It’s a stereotype that Danes love to complain but it’s very true when it comes to the trains. The moment snow or leaves start to land on the jernbanespor people will start slapping their thighs and saying “nå! der vil være nogle forsinkelser!” And if those delays start to happen, people are annoyed but they’re also a little smug and selvglad.
I’ve made lots of fun of DSB but I’ll say something unpopular, brave (and hypocritical): I think they’re really good.
The very first time I took a train in Denmark it was delayed. I remember a selvglad gammel dame turned to me and said, “you know what it stands for: De Sover Bare.” Coming from the UK I was now expecting the worst yet; I’m used to the smell of human urine, garbage and prices so bad they make your bank account ache. However, I was greeted by luxury. Big comfy seats like a living room, a quiet area, clean floors and windows – even places to charge your phone! Your fellow passengers are clean, polite and like you: using a discount orange ticket.
In Denmark I have had trains cancelled, been forced on the togbus and even a tree smash through a carriage window. It’s been wild eleven years of DSB. But considering it’s got more than 2.700km of track (which is Aalborg to København 9 times) and 150 million journeys I think it does its best.
Some of my favourite things about the DSB:
Billetkontrollører are gammel and hyggelig. I don’t know why the job attracts the gammel, but more often than not you’re having your billet looked at by a very sød dame with glasses called Birgitte. That said, she’s tough as nails. I once saw two DSB arbejdere show no fear to a very drunk and angry man with no ticket. They dragged him off the train at a stop in Lars Tyndskids Mark with complete confidence.
DSB1. It’s extremely cute and very Danish. The seats are slightly larger, there’s a small bowl of chocolates and if you ask nicely – there’s coffee. Free newspapers are in German (apparently, wealthy Danes can magically snakke tysk) and you get to travel with a slight sense of superiority. I only did it once and upon seeing me, the inspector immediately said “you’re in the wrong carriage, this is first class” to which I showed him my ticket. It was very awkward. Probably a sign I needed a haircut and a shower.
Tiny bin bags. Under every table is a little rack of tiny bags, asking you to take your rubbish with you. And instead, there’s just one bag full to bursting with an assortment of crap. It’s a like a little unspoken battle between passengers and the well-meaning train cleaners.
Stillezone. The Danish version of a zen garden. A nice carriage where everyone is doing their best to be as peaceful as possible and anyone quiet is very welcome. The best part is that if someone isn’t being stille you’re allowed to give them the death stare. If that doesn’t make them quiet you have to “ssshh” in your most passive-aggressive tone. You’ll almost certainly always discover they’re noisy Spanish tourists who couldn’t have imagined that a silent train was even possible.
It isn’t perfect, things go wrong and I understand why some people in Denmark would rather take the car. But a discount ticket, stillezone and getting to support the work of Birgitte are all reasons I’m loyal to the glorious Danske Statsbaner.
Now I feel truly integrated: using trains all the time but moaning at the slightest inconvenience. Every time it snows a slight smile comes to my lips, knowing all the trouble DSB are about to get in even if they don’t actually have any delays.
Conrad Molden is a comedian, writer and father living with his wonderful wife and two children in København. He’s been in Denmark for the last 11 years and somehow managed to fejl at læring the dansk. His unique style of blending English and Danish, with observations about international life in Denmark, has become a beacon for English-language comedy. He has three comedy specials streaming on YouTube including his most recent: “Hyggelicious” and is currently on tour with his new one-man-show “ÆØÅ”.