So. Back from a long weekend in Berlin, completely refreshed and revitalised (despite the rain, for evidence of which please see photo). I have to thank my dear friend and voice teacher Jean Ronald LaFond (whose immensely interesting blog - especially to singers with an analytical bent - can be found here). His generosity, knowledge and advice are unparalleled. Should any of you be singers, I can thoroughly recommend him as a teacher.
I am also blessed with several good friends in Berlin, making the weekend absolutely perfect. Between the fabulous experience of the Pergamon exhibition and the unbeatable feeling of being a movie star in a friend's amazingly luxurious bathroom, I had a wonderful time, despite freezing half to death on my first day (evidently I have become a bit of a hothouse flower here in Germany, living where I do...) and severe delays on the way back due to some sort of vandalism in Berlin.
At which point the great customer service from Deutsche Bahn (German train service) kicked in. It is, according to most people, completely rubbish. I think I must be ridiculously lucky in which case, because I have always had wonderful customer service. Going out, I decided to buy my tickets the day before, in an uncharacteristic burst of orderliness. (It's not like the arcane system in England; your ticket costs the same even if you buy it on the day.) Unfortunately, upon reaching the station, the ticket office was closed all day for some sort of business meeting. There were helpful ladies by the queues at the ticket machines, but not needing any help (so I thought), I slowly prodded my way through the options and ended up with the correct ticket, but only one set of seat reservations, when I'd paid for both ways (Saturday travelling, and holidays, meant that seat reservations were an absolute necessity. I really didn't want to stand in a train corridor for six hours...).
I bearded one of the nice helpful ladies and explained. She looked puzzled, and we checked the machine for delayed bits of paper, and finally called her supervisor over. The supervisor looked even more puzzled, as apparently I shouldn't have been able to produce such a result (illogical, captain...). Eventually she told me to stay put and disappeared off with all my bits of paper (well of course I was not going to wander off - she had my ticket, and that wasn't cheap!). When she came back, she gave me all the money back in cash, saying that this was the best and fairest way to deal with it, and together we went through the process again; this time, for no apparent reason, everything went smoothly, and we were both very pleased. She'd gone to quite a bit of time and trouble to help, where she could have probably just said it wasn't their problem, and thought, heh, bloody foreigners stuffing up our nice machines...
On the way back, due to the above-mentioned vandalism, I believe, my train to Leipzig was cancelled at the last minute. Hmm, thought I, trundling back up the escalator in a crowd of disgruntled German-speaking passengers (they make the announcement first in German, then later in English, so you can spot the non-German-speakers by their bewildered expressions as 99% of the platform starts to swear and leave), what now? I made my way to the travel centre, waited patiently for my turn (they were swamped) and eventually set my ticket etc in front of a tired-looking lady, explaining that my train had just been cancelled, and asking what I could do about it. She suddenly grinned, remarked that probably the easiest thing was to go somewhere else instead (I said I'd take the Bahamas if available, but otherwise, my bed in Mainz was waiting for me), and promptly and without fuss upgraded my ticket and booked me on the next fast train, producing seat reservations without asking and wishing me a pleasant journey. I don't often think about customer service, but it is amazing what a difference it can make to a frustrating situation when it is good, and this, contrary to some ideas about Germany, was absolutely excellent!