One of the main advantages of staying in an “official” press hotel (besides the possibility of nudist sightings!) is the shuttle service to and from the WEG show venue. It’ll be a breeze, we thought. When we arrived at our hotel, there was a friendly German man, Hans-Herman, in the lobby, as a representative of the shuttle service. Excellent! He was friendly, talkative (and sometimes in English!) and armed with shuttle schedules. We were all set.
For the first few days of the WEG, the shuttle vans ran like clockwork. They were scheduled for every half-hour in the mornings and evenings, and would appear with a welcome diesel rattle to ferry us to the showgrounds—a 20-minutes drive barring traffic and via the straightest route.
But, the shuttle service drivers turned out to be a volunteer fleet. And while all of them seemed to know where the sleepy village of Zweifall is, they were all of significantly different opinions of how to get there. I think we’ve now counted at least 10 different routes between our hotel and the showgrounds. All of them involve varying degrees of highway, winding country road, and stalling out the manual transmissions.
There’s a lumberyard on the edge of Breinig where we hold our breaths expectantly in the mornings. A left turn there indicates a driver well familiar with the shorter, quick back way to Aachen through smaller towns and a short blip on the A4 highway. A right turn plummets our hopes of a quick drive, leading us through the larger town of Stolberg, down several exits on one highway, then a few more on the A4. And then there are the drivers whose grandmothers must have lived in Zweifall at one point, and know the “over the river and through the woods” way.
And while the signature German drink of Jagermeister might have been some of their impetus for signing up for driving back and forth in manual-transmission vans to out-of-the-way hotels, by the light of 6:30 mornings, the situation must have looked mighty different. Our driver fleet seemed to shrink remarkably after the first few days.
It used to be that we would have leisurely breakfast at the hotel, then wander out to the parking lot a few moments before the shuttle bus was due to arrive. No longer. Now, we bolt our breakfasts whilst keeping an eagle eye on the number of people with press passes accumulating in the parking lot. Everyone knows that only eight press butts fit onto the vans, so if you’re the ninth or 10th out to the parking lot, you have to play further roulette with the whims of the shuttle drivers. Hans-Herman, initially friendly, became very reclusive once tempers started flaring.
Now, shuttles arrive seemingly with little regard to the schedule, rolling in when we least expect them. And if you’re not there waiting for them, you’re not getting on. We’ve been spending A LOT of time in our hotel parking lot. And we try to strike up friendly conversation with our fellow journalists, but it’s tough when you know that in a few minutes you’ll be throwing elbows with them as they become your most dreaded adversaries on the battle for the bus.
We worked out a system for the shuttle bus arrival. As the bus rolls in, Molly picks up all the camera bags, ready to quickly open the back door and load the heavy luggage in. Beth, voted the most bulldog-aggressive of the lot of us, nimbly hops onto the bus and reserves a seat for Molly with a laptop bag. It’s helpful to be a stupid American and not speak German when an irate German journalist starts yelling at you.
For the ride home, we all gather at the transport station, near the stables, where one transport official—the maitre ‘d of shuttles, shall we say—benevolently dictates, sending shuttles off to various destinations with a flick of his hand and a shout of German.
When he sees us schlepping toward him, weighted down with cameras, laptops, and all our raincoats, he rolls his eyes. Zweifall—being far out in the countryside—is not one of the favorite shuttle driver destinations. I’ve even heard him bribe a driver into taking us home. We’re very nice to him.
And then there is the fascinating array of personalities in drivers. We had a driver one evening on the way back to the hotel who was a student in Aachen and volunteered as a WEG shuttle driver to get the free admission to the show. Of course, as she bitterly explained, she never got to see a horse, as she ferried weary journalists hither and non for hours on end. She was not impressed with the amount of traffic, the trip to Zweifall, or much else. We haven’t seen her since.
Then, there was the woman who drove her mini-bus with all the intensity and verve of your favorite NASCAR driver. Red lights were a challenge for her—does red mean “floor it” in German? Didn’t think so. Can you tell her that? She also had a lovely propensity for driving on the sidewalks to avoid traffic. Combine all this with her complete lack of mastery of the clutch, and you have a busload of white-knuckled journalists suddenly finding religion again.
There are the more friendly versions, however. We were enchanted with the wonderful elderly gentleman who spoke little English, but plied us with chocolate. Unfortunately, we’d been busy all day, and the combination of rich chocolate treats on an empty stomach and his lack of subtlety with the gas, brake and clutch, led to numerous cases of white-faced upset stomachs. I joke not.
So, midway through the second week of the WEG, think of us. We’ll be standing in the parking lot.