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Wednesday 18 October 2023

How German Rail Makes You a Creative Crime Writer by Gitta Edelmann

 Dearest gentle reader,

A little bird has told me that you prefer mysteries and thrillers to wholesome literature. Who am I to criticise you? Thus, today I will introduce to you a still mostly unknown fount of inspiration for crime writers in Germany: the DB. DB stands for Deutsche Bahn – German Rail. And while you might still think of German facilities as effective and punctual, in the case of the DB this is a concept of bygone days.

I don’t own a car but I have two bicycles – just in case one of them has a flat tyre. By the way: As my ecological footprint is so small I will be reborn as a writer’s capricious cat which is nice to imagine. Whenever I need to take a trip to a place that is a little bit farther away, e.g. to research a place, give a reading or a workshop or attend a meeting of one of the writers’ associations of which I am a member, I go there by train.

I am an experienced train passenger and a specialist in using the DB app. I know that I have to check this app often enough to adapt my plans during the trip because the trains are always late and often my connecting train is long gone when I reach the station. The track network is dilapidated because the former government, preferring individual transport, did not really invest in upkeep and upgrading the rail system – so we are plagued by signal failures, overhead line damages and train breakdowns. Far to often we hear about people on the tracks – either kids playing, stupid people crossing, or committing suicide. Then the line is closed down for twenty minutes or two hours …

Less experienced travellers often grow angry or even aggressive on the train. I keep my calm and learn new swear words in different languages. I watch people, listen in on phone calls and conversations and let my imagination run wild. Interestingly, this is how I get quite useful ideas for my next mystery plots.

There is a woman on the phone. She speaks loudly as if she is all alone. I can easily understand every word though I am sitting several rows away. We all listen in shock and exchange glances as we slowly start to understand that she must be a psychotherapist and she is talking about a patient. She even mentions his first name! Of course, this is somehow fascinating, but I feel better when a man stands up and tells her that we all think what she does is not okay. She seems very surprised and ends the phone call. In my mind I wonder what might happen if, by chance, just this patient was on our train, too, hearing everything she is saying about him and getting angrier and angrier. Wouldn’t he get off the train at the same station as his therapist, sneak up to her and push her in front of the next incoming train?

Or there’s the couple behind me. He sounds angry when they take their seats because our train is late and she tries to calm him down, which makes him even more aggressive. Then they start talking about their upcoming holidays. Unfortunately, this gives him the opportunity to take his anger out on his wife. He is a bully, I’m sure of it. And one day she will snap. She will take the kitchen knife and … Or on their hiking tour in the Alps she will push him and he will end his life in a ravine… Of course, it is also possible that he will beat her and she will be a poor victim disappearing without a trace because one day he takes it all too far but I prefer the other ideas and wish her a perfect sunset.

Then there is an elderly man sitting diagonally across from me. A young man with a big backpack boards the train, turns to him and informs him politely that he is sitting on the young man’s reserved seat. The train is packed, almost all the seats are taken. The old man is not ready to leave and stares aggressively at the young man’s tattoos and long hair mumbling – as far as I can hear – not very nice things. A cliché situation that could be the starting point of a crime story with either of the men as the offender. In real life, the young man just insists that he has paid for the seat reservation and under the other passengers’ vigilant glances the old man gives up and goes away scolding.

Another trip, another train. There is a business man in a suit with an important looking briefcase on the seat next to him. He has a very urgent call to make to give instructions that, honestly, seem a bit trivial to me. Normally, I find such a behaviour interesting but in this case it is extremely annoying as we are in a quiet zone and I try to write a key scene for my newest Regency romance. Instead of smoochy or sexy scenes bad thoughts are rising from the depth of my black heart. I could get my knitting out of my luggage and use one of the needles to stab him. Or I could go past him and his coffee cup and discretely drop some poison into it, though there’s the problem that I have none.

In the end I just point to the big signs saying ‘Quiet Zone’ in several languages and look strictly at him. He turns his head around and goes on speaking. I ponder if a thermal flask on his head would have a better effect when finally he ends his call and keeps silent until he gets off the train at the next station.

People will love my book for its grip on reality. It will be a bestseller. Oh well, a girl can dream – especially when she is on a delayed train.

Gitta Edelmann is a German writer of novels and short stories in different genres – crime, romance, history, fantasy. So she never gets bored with inventing new stories for adults or children. She is best known for her mystery series MacTavish & Scott – The Lady Detectives of Edinburgh set in her favourite country – Scotland. Gitta also gives Workshops in Creative Writing. She is a member of the Mörderische Schwestern, the Mystery People and a board member of the Verband deutscher Schriftstellerinnen und Schriftsteller – VS (German Writers’ Union). 

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