Chaostage auf Sylt

Harry Stopes

The nine euro ticket was announced in early April by the German transport minister, Volker Wissing. Alongside cuts in fuel taxes that reduced prices for drivers by about 15 per cent, the SPD-Green-FDP coalition proposed a nationwide public transport pass that would give passengers unlimited travel on all local buses, trams and underground networks, as well as local and regional trains, for €9 a month from June to August. Anyone with an existing travelcard – I was paying €63 a month to get around Berlin – would find it automatically transformed into a cheaper, national pass.

Regional trains are quite slow and stop frequently – 23 times on the 280km journey between Berlin and Stralsund, for example – but there’s a comprehensive network of long-distance routes. Some cross national borders to places like Szczecin in Poland. The possibility of ‘Bahn chaos’ on overcrowded trains – which would be attributable in part to inadequate investment in the network during Angela Merkel’s sixteen years as chancellor – was a prominent feature of right-wing coverage of the nine euro ticket.

A scare story in Bild about poor people overrunning exclusive holiday destinations such as the North Sea island of Sylt ended up being a self-fulfilling prophecy. The Hamburg punk band Trümmer Youth released ‘Chaostage auf Sylt’ (‘Down with the bourgeoisie/On Sylt now anarchy rules/Off to the chaos days on Sylt’). ‘Sylt presents itself as a place where the rich can go on their snob vacations without being bothered by the poor,’ FaulenzA, an activist from Berlin, told the Tageszeitung from a protest camp outside Westerland town hall. ‘This is a symbol of a society that we are not allowed to enter.’

According to the Association of German Transport Companies (VDV), around 52 million tickets were sold over the summer, in addition to the ten million existing subscribers like me who benefited from reduced prices. Around a fifth weren’t habitual users of public transport, and around a tenth used public transport instead of a car for at least one daily journey. Just under a third of the trips were at least partially outside the traveller’s normal area of residence (though I only got round to one long trip, camping on the Baltic island of Rügen for a weekend in August). The VDV reckoned that the overall proportion of trips that were shifted from other means of transport was 17 per cent, with the three months saving as much CO2 as imposing a speed limit on the Autobahn – a Green Party policy so far blocked by the FDP – would save in a year.

The nine euro ticket was much less use in rural areas where a lack of public transport, and infrequent services, mean that price is not the only obstacle. ‘It’s big city politics, to put it bluntly,’ the CDU mayor of Kastellaun in Rheinland Pfalz told the daily news programme Tagesschau. The seventy-kilometre commute from Kastellaun to Mainz takes at least two hours on public transport. ‘We can’t just talk about prices,’ the head of the publicly owned transport company in Potsdam told the broadcaster ZDF.

The culture war potential of the urban-rural divide was exploited by the federal finance minister, the FDP’s Christian Lindner, who well into August was calling the nine euro ticket ‘unfair’, claiming that it amounted to a subsidy from rural to urban taxpayers. He added that it was a product of a ‘freebie mentality’ (Gratismentalität), an objection he never raised to reduced fuel taxes. He also claimed, absurdly, that a polite demonstration outside the FDP party headquarters asking for the ticket to be continued had been led by ‘Antifa’.

Nonetheless, a package of measures to address the cost of living announced by the chancellor, Olaf Scholz, on 4 September included a successor to the nine euro ticket, alongside an electricity price cap and increased payments to pensioners, students, parents and the unemployed. It’s just been announced that the new tickets will cost €49 a month, though the way costs will be shared between the federal and regional governments is not yet worked out.

Transport is responsible for around a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions in the EU, but urban passenger transport is only responsible for about 20 per cent of these. A 90 per cent reduction in transport-related emissions from 1990 to 2050, the target set out in the European Green Deal, will require reductions across the board, above all in aviation, non-urban passenger travel and road freight. But fast, reliable and frequent public transport, cheaply and simply priced, will be an essential part of the shift; not only for its contribution to reduced emissions, but also for the signal it sends that the green alternative is the only liveable choice we have.


  • 28 October 2022 at 5:57pm
    hawkesfordjohnson says:
    I remember visiting Germany as a teenager and taking advantage of a "Wochenendticket" to travel from Frankfurt/Main to Cologne. I remember we did indeed have to sit in the corridor and it seemed to take a fair while, but the usual pricing would have been prohibitive for a teenager to travel on a very limited budget - it was a fantastic experience. I wish the UK government would come up with such incentives to get people moving around and increase their cultural capital, at a time when the financial equivalent is becoming a struggle.
    Adam Hawkesford-Johnson

  • 30 October 2022 at 3:10pm
    Kelly Winsa says:
    My taste for travel diminished and when my car broke down -- an old Renault, I used my bike. Already an avid cyclist, now I use it for everything.
    There are some demographics (grown children, or none, living in rural areas not far from train service) that can step back encouraging the young to be able to live their lives. This is in France, but I have done this before in North America as well.
    I talked to my informed friend about buying an electric car but the amount of capital, and the question of where the batteries really go stopped me.
    Walking also changes all the rules if you don't have to go too far. Quality of life increases when you aren't worrying about infrastructure, gas prices, and car payments.