Why clubbers are excited about the German cross-country Techno Train

‘Do you ever get seasick?’ Timm Schirmer, a 27-year-old DJ with a beautiful blonde mustache, asks me shortly before we board the Techno Train. “When you dance on the train, it can feel like you’re at sea because you can’t always see that you’re moving.” Disturbingly, I actually gagged a lot on boats last holiday. But Timm’s question comes after I paid €100 for a non-refundable ticket for what social media claims is Europe’s most intense train ride. I knew it wouldn’t go smoothly.

Launched in 2019 by the Nuremberg nightclub Haus 33, for whom Tim DJs, the Techno Train runs twice a year and has only two official stops: the start and the finish. We will depart from Nuremberg’s Frankenstadion station at 4:00 PM and travel approximately 100 km west towards the city of Würzburg, then walk back and enter Nuremberg Central Station at 11:00 PM.

The train has twelve carriages, three of which become dance halls with DJ decks, speakers and bars. About 25 DJs will perform on our tour through the Bavarian countryside.

There are approximately 700 tickets available for each journey, which sell out in seconds, despite the train having no marketing activities other than social media. But still Tim says: “You can’t get rich from this. Permission to go onto the track is expensive. We are fortunate that we have hype on Instagram and TikTok… if you don’t have this, you will go out of business.”

As I join the queue outside Frankenstadion station, a woman with a stroller grabs her phone to film the mostly black-clad, often half-naked ticket holders. Before I’m allowed to board, a stout bouncer rummages through my backpack – luckily he has no problem with me being the only passenger who has brought a book.

The music is gospel-like and euphoric, much less abrasive than I expected

Transport rules require at least one seat per passenger, and I look for a spot in the chill-out area. It is one of the few carriages without ceiling speakers and where smoking is not allowed. I talk to Vincent, a smiling 22-year-old boy with a shaved head and mirrored sunglasses, who says he’s part of Nuremberg’s techno scene. I’m asking for advice as a 40 year old Techno Train virgin. “Don’t stay in one place, travel back and forth by train,” says Vincent. His friend Benedict, with a deep voice and a light beard, adds: “Use the toilets early. They become… unpleasant.”

At 4:30 PM DJ Es.Ka started his set in the dance carriage closest to me. Panels are pulled over the windows and a fog machine fills the room with red mist and the smell of school disco. Shirtless gentlemen with six-packs dance on ledges, and a skinny man who looks like Bad Education actor Layton Williams waves around a huge black hand fan. The oversized fan isn’t an affectation: it’s a hot afternoon, even before you’re dancing in a crowded carriage.

The music is gospel-like and euphoric, much less abrasive than I expected. About 90 minutes after the DJs start, the train starts moving, leading to cheers.

Most of the audience is German, but I also notice Irish, American, English and French accents. Timm says that when the Techno Train was launched, it was mainly for Haus 33 regulars, but after it became big online, people from further afield started coming. In the queue for the bar I hear a loud Glaswegian accent: “Any luck with the disco cookies?”

“Awareness staff” in red vests monitor bad behavior and rolled banknotes. “If we see two people go to the toilet and stay there for half an hour, we know something is going on,” says one.

In March this year, the German Ministry of Culture and the UNESCO Commission added Berlin’s techno scene to the country’s list of intangible cultural heritage. I ask Timm whether the success of the Techno Train is a sign of an “officially” positive attitude towards techno and hedonism that is palpable outside the capital.

He shakes his head. “Bavaria is actually very conservative. It is the opposite of Berlin.” Timm mentions Markus Söder, the Bavarian Prime Minister and leader of the Christian Social Union in the Bavarian party. “They hate techno and partying. It’s very difficult to get permission, and I don’t really know why we get it. Maybe because this is so unique. But if you do something like an illegal party here in the woods and the police come, you’re screwed.”

I squeeze past a man wearing a gold V for Vendetta Guy Fawkes mask, then another man dressed in Jesus robes, and shuffle towards the largest DJ carriage. The windows are open and uncovered, which on this sunny afternoon gives the feeling of the club lights coming on at 5am. A breeze blows in sporadically, offering relief to sweat-stained cheeks.

The train parks at stations along the route, where people on platforms take videos of the carriages rocking under hundreds of heavy dance steps. As we walk through a village, children swing manically on garden swings. An elderly gentleman tending his vegetable garden drops his trowel to greet us.

With an hour to go, hundreds of passengers are still dancing, their shirts thrown away

As I flit between the dance carriages, I don’t feel seasick, but I hit a wall during a hardcore remix of Sean Paul’s Get Busy. Louis Harshman, a Berlin-based DJ, plays a set of suitably hard, nosebleed techno as I retreat to the chill-out area. With an hour to go, hundreds of passengers are still dancing, their shirts thrown away and pupils dilated.

We return to Nuremberg, where the police are waiting on the station platform to watch the crowds stumble out of the station. Timm stuffs DJ equipment into his backpack and smiles proudly. He asks if I’m coming to the Haus 33 afterparty.

The club is a short walk away, but my Premier Inn is closer. I look at my health app and see that I have taken 20,000 steps on the train. I look in my wallet and see that I spent $50 on cold carbonated soda. The Techno Train was as pleasantly intense as I had hoped, but that’s enough exercise and sugar for one day.

Check out the Techno Train’s Instagram (@technotrain_) for future trips. Train journeys from London to Brussels were provided by Eurostar (from €51 a way). Travel from Brussels to Berlin offered by European sleeper (couchettes from €79 a way). Trip from Berlin to Nuremberg offered by Omio, whose app allows travelers to compare different modes of transportation at the same time. Accommodation in Nuremberg provided by Premier Inn Nuremberg City Opernhaus (doubles from 106).

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