Undercover Police (?) on ICE

I saw something weird on Wednesday as I was traveling home to Regensburg from a business trip to Nuremberg and Frankfurt — at least, it was weird to me. It was the first time I ever saw plain-clothes law enforcement officials in Germany.

I was listening to my podcasts or reading emails on my phone or something, sitting across from a colleague when I saw three guys in their mid-to-late forties in what looked like winter camping gear (jeans or cargo pants, poofy coats, long-sleeve tees or turtlenecks, 3 or 4 days of stubble, hiking boots) making conversation with the passenger in the next group of four seats behind us. I didn’t catch the beginning of the conversation, but my ears perked up when I heard the talker ask the passenger (whom I never saw)

Sprechen Sie dann andere Sprachen? Englisch? Französisch? Oh, Deutsch geht doch? OK, das ist mir viel lieber, vielen Dank.1

They positioned themselves so that the speaker was facing him directly, and the other two campers were blocking the aisle in both directions. They started off with several mundane questions, like

Wo kommen Sie her? Finnland! Mensch, das ist ganz weit oben. 2

Wohnen Sie in Deutschland? Seit wann? Und wo?3

Was ist Ihr Reiseziel? Darf ich mal in Ihren Rucksack blicken bitte? Ja, das ist mir aufgefallen. Ich dachte da war was drin. Was machen dann mit diesen Kennzeichen? Ach, sie kaufen ein Auto in Österreich. Welche Marke denn? Volvo! Kaum zu glauben! Der nordische Herr reist quer durch Deutschland um ein schwedisches Auto in Österreich zu kaufen! Jungs, ist das nicht der Hammer!?4

They pulled on some rubber gloves, took some photographs the stuff in his backpack, continuing the banter, and then moved along to the next clump of seats. This time a Polish woman caught their attention. I heard the beginning part of this interview. The speaker showed all four people sitting around the table his Ausweis5 and asked to see hers. Many of the same pleasantries ensued.

Mensch, gut dass Sie Deutsch können — mein Polnisch ist nämlich so klein!6

Und welcher Koffer gehört Ihnen? Der rote? Ist er schwer? Keine Sorge, dass schaffen wir doch locker. Vielen Dank. Nun, kommen Sie bitte mit uns, damit wir ein Paar Fragen stellen können, ohne die anderen Passagiere zu stören…7

Then the three officers and the Polish woman stepped away from her seat and out to towards the door where the carriage connects to the Bordbistro8 and they had a little more room to inspect her belongings. A few minutes later, she came back, with her stuff and ID and apparently alles paletti9. I had my hand on my passport, ready to show it and my Aufenthaltstitel10 upon request, because I was pretty sure they must have had some kind of foreigner detection mechanism at work, and I would surely be the next interviewee. Aber nein.11 They exited our carriage completely and shortly thereafter I alighted in Regensburg.

I had never seen anything like that, and when I asked my native German colleague (who has traveled via train on business trips back and forth across Germany many more times than I have), neither had she. I made extra sure to murmur geheime Polizei12 in the long form, and under no circumstances let a Gestapo slip out. I was pretty nervous, though I had absolutely no rational reason to be. Monday night at the hotel in Nuremberg I’d watched Transsiberian — a kind of creepy movie about an American couple who gets mixed up with drug smugglers and a crooked plain-clothes narcotics detective on a train in the middle of nowhere.

Have you ever seen something like that before? Or come into contact with plain-clothes officials?

  1. So do you speak any other languages? English? French? Oh, German’s OK after all? Great, I much prefer it. Thanks a lot. []
  2. Where are you from? Finland! Dude, that’s way up there! []
  3. Do you live in Germany? Since when? And where? []
  4. What is your destination? May I take a look inside your backpack please? Yeah, I noticed it. I thought there must be something inside. What are you doing with these license plates? Oh, you’re buying a car in Austria. So which brand? Volvo! Who’da thunk it? The nordic gentlemen traveling all the way across Germany to buy a Swedish car in Austria! Guys, ain’t that something!? []
  5. ID []
  6. Hoo, good thing you speak German. My Polish is just about this much. []
  7. And which of these suitcases is yours? The red one? Is it heavy? No problem, we got it, no sweat. Thanks a lot. Now, please come with us, so we can ask a few questions without disturbing your fellow passengers… []
  8. Dining car []
  9. everything A-OK []
  10. residence permit []
  11. Mais non. []
  12. secret police []

New Bayern-Ticket Rules

Fans of the Bayern-Ticket (a Deutsche Bahn group ticket: up to 5 people, all day, all Bavaria) might need to read up on the new rules before traveling on it. Ostensibly to discourage scalpers or free-/cheaploaders, as of June 10, 2012, DB has started requiring that you state how many people will be traveling on the ticket at the point of purchase to determine price. The base price is 22€ for a single rider and an additional 4€ per additional rider.


So people looking to tag along on a stranger’s Bayern-Ticket will need to find someone with an extra, pre-purchased slot. Conversely, purchasers of the Bayern-Ticket looking for Mitfahrer will need to purchase the extra slots at 4€ each; if this is your joint, go scrounge your train buddies before making the purchase. You are still not allowed to spontaneously add riders after you get checked on the train. Another bummer about this is the higher price for 3-, 4- and 5-person tickets (30, 34 and 38€, respectively), but it’s still a better deal than full-price tickets for all.

There is one improvement: you are now allowed to pre-purchase slots on a ticket and pick people up at other train stations. The lack of this permission on the Bayern-Ticket was something that always annoyed us, particularly when picking people up from airports.

If you read German and want all the ins and outs of the new rules, go to the DB New Bayern-Ticket Rules Overview. And if you live in Germany but outside of Bavaria, I don’t think any of the other Länder-Tickets have changed their terms, but be sure to check!