Munich subway GBRis what Munich’s underground is according to a local paper (link). It is “not that bad” (link) Harry Roque might say if he rode here, as the elevators and escalators mostly work. Meaning that among 100 underground stations in 100 km. of underground, a non-working escalator is pretty rare. Yet people do crowd a bit more recently. The reason is that some new wagons don’t work yet (link). Haha, in Germany? Yes, from Siemens. Wagons of the C2 series from Siemens that look space age. While the quaint 1970s style old wagons keep on going it seems. What is happening over here?

Voltage spikes and squared wheels

U-Bahn-Wache

Munich U-Bahn after a soccer game

Well, the electrical transmission of the C2 series seems to generate voltage spikes that could cause the trains to stop or even damage the electrical systems of the Munich U-Bahn or underground. They are in the yards for maintenance, while the old wagons are stretched thin. People are not yet waiting up to the streets though like in Metro Manila. That only happens during the Oktoberfest. Then, extra staff make sure drunk people don’t push each other onto the rails. Central Europeans – which Bavarians are – are not as patient in waiting as Filipinos. And tend to like their own space.

What also happened according to a speaker of the MVG or Munich Transport Corporation is that when autumn came in, the sludge from rain and autumn leaves on some overground stations (yes, the underground also has stations above ground) caused “squaring” of wheels while braking. Making train wheels round again is specialized metalworking. Took some work in depot to get the wagons back into full function. Good thing, even if there was some inconvenience for everyone, as I can imagine the damage squared wheels can do to rails. Or voltage spikes to transmission systems.

Politics and colors over here

Well, is the Reichstag in Berlin discussing this under its modern dome? Is the Maximilianeum (link) in Munich, the Parliament of the Free State of Bavaria, going up in (self-)righteous anger? After all, the ruling party there is different from the ruling party in Munich city hall, so why not? Strangely it is a party that is not ruling that seems to make occasional comments about the SPD or Social Democrats, whose friends in the Philippines are Akbayan. It is the FDP or Liberals or if one wants yellow color – same party whose Naumann Foundation invited VP Leni to South Africa.

But one only knows that if one reads a bit deeper in some papers. No buzz in social media. If ever people are mad at yellow, it is at the OBikes (link) from Singapore which anyone can book and use via simple App. Tourists and others just leave them all over the place. And conveniently, they are of the color some Bavarians will think all Asians are – yellow. Yellow and Chinese, or maybe Japanese. You are only Japanese though if you take pictures of the central square, the Marienplatz, in spring. Now you finally know why Irineo sees the world so differently. I am on the other side, so to speak.

It was not long ago

Munich subway Goetheplatz

Munich’s oldest underground station today

In fact, I am red. Red as in Bayern München, not DDS. More a sympathizer than a fan or a diehard. Reds crowd the very same U-Bahn wagons – or underground trains – as commuters crowd daily when there is a game up in the Allianz Arena. The plans for the a north-south line were really old. Goetheplatz station was finished between 1938 and 1941 (link). The regime behind that probably never said “Bauen, Bauen, Bauen” (Build, Build, Build) as it sounds too much like barking, even if the one who shouted a lot did not come from the Bavarian Forest, where some say people “bark”.

The war stopped the project. Goetheplatz station and the tunnel to Sendlinger Tor were made part of the new underground lines built for the 1972 Olympics. Until now, Goetheplatz station is a little bit longer than the standard full underground train, as it was planned for another kind of wagons. And the design is more similar to Berlin underground stations built before the war. More cramped, and not always with escalators. The modern norm is deeper and with escalators always, often with elevators for PWDs, mothers with children and bikes. I don’t know if yellow OBikes are allowed.

Almost yesterday

Karte der S-Bahn München

The Munich suburban train network

another system in Munich was the subject of complaints. The Munich S-Bahn or suburban train. 150 stations and 434 kilometers into the suburbs of Munich. The trunk line or Stammstrecke (line) was also built for the 1972 Olympics. That was a Build, Build, Build period – without dictatorship. Half of Munich, especially the Marienplatz where U-Bahn and S-Bahn lines converge in a common station under the city hall, was excavated or tunneled then. No space for Japanese to make fotos. But then again, it is mostly the S-Bahn or U-Bahn that brings them there, escalators bring them up.

Almost yesterday is a decade ago or more. I don’t even remember the exact years when the S-Bahn was catastrophic as I lived outside town then – it only affected me when I went in on weekends. Frequent delays. Often the signalling systems at the Ostbahnhof (Eastern train station) got stuck. Electrical and signalling systems in the trunk line, the busiest train route in Germany they say, had to be renovated step by step as they had aged since the early 1970s. There was a time, I think an entire year, where the S-Bahn trunk line was closed for entire weekends – technical overhaul.

Some were bothered

Bothered me a bit coming from outside, as I had to switch to the yet seemingly perfect U-Bahn when I rode into the city. But new rails, signalling systems and more improved the S-Bahn. Meanwhile, the U-Bahn increased stations, covering more and more of the city, always having interoperability in mind – with the S-Bahn which belongs to the Deutsche Bahn or German railways, and of course with busses and trams, which together with the U-Bahn all belong to the MVG (Münchner Verkehrsgesellschaft / Munich Transport corporation) which is city-owned.

I have heard that Günther Beckstein (link) used to take the tram 19 to work in the Maximilaneum. Very probable during the time he was in the parliament, even when he was Bavarian Interior Minister. It is a beautiful ride which I won’t tell the Japanese about, passing historical monuments. Used to be the main ride between the East and the West of Munich, before the S-Bahn was built. Now a second Stammstrecke is being built to increase capacity, get the suburbs connected better. This goes until 2026, work has started. Even if it may get delayed, I think it will never just stop.

Tram München - Baureihen P, R und S - Betriebshof Einsteinstraße - April 2014

Tram depot Einsteinstraße with different generations of wagons

Why should it stop? And why should relatively young systems like the Munich U- and S-Bahn fall apart. What is 1972? 45 years ago. Berlin has really old systems. A major line of the Berlin S-Bahn had to be closed for MONTHS, also about a decade or so ago for complete overhaul. Under the management of Communist East Berlin, the citywide system had rotted. Not as much as New York (link) it seems which is of similar vintage. How Filipinos lost the late 19th century Spanish railway to Dagupan, the 1930s railway to Legazpi and may lose the MRT is another story. A sadder one.

Irineo B. R. Salazar
München, 24 November 2017