Going Backwards

Booking a train ticket with multiple transfers in Germany isn’t the easiest of tasks. Booking such a ticket while also meeting all your requirements is impossible. If you want seat reservations on both legs of your journey, a quiet carriage where talking on the phone isn’t allowed, and a certain seat, for example with a table or next to a window, there’s a high chance your real seat will be somewhat different than what you booked on paper.

During one of my latest trips, I tried something new: picking seats that always face the right direction. Most carriages are stacked with seats facing both ways, and in the online interface, it’s impossible to tell which ones are facing forward. Luckily, in this country, there’s also an explanation for everything, so I found a website that tells you which way each train is facing depending on where it’s going.

After much back and forth, I booked seats for a total of four trains, all aimed ahead — or so I thought. I’m on train three out of four right now, and two times already, I ended up going backwards. Why? Deutsche Bahn likes to rearrange the carriages last-minute. They might flip the order of the carriages, shorten or lengthen the train, or completely jumble it altogether. Therefore, what you get is rarely what you see.

Like most people, I don’t like going backwards, be it literally or metaphorically — but as I sit here speeding across the countryside at 200 km/h in reverse, I can’t help but realize: Even though I’m going backwards, I’m still closing in on my destination. It feels wrong, but the result is still the right one.

Sometimes, it takes a literal step back in order to make two moves forward — but sometimes, what feels like regression is only another natural leg of your journey. Trust the direction more than which way you’re facing, and remember: You may have booked a different seat, but that doesn’t mean the train you’re on won’t take you to the right destination.