Sounds of Silence

Silence comes from many sources, as darkness comes in many shades. Silence from those whose lives were taken or voices silenced. Silence through technology that brings people together by keeping them apart. Silence from commercialism that values things more than people. Silence from fear that has sparked new life to nationalism all over the world. Our world becomes ever smaller and ever darker.

And so on the darkest day of the year, listening to the sounds of silence, let’s remember that when all the evils from Pandora’s box were released, all that remained was hope. People may be the cause of these problems, but people are also surely the solution.


The Sound Of Silence
by Paul Simon

(Click here for my new favorite version of this song by Disturbed.)

Frankfurt Holocaust Memorial Wall
Jewish Holocaust Memorial Wall in Frankfurt

Hello darkness, my old friend,
I’ve come to talk with you again,
Because a vision softly creeping,
Left its seeds while I was sleeping,
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains
Within the sound of silence

Brussels cobblestone street

In restless dreams I walked alone
Narrow streets of cobblestone,
‘Neath the halo of a street lamp,
I turned my collar to the cold and damp

Dublin pub
Church behind McD’s and money exchange in Vienna

When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light
That split the night
And touched the sound of silence

Watching the light show through camera phones in Frankfurt (German Reunification Day)
Paris subway station

And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking,
People hearing without listening,
People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence

Downtown Dresden
“Welcome culture” for Syrian refugees caricature in Frankfurt

“Fools,” said I, “You do not know
Silence like a cancer grows
Hear my words that I might teach you
Take my arms that I might reach you”
But my words like silent raindrops fell
And echoed in the wells of silence

Frankfurt Red Light District
Red Light District in Amsterdam
Tourist season in Amsterdam

And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon god they made
And the sign flashed out its warning
In the words that it was forming

Panier district of Marseille
Revolution mural in Leipzig
Graffitti-allowed wall in Prague

And the sign said, “The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls

Signs of globalization in Bucharest
Political palindromes in a London underground station
Political palindromes in a London underground station

And tenement halls

Housing in Bucharest

And whispered in the sounds of silence”


TGIF Chr: “Tickets Out, This is a Raid!”

…is what I imagine on those rare occasions when the ticket-checkers come through the bus or train, with their official equipment tucked almost unnoticeably at their waists. I’ve been taking local public transportation almost every weekday (and many weekends) since I moved to Germany about nine months ago. It’s convenient, usually not too crowded, and generally clean and comfortable. In that time, I’ve had to prove that I’ve paid less than ten times. Twice happened to be this Wednesday, coincidentally just after I bought my first monthly pass.

Typical bus stop
A typical bus stop

In Germany, many rules rely on personal responsibility. You don’t show your ticket or pass to the bus driver (as I did the first time I rode), you’re just trusted to have paid when you get on. The penalty for schwarzfahren (riding without paying)? A €40 fine if you get caught by the plain-clothes ticket checkers or a train conductor. A friendly-looking ad on the buses has a checklist for such riders, reminding them to sweat, cry, make excuses …and finally pay their €40. I must say, I’ve never seen anyone have to do this yet.

You can buy your necessary-but-rarely-checked ticket from the bus driver, an automated machine located at train stations and some bus stations, a ticket counter at a major train station (many small stations don’t have these), or online at home or on your phone at (for the Rhein-Main area).

It ends up being a pretty good deal. Single ride tickets for adults cost €2.60 and can be used for up to two hours from purchase time on any form of local transportation: buses, regional trains, subways, and/or streetcars. So if you have to transfer from a bus to a train to a subway within that time, it’s all included on the same ticket. And here you can even bring your dog, your bike, or your Kinderwagen (baby carriage/stroller) along for the ride as well.

Ride and save year-round
Ride and save year-round

Of course, there are many ways to save a little more money, depending on your travel plans. For example, you can buy a collection of five tickets at any time for only €10.40. Then when you’re ready to ride, you just time-stamp one at a small yellow machine on the bus or at the train station. If you’re going to be riding several times throughout the day, it might be worth it to get a day pass for €6.30. Even better, if you have three to five people traveling in a group all day, it’s worth getting a group day pass for only €9.50.

If you generally commute weekdays, as I’m doing this month for work, you can save with a weekly, monthly, or yearly pass. With these, you can even have another person ride with you on evenings and weekends at no extra charge!

Naturally the rates for each type of ticket and pass are higher when you’re traveling from one regional zone to another (i.e. Mainz to Frankfurt). And many discounts apply for children, seniors, interns, etc.

While I was taking German classes at the Volkshochschule (VHS = state-sponsored adult education center), my course receipt doubled as a public transit pass before and after class. This made getting there essentially free and easy. As the cute little bus on the receipt says, “Hin- and Rückfahrt ohne Stress, mit KombiTicket der vhs”: “To and fro without stress, with combo-ticket from VHS.”

VHS ticket - thanks friendly bus!
VHS ticket – thanks friendly bus!

Okay, so the rare “ticket raids” aren’t as dramatic as I imagine them to be. But as I sit back cozily reading on my ride through Rhein country and fields, secure in knowing that my ticket is safely stowed in my wallet, sometimes listening to annoying teenagers on summer break or some nutty lady chattering to herself, I wonder why this system works so well and what would happen during an actual “bust.”