Monday, January 17, 2005

The Railway

The state-owned German railway service, Deutsche Bahn AG, has ambitious plans to use the liberalization of European rail services to expand throughout the European continent. As reported in a series of articles on (in German here, here, and here), Deutsche Bahn has already made substantial progress in this direction through strategic acquisitions in, for instance, France (Joyau), Switzerland (Handgartner) and Denmark (Scandlines, jointly-owned by Deutsche Bahn and the Danish Ministry of Transportation). As noted by, commenting on Deutsche Bahn’s strategy paper “Railway 2020”, “already today the Deutsche Bahn AG is active in almost all of Germany’s European neighbors, where it operates rail services (Denmark: “Railion Denmark”; Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg: “Railion Benelux”) or other transportation services.” Deutsche Bahn’s strategy mirrors that of other former German state monopolies, such as Deutsche Telekom and Deutsche Post, which, while remaining largely state-owned and still enjoying quasi- or even outright monopolistic positions in their home markets, have sought aggressively to exploit their domestic advantages to expand into foreign markets.

Deutsche Bahn is not shy about its ambitions. Thus whereas its logo consists of the company’s initials “DB”, on its home page and in advertisements these initials are interpreted as standing not for "Deutsche Bahn" but simply “die Bahn”: not for the "German Railway" - but simply "The Railway". Search, for example, for international rail connections on the website of the Slovenian Office of Tourism (click on “information about timetables”) and you will be transferred to the website of “die Bahn”. The company’s megalomania in appropriating the definite article “die” is perhaps only matched by the megalomania of Deutsche Telekom, which, while similarly and with similar implications dropping the adjective "deutsche", has appropriated the letter “T” for “Telekom”: as in “T-Mobile” or “T-Online”. Deutsche Telekom has gone so far as to take legal action in order to defend the letter "T" [link in German] as its exclusive trademark.

Frankness about its history and, more specifically, the role played by its legal predecessor, the German Reichsbahn, in the deportation of European Jews, is apparently not consistent with “the” railway’s European strategy. See “Eleven Thousand Children” on (and here for the German original).