If you’ve ever taken the Deutsche Bahn Trains in Berlin, chances are you’ve at least once heard a synth organ blast out a strange Volksmusik tune. What the hell is that jingle that they play on German Trains? Turns out that they dont just play them on trains in Berlin, but throughout Brandenburg as well – and its origins involve (not in a good way) everybody’s favorite youtube blocking organization GEMA!
What is that music on German Trains? And why do they play music on German Trains?
First of all – what Jingle am I talking about? This one:
The whole story begins in Japan of all places. Hans Leister, the former Deutsche Bahn Director for Brandenburg noted that in Japan, trains play a short jingle to inform passengers what station they are currently at. He apparently quite liked this idea and thought to himself if they can do it in Japan, they can do it in Berlin and Brandenburg.
The task of crafting catchy music for Germany’s regional trains was handed over to Karl-Heinz Friedrich, Regional Manager for Production and Engineering in Potsdam in 1999. Karl-Heinz was quite adept to music even performing at the Friedrichstadtpalast in Berlin with his Band back in the day. He picked out different melodies and played them out on his computer. Then they were transferred onto the computer systems of Berlin and Brandenburgs Regional Trains which – thanks to the modern wonders of GPS played out the right musical jingle at the right station. Berlins Jingle – one would not expect anything less – was the iconic tune: Berliner Luft – by Paul Lincke.
And that’s where shit hit the fan. GEMA – the Society for musical performing and mechanical reproduction rights, which is not only tasked with making youtube unusable in Germany, was/is in charge for collecting the licensing fees for artists. GEMA concluded that the Deutsche Bahn was providing a public music venue with its 400 seater trains, and demanded cash. 5000 Euros per month.
The Deutsche Bahn – driven by the same dislike for the GEMA as the general public – found a loophole which side-stepped the GEMA by using music from the 19th Century and earlier. These works fell under the public domain and could be used royalty free. Friedrich headed back to the studio and recorded the new jingles which are still in place today.
What jingle you hear depends on where you begin your journey:
I’ll leave you with the “original” recordings so you can imagine what mental horrors Deutsche Bahn travelers are put through.
If your train departs from Berlin, you will hear “Jetzt kommen die lustigen Tage” (19th Century)
If your train journey begins in Brandenburg, you will hear the Jingle “Wer recht in Freuden wandern will” – Text by Emanuel Geibel and Music by Franz Gustav Klauer (1832). So if you take the regional train from Schönefeld Airport to Berlin Hauptbahnhof you will hear this lovely piece. This is the “original” version of the jingle at the beginning of this post.
If you ever end up taking the RE4 Regional Train to Wismar, you will hear “Dat du min Leevsten büst” (1760)
So this is how we ended up with weird synth music jingles on German trains in Berlin and Brandenburg. Another German mystery solved.