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Greta Thunberg tweeted an photo of her sitting on the floor of a train, surrounded by baggage, with the text:

Traveling on overcrowded trains through Germany. And I’m finally on my way home!

According to the NY Post:

A German railway company has taken back an apology they made to Greta Thunberg after they realized the climate activist wasn’t schlepping it on the train’s floor but instead was treated “friendly” in first class.

The rail company was responding to an image Thunberg tweeted of herself sitting amid bags and suitcases on the floor of what she called “overcrowded trains through Germany.”

This was later rebutted by Greta as follows:

Our train from Basel was taken out of traffic. So we sat on the floor on 2 different trains. After Göttingen I got a seat.This is no problem of course and I never said it was. Overcrowded trains is a great sign because it means the demand for train travel is high!

Is it true that Greta was chose to sit on the floor of a train because she couldn't find a seat? Was a train from Basel taken out of service around the time of her trip?

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    Many, many people got hung up on the word "forced" which was not part of the claim, and seems to have been difficult to interpret. I edited this out (an action I recommend to others where the OP's question doesn't match the claim). I also deleted various opinions of what the scandal should be. – Oddthinking Dec 25 '19 at 10:16
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German trains (or more specifically, trains run by Deutsche Bahn/DB , which is the only really major train company in Germany and the one that ran Thunberg's train) take on more passengers than available seats. It is possible to place seat reservations in advance in addition to the purchase of your train ticket. If you don't make a reservation, you can still get on board of a train you have a valid ticket for, but if the train is crowded, you may have to stand in the aisle for the duration of your journey. Some people (mostly younger passengers) prefer to sit on the floor to standing, but this is absolutely not compulsory.

If a train for which a reservation has been made is cancelled, DB is no longer obliged to guarantee a seat on the replacement train (in fact, this would pose quite a logistical challenge so I can see why they do that). The reservation price can be refunded in these cases, but passengers from the cancelled train may not find a vacant seat on the replacement train.

The tweet by Thunberg was posted on December 14, 2019. Indeed, on that day there was a train cancellation on the line between Basel and Hamburg, the line on which Thunberg was travelling. According to the website www.zugfinder.de, which archives German train connections and offers free access to the last 30 days of their database, DB did cancel ICE 78, which was originally scheduled to depart from Basel at 7:06 and arrive at Hamburg at 13:52 ("Zug ist ausgefallen" means "train was cancelled"):

Screenshot from www.zugfinder.de showing a cancelled train between Basel and Hamburg on Dec. 14 2019

So, what apparently happened is this:

  • Thunberg buys a ticket for ICE 78 from Basel to Hamburg (departure 7:06). It is unclear whether she also made a seat reservation for this connection.
  • ICE 78 is cancelled.
  • Thunberg gets on a different connection from Basel to Hamburg. Any seat reservation becomes void at this point.
  • Thunberg can't find a seat on the replacement trains and decides to sit on the floor (in her later tweet, she says that she was on two different trains before she reached Göttingen, which means that she probably changed trains in Mannheim and later in Fulda).
  • Thunberg has someone take a photo of her sitting on the floor en route to Göttingen.
  • Changing trains in Göttingen again, Thunberg finds a seat for the duration of the journey between Göttingen and Hamburg.
  • Later that day, Thunberg posts the photo on Twitter.
  • On Sunday 15, 2019, Deutsche Bahn responds on Twitter, which discloses the train number of Thunberg's train from Göttingen to Hamburg and which contains a snide remark that this part of her journey was indeed in a first class compartment.

To anyone who has traveled with Deutsche Bahn, this will sound like a very familiar experience: nothing in this reconstructed chain of events is in any way spectacular, with possibly the exception that DB responds to a post on Twitter. In fact, this is the only thing that is actually kind of noteworthy (as @tim pointed out in a comment). Here's what they posted in their tweet:

Liebe #Greta, danke, dass Du uns Eisenbahner im Kampf gegen den Klimawandel unterstützt! Wir haben uns gefreut, dass Du am Samstag mit uns im ICE 74 unterwegs warst. Und das mit 100 Prozent Ökostrom. Noch schöner wäre es gewesen, wenn Du zusätzlich auch berichtet hättest, wie freundlich und kompetent Du von unserem Team an Deinem Sitzplatz in der Ersten Klasse betreut worden bist.

"Dear #Greta, thank you for supporting railways in the fight against climate change! We were happy that you traveled with us in the ICE 74 on Saturday. And with electricity from 100 percent renewable sources. It would have been even nicer if you had also reported how friendly and competently you were treated by our team at your seat in first class." (my translation)

I can see that this response stirred some public attention, and there's currently a discussion about DB's "passive-aggressive" tone (as @tim called it in his answer) and whether DB violated Thunberg's privacy by disclosing this information. But the fact that she sat on the floor on a German train is really a non-event.

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  • Perhaps for context: 5.4% cancellations, of the remainder 75% are counted punctual, regular overcrowding a high level policy issue and video of the situation with GT shows a rather mild instance of it dn.se/nyheter/varlden/… gruene-bundestag.de/fileadmin/media/gruenebundestag_de/… – LangLаngС Dec 19 '19 at 15:09
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    Can you provide more information on the train number difference? You claim Greta wanted to travel in ICE78 which you show was cancelled but DB claimed her to be in ICE74. How did you arrive at the number 78 and what was ICE74’s route supposed to be? – Jan Dec 20 '19 at 9:09
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    A short comment I didn’t see from anybody else: Greta must have had a seat reservation for the original train, since that is included in the price for the ticket when riding first class. – DocM Dec 20 '19 at 10:44
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Yes.

The issue started with a Tweet by Thunberg showing her sitting on the floor because of "overcrowded trains":

The German train company responded with a passive-aggressive tweet saying that she had a first class seat reserved.

This resulted in attacks against Thunberg online, as well as accusations that the image of her sitting on the floor was fake.

But Thunberg was not able to take the reserved seat because her train was canceled, and she had to use an alternative train, thus losing her reserved seat. She got a seat later in her journey. The train company issued a press release, which specified that Thunberg had a seat between Kassel and Hamburg (implicitly admitting that she did not have one before then).

Journalists who accompanied her confirmed the change of trains and that she did indeed had to sit on the floor (see also here, here, or here).

To state the obvious: she "had to sit on the floor" in the sense of 'no seats were available'; not literally forced or restrained to the floor, which nobody involved claimed (she could have stood, left the train, etc).

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    The aggressive PR was lending ammunition to idiots: unbalanced self-promotion by Thunberg, since "she enjoyed first class service at her first class seat" on a later part of the journey, even politicians using it to smear her. The scandals are: lateness and unreliability of trains, constant overbooking and lack of planning/investments for profit, non-privacy exploitations as routine… Millions have to sit on the floor (just like Corbyn… ;) – LangLаngС Dec 19 '19 at 10:57
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    @LangLangC I don't think overbooking is really a matter here. A lot, by my guess probably a large majority, of tickets both short and long distance are bought without specifying a train and so some trains inevitably end up packed for various reasons, not all of which can be integrated into a constant schedule (sports matches, conferences, etc.). While DB could run more trains to prevent such situations, those trains would run empty every time there isn't such an event, which would both waste money and be bad for the environment. I'd rather occasionally sit in a full train. – Morfildur Dec 19 '19 at 12:51
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    @LangLangC : German trains are not overbooked in the sense you talk about planes being overbooked. You can book a train ticket with a guaranteed seat and you can book a ticket without a guaranteed seat. – Christian Dec 19 '19 at 14:16
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    @Christian Even to advance knowledge events, trains are often made shorter not longer, because they have no more reserves, grinding all equipment down, lacking flexibility That means also they sell tickets & seats. Tickets even when they can guess it's going to be overcrowded (no more seats available) and seats are 'guaranteed', yeah, but this g is often worthless as the carriage having that seat you booked is just not rolling (broken down, unsafe, gone missing etc) Or just like in GT case: entire train cancelled… – LangLаngС Dec 19 '19 at 14:46
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    Twitter links are epitome for link rot, especially in such embarrassing cases like "a true deutsche bahn experience". You have to quote them. – LangLаngС Dec 19 '19 at 14:59

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