One frigid night in Munich, Germany, we attended a party along with some friends a few subway stops from our apartment building. After the party, sometime after two in the morning, we stumbled outside to discover we’d missed the night’s final subway run. What to do? We were all students, way too poor to spring for a taxi.
Then we noticed the gate to the subway station hung open and unlocked. Like an invitation from a warm neighbor, we couldn’t refuse. Flying down the unmoving escalators, we burst into the station with an explosion of raucous noise. We howled; we whistled; we sang. It was ugly.
After the thrill faded, a friend asked, “Hey, why not follow the tracks? It’s only two stops.” Though it might sound like a crazy idea now in the sober light of day, we recognized at the time both the need to get home and the opportunity for adventure. So one by one, we jumped down onto the tracks.
We left the station lights behind and headed into the tunnel. Darkness consumed us. The soot-black walls swallowed all light; we couldn't see three feet in any direction. The air grew heavy with the stench of decay. Like bats, we used our aural senses to proceed when our vision failed us. We maintained a cautious pace, keeping away from the third rail. We were drunk, but not suicidal.
As we stepped over the wooden railroad ties, our senses on alert, anything seemed possible.
A light appeared ahead, like an angel descending into Hell to save us from our own stupidity. As we neared, we realized it was just the next subway station. We stormed past, shouting our hellos and fuck-yous at the security cameras, and dove back into the darkness of the tunnel. This time, our eyes adjusted more quickly.
Shortly after, we stumbled on the tracks. We found ourselves heading up a gentle incline, the tracks rising to meet our steps. Of course! Our stop was above ground. As we scrambled up the slope, so near our destination, our friend in front shouted, “A subway car!”
What a stupid thing to say to a bunch of drunks on the tracks after dark. We all nearly dove for cover.
But we noticed that there was indeed an empty subway train sitting to our left. Nestled into the hill on a level rail between the north- and south-bound tracks, it extended into a tunnel. The slope allowed us to climb on top of the spare train, so we did. How often do you get the chance to be on the roof of a subway car? It was like being in a movie.
The roof curved down only at the very edges, so the surface felt safe, sturdy: solid German engineering. Halfway down the car, a solid partition hung down from the tunnel’s ceiling, partially blocking the way. Ducking under it, one of us (and we won’t say which one) peered beyond the partition into what looked like an endless subterranean vault. Was that a light at the end of the tunnel? I didn’t know, but it seemed funny at the time. I continued along the roof, walking upright, squinting at that light.
The next thing I knew, I had bounced off the car’s huge metal coupling and landed in the gravel, on my feet, like a cat. It took me a moment to realize I had just fallen off the subway car’s roof, in the space between the cars.
I fell straight down because I possessed all the flexibility of a diluted mind and a drunken body. When I bounced off the coupling feet-first, my knees bent, absorbing the shock. My body acted instinctively. My mind didn’t have time to panic. So I landed safely, without a scratch.
Had I been sober, I might have landed in stiff-legged fear and broken an ankle. I might have lurched forward and not survived the fall. I might have done any number of sensible things and killed myself. Then again, walking on the top of a subway car in the dark, drunk off my ass is not the most sensible thing I’ve ever done.
Lessons Learned: Did God protect us that night? We’re not religious by nature, but we still don’t know even after all these years. We did, however, learn a very important lesson: when you do something seriously foolish, do it with style, verve, and lots of alcohol. It’ll give you a story to write about later. Assuming you survive.
How We Saw It
Communication Breakdown: 4
Customer Dis-service: 2
Discomfort Level: 4
Grunge Factor: 3
Inactivity Guide: 1
Spontaneous Consumption: 2
Fun Fraction: 4/5
If You Won’t Listen to Us
Nearest Airport: Munich “Franz Josef Strauss” Airport
Native Population: 1,400,000
Normal Attractions: Fast, efficient subway service to museums, fine dining, shopping, and many, many beer gardens and pubs. (For more comic relief about Munich, see: The Law of Gravity, October 2008)
Final Point of Interest: Like many large cities, Munich has a problem with subway suicides. Don’t drink and ride.