewhere. My oldest son has told me that our life on the road as a homeless family does not feel to him like some dramatic departure from his usual lifestyle.

There are people who travel a lot as part of their job. Truckers face some of the same challenges I face in accessing showers and toilets. America doesn't do a great job of having public facilities for things like that. Being a trucker is more status-y than being homeless, but truckers were generally kind and understanding. They could iudentify with some of the challenges I had. Their nomadic life isn't really well accommodated either.

I hope her project makes a dufference in the world. I am thrilled that California has relatively good public transit for the U.S. but also envious of her access to excellent public transit.
posted by Michele in California at 9:51 AM on August 26, 2015 [4 favorites]


An acquaintance/friend of mine describes himself as homeless (and is, I guess). But for him its absolutely a lifestyle choice, and had nothing to do with his income (he's quite well off, works for a large brand name company).

He noticed himself travelling so much for work that he realized it didn't make sense for him to pay rent.

In the US anyways, the word 'homeless' has so many negative connotations (even/especially 'homeless by choice') that folks can't wrap their heads around (some iterations of it) as a lifestyle choice that may work for some people.
posted by el io at 10:45 AM on August 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


Just out of curiosity I checked the possibility of doing something like this on Amtrak. It's $900 for a 45 day pass that includes 18 travel "segments" (each time you get off one train and onto another that counts as a segment).... Scratch that from my "How could I live semi-homeless" contingency plan.

Hey now, don't write it off so fast; every time I've traveled across the country on Amtrak they've found a way to keep me stuck on a train for at LEAST 24 hours with no opportunity to get off. I'll bet you could get those 18 segments to last a month if not more.

But seriously, yeah, that is a much worse deal than the BahnCard 100 and you could probably just pay 45 days rent in much of the country for under $900.
posted by Joey Buttafoucault at 11:49 AM on August 26, 2015 [3 favorites]


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