Lasse Stolley sought a change of environment after his intended apprenticeship failed to materialize. Nearly two years ago, the teenager embarked on a life aboard German trains. This remarkable adventure has led the 17-year-old from the windy northern reaches of Germany to its southern frontiers and further. Starting his journey in August 2022, Stolley has covered an astonishing 650,000 kilometers (400,000 miles), equating to circling the globe more than 15 times, spending over 6,700 hours on trains.

"The ability to choose my destination daily is fantastic – that's true freedom," Stolley shared with AFP during an interview at Frankfurt train station's cafe. "I enjoy gazing out the window, observing the scenery rush by... and the opportunity to discover every corner of Germany." He travels light with just a backpack, subsisting mostly on free pizza and soup from Deutsche Bahn's station lounges, thanks to his train pass. With his wide grin, the tall teen hardly seems the type to trade his family's comforts for the challenges of rail life.

Growing up, Stolley had little interest in trains, never owning a model railway and only twice experiencing Germany's high-speed ICE trains. However, after completing secondary school, his planned computer programming apprenticeship fell through. In his quest for what to do next, he came across a documentary about train living. "I thought, 'I could do that,'" he recalled. "Initially, it was just a far-fetched idea. But I kept gravitating towards it... and eventually decided, 'OK, I'm really going to do this.'"

Initially hesitant, his parents eventually supported his decision. He purchased a rail card for unlimited travel and set off from his home in Fockbek, heading to Hamburg and then Munich via a night train. The early days were tough; he couldn't sleep due to his railcard's restrictions on night trains with beds and often returned home. However, he adapted, using an airbed in the baggage areas of high-speed trains. After a year, he upgraded to a first-class travel card, granting access to more spacious carriages and lounges.

Now accustomed to train life, Stolley finds regular beds uncomfortable, missing the train's rocking motion. He even works remotely, programming apps for a startup. He frequently visits major cities like Berlin and Frankfurt, and smaller towns, traversing the Alps and venturing to Basel and Salzburg just across the German border. Living on Germany's oft-criticized rail network has its challenges, with frequent delays and strikes occasionally forcing him to sleep in airports. Deutsche Bahn has not commented on Stolley's permanent train residency.

Despite the challenges, Stolley's unconventional lifestyle has its rewards, including finding love at the Cologne rail station lounge. He's unsure how long he'll continue this lifestyle – perhaps another year, or five. "Right now, I'm having a blast and experiencing so much daily," he said.