page last updated October 8, 2023
(Photo by Deutsche Bahn)
are known to gripe about just about everything, but take their
complaints about trains with a bit of a grain of salt. Germany
easily has one of
the world's largest and most efficient passenger rail systems. In fact,
Germany has the largest rail system in Europe. There
aren't many places of signficance that it doesn't get to, and the trip
be comfortable and, with planning, economical. While there certainly
are problems that need attention, train service in Germany on the whole
quite good. Europe in general has a high utilization of trains, and
is especially reliant on them. After the automobile, rail is by far the
most common means of transportation as evidenced by the fact that three
of Europe's five busiest stations and eleven of Europe's 20 busiest
stations are in Germany.
there are a few independent rail services, the 800 pound
gorilla of rail transport in Germany is the Deutsche
(DB, or GermanRail), also known colloquially as "Die Bahn", and so this
page focuses mostly on DB services. Over 7 million people a day use the
DB's 29,000 trains serving over
5,500 stations along 33,300 km of track.
Deutsche Bahn was
formerly a government monopoly created from the old
West German Deutsche Bundesbahn (German Federal
Railways) and East German Reichsbahn (Imperial
Railways), but it is now completely privatized
(although it is still owned entirely by the government), with the
components (passenger services, cargo, and infrastructure) each
spun-off to its own subsidiary. Connections between the former
western halves of
the country have been upgraded and expanded, and nearly all of the
roadbed in the
eastern part of the nation has now either been upgraded or junked.
Deutsche Bahn logo
Punctuality and future
the saying used to go, you could set your watch by the trains. But a
variety of factors has caused that once sterling reputation to suffer
in recent years. In 2021, only 75% or so of long-distance trains-- and
only about two-thirds of ICE
five minutes of schedule, and in June 2022, that had sunk to a new low
of just 59.5%. (I traveled in Germany during that month and all
five of my long-distance trains were late, including two that were more
than 30 minutes late. However, while traveling in September and October 2023, only one of my six trains was late.)
problem is that about half of international IC/EC trains coming into
Germany are late, but moreso,
the main problem is years of under investment in Germany's rail system,
resulting in congestion bottlenecks and equipment failures due to
deferred maintenance and expansion. The DB and government are
solutions to improve on-time rates, including a major upgrade and
expansion of the busiest rail corridors starting in 2024, and a
restructuring of the work program to minimize disruptions.
on the horizon is a massive timetable overhaul called "Deutschlandtakt".
This plan, which is very similar to Switzerland's timetable scheme,
will standardize and harmonize the schedules so that there will be
connections between the big cities at 30 minute intervals at the same
clockface time each hour, with regional traffic at interchange stations
then being coordinated in the intervening time so that transfers are
easier. It was initially planned to implement this in 2030, but recent
reports are that this deadline may have been too ambitious.
worth noting that Germany is a union country, and transport strikes (Streik)
can occur at any time and for any ol' reason, although it is still a
fairly rare occurrence and there is usually advanced notice.
Still, travelers should be aware that even a short "warning strike" (Warnungstreik)
in one city can ripple through the entire system causing long delays
and even cancellations. On these days, be prepared to adjust your
travel plans and wait longer than usual.
"The train was late"
leads me to an
cultural note: since trains and punctuality are so important in the
German world, you can request an official "certificate of train
if a train is significantly late. You can use these "tardy slips" for
arriving late to work, school, or other appointments, or as a tourist,
keep them as souvenirs for the scrapbook. These days, however,
because of the widespread and well-known tardiness of trains, nobody
really questions an excuse of "my train was late" anymore.
of the DB's rolling stock has been upgraded leaving
none of the old Cold War era train sets to be found anymore, although
Flixtrain and some of the other non-DB services
some of that old rolling stock and put it to use. Somewhat
unexpectedly, many local trains in the big cities (especially the
Frankfurt and Rhein-Ruhr areas) have exteriors covered by graffiti,
reminiscent of New York subway trains from the 1980s. Generally, it's
lower-end local and regional trains that suffer from these problems,
no matter what the exterior of the train looks like, the interior will
usually be quite clean, aside from occasional spilled drinks
and litter. Many times, train sets will contain carriages
locomotives from neighboring countries.
DB was once developing the world's first magnetic-levitation passenger
train line between Berlin and Hamburg, but it was cancelled due to a
number of political issues. But another maglev line, connecting
Munich's central station and airport, is now being considered.
the rail enthusiast
If you're really interested in trains (or even marginally), I
would recommend sitting on a platform at a major station for a while
and watching the trains come and go. You will get to see all of the
various types of trains and watch how precisely the system runs. I have
done this many times and it still fascinates me just as much now as
when I was a kid.
Map of DB long-distance network
DB offers a hierarchical assortment of services identified by
an alphabet soup of letters, although the variety has been pared down a
bit in recent years. Services are divided into two main categories:
regional and long-distance. Here are most of the train types and
designations, in descending order of speed and coverage:
(InterCity Express) - The ICE is the
flagship of the GermanRail system and provides high-speed connections
between the principal cities. Trains usually run every hour
or sometimes even more frequently. This service includes "ICE Sprinter" trains, which
skip some stations the ICE usually stops at, thus allowing for even faster connections between major cities. (See "Long-disance/high-speed trains"
(InterCity/EuroCity) - These are
high-quality express trains connecting the larger domestic destinations
and hubs at speeds sometimes only slightly slower than the ICE. Trains
usually run every hour or two and sometimes share alternating schedules
with ICE trains. Many of these trains travel into adjacent countries as
part of the EC (EuroCity) system.
(InterRegioExpress) - IRE trains are mostly a dwindling artifact of the old InterRegio system still operating in a few areas (mostly around Stuttgart) and are
express trains that connect the larger regional cities at regular
(RegionalExpress) - The RE is a regional
express train generally connecting larger towns to the main rail hubs.
("Regio" or RegionalBahn) - The RB is the
train in the DB arsenal and generally stops at most or all stations along a route.
(S-Bahn, Schnellbahn) - Suburban commuter
rail service in and around major metropolitan areas.
In some places, there is no
distinction between RE and RB trains, with routes simply labeled "R",
and RB trains typically skip stops in areas served by an S-Bahn.
areas also have local or regional services with other branding such as the FEX (Flughafen-Express) service in Berlin and the MEX (Metropolexpress)
service in the Stuttgart region. DB competitors often also use
different names or designations for their services. Most regional trains are
underwritten by state and local governments.
trains (ICE and IC) are usually white with a red stripe, although the
engines on some ICE trains now sport a green stripe signifying the
and regional trains (IRE, RE, RB, and S) are usually red
with gray stripes, although many state-sponsored regional
routes use trains
with a custom
Many regional trains are double-decker, and there is now a double-deck
IC train ("InterCity 2") in service on several routes.
your journey takes you to an out-of-the-way locale, part of your trip
may utilize a train known
as a "Railbus" (Schienenbus).
This is a short one or two car train that, as its name implies, is
basically a bus on tracks, and
provides service on feeder routes with lower ridership. Just
like buses, many stops along these routes are flag stops, i.e.
the train only stops on request.
RE train in Baden-Württemberg with custom livery
(Photo by Brian Purcell)
your bike is dismantled and in a bike bag, you can bring it on board as
ordinary luggage. Otherwise, most regional and IC trains
have a special area for
storing bicycles; those carriages are marked with a large bicycle symbol on
the outside and require a fee for use. For IC trains, you will also
to make a reservation. Many newer ICE
trains now also include space for bicycles; these also require
If you will be traveling with a bicycle, you can
check for trains that will allow them on the DB's timetable and booking
website (see below.)
The DB also has a bicycle rental service in several
cities named "Call-a-bike".
Most trains are divided into two classes-- first and second.
The carriages have a large "1" or "2" on the outside near the doors indicating
which class they carry, and the first class section often has a yellow
stripe along the top outside edge of the carriage. In general, all services
available on the train are provided for both first and second class
passengers. The main difference is that first class seats are a bit
roomier and there are fewer of them. That, and the fact that first
class rates are around 50% higher, means first class tends to be less
crowded than second class.
(Photo by Brian Purcell)
ICE and IC/EC are the fastest trains on the DB roster and provide most of the DB's long-distance connections.
InterCity Express (ICE)
Although it got off to a fast
start (no pun intended) in the early '70s, Germany fell a bit behind
the curve in development of
true high-speed rail (i.e. "bullet trains"), with the 160
km/h IC/EC trains operating as the DB's
fastest service until the ICE finally came online in 1991. However, the
ICE (which is pronounced "I-C-E", not "ice") has rapidly made-up for
the late start with trains that can hit 330 km/h, among the fastest
in the world (although, unfortunately, there are still limited
sections where it can achieve that speed.)
ICE has dramatically reduced travel time on nearly
every long distance route. For example, the Munich to Hamburg journey,
which took an agonizing eight hours in the old days, now takes a more
tolerable six hours, and travel times along the Cologne-Frankfurt run,
with trains hurtling along at the ICE's top speed, dropped from 2¼
hours to about one hour. Planned future improvements to the high-speed
network will continue to decrease travel times.
the ICE could shave even more
travel time off the longer journeys, but due to political pressure,
most ICE routes stop in some questionable
"should-a-high-speed-train-really-stop-here" places. Fortunately, there
are now a few ICE "Sprinter" trains that connect the biggest cities
intermediate stops a few times a day, shaving 30 minutes or more off of
Overhead display in ICE carriage showing current speed
are now four generations of ICE trains operating on over a dozen lines
connecting all the major cities. Several routes run on
roadbeds designed for high speed, while on other routes, ICE trains run
on conventional shared roadbeds that have been improved to allow for
increased speeds, and some conventional routes are served by tilting
trains, i.e. trains that can lean into curves to allow for safe higher
speeds on conventional tracks.
(Yes, that's almost 200 mph!)
(Photo by Brian Purcell)
trains are pressurized to minimize the annoying ear discomfort to
passengers caused by high speed travel through the many tunnels on the
being the fastest, the ICE is also the most well-appointed of
trains. These trains feature air conditioning, adjustable cushioned
reading lights, free Wi-Fi with free entertainment (bring your
device), and electric sockets at each seat.
(Photo by Brian Purcell)
outgunned by its newer sibling, the IC is still an excellent fast
that supplements the ICE or connects some places that the ICE
overshoots. Most all of the same amenities on the ICE are available on
the IC as well. The EC is simply the international version of the IC.
ICE and IC/EC routes have service frequently through the day, many
times hourly and often at the same time each hour. It
is highly recommended that you reserve a seat on these trains,
especially on weekends and holidays, or you may end-up standing in the
aisles or vestibules (more on seat reservations under "Tickets" below.)
addition to several EC services, various other high-speed
Germany to most neighboring countries. The Thayls
connects Cologne to Paris and Brussels and provides a nice segue to the
London, and two
high-speed ICE/TGV links connect Frankfurt and Stuttgart to Paris.
Additional ICE routes cross into neighboring countries, with Basel,
Amsterdam, Salzburg, and Vienna being major destinations, and more
high-speed connections are in the works. The DB has even proposed
bringing-back the venerable Trans-Europe-Express (TEE) service, which
ferried passengers in first class comfort between major cities
until 1995. "TEE 2.0", as approved in 2021, could start
service in 2025 or 2026. Unfortunately, a previous proposal
for a Germany to London ICE connection has been shelved due to
alleged safety concerns (although more likely political resistance.)
New double-decker IC train
(Photo by Deutsche Bahn/Georg Wagner)
are many long-distance trains, both domestic and international, that
operate overnight. Using a night train can add additional free time to
your trip by allowing you to
combine travel and sleep time. Many budget travelers use overnight
trains entirely in lieu of hotels.
2016, the DB discontinued its extensive sleeper train services (Nachtzug,
City Night Line) as a result of losses incurred due to the
cost of maintaining and renovating the rolling stock
and declining ridership as travelers chose faster daytime services or
cheap flights instead. Instead, the DB increased some late-night and
early-morning ICE and IC
services, which unfortunately do not
offer the dedicated sleeping accommodations that traditional overnight
a few other train companies-- most notably, the Austria national
service-- stepped in to provide traditional night train
Germany as well as internationally. For example, routes in Germany
include Munich to Budapest, Venice, Rome, or Vienna; Hamburg to
Vienna or Zurich; Berlin to Budapest, Vienna, or Zurich, and several
stops in Germany on the Amsterdam-Vienna line. These trains offer the
traditional sleeper (Schlafwagen)
and couchette (Liegewagen) carriages, as well as standard coach carriages. A few also offer vehicle
transportation ("car train") services as well.
feature compartments with 1-3 bunks, mattresses and linens, and
usually a small washbasin with hot and cold running water. There are
sometimes also "deluxe" sleepers with compartments that also include a
and shower. Sleepers are full-service and attended by a porter who will
provide whatever assistance you require.
(pronounced koo-SHET) berths are a cheaper (and
ergo less luxurious) form of the sleeper. Each couchette compartment
has 4-6 bunks. You will be provided with a pillow, sheet, and
blanket, but you'll be expected to sleep in your street clothes or
something similar (e.g. sweats.)
compartment on NightJet train showing upper bunks
folded out but lower bunks in seating configuration
(Photo by Brian Purcell)
both sleepers and couchettes, you can book an individual bunk or the
entire compartment. If you book a bunk, you will likely be sharing the
same compartment with other travelers. Most trains do offer a
women-only carriage for
women who are traveling alone.
trains provide breakfast and possibly dinner or a snack included in the
ticket price, and
additional snacks and beverages can be purchased onboard and delivered
to your compartment.
types of compartments have racks or closets to store luggage and
usually also have
locking doors to the corridor. The conductors and porters also act as
watchmen to help keep
out the riffraff. It's a good idea, however, to sleep with any
significant amounts of money, credit cards, plane tickets,
cell phones, or other valuables either
locked in a secure bag or in a money belt safely on your person. You
should also consider locking or at least clipping your bags to a
you don't want to spring for the couchette or sleeper, you can always
try sleeping in the regular coach seats if the train has them. In open
seating, you'll have the same dilemma as sleeping on an airplane--
seats that don't recline much and mysteriously get progressively more
uncomfortable as the night drags on. In trains
seating, you may be able to make a bed from the seats. To do so, see if
you can pull
the seat out from the bottom.
If so, the back cushion will then slide down behind the bottom cushion.
armrest can then be stowed up, forming a cushioned reclined surface.
Pull out the opposing seat and you'll have an ersatz bed. If desired,
you'll need to provide your own linens-- a sleep sack works well for
this, so if you plan to do this, make sure to pack one.
trains have been making a comeback in the past few
as people become more interested in environmental sustainability as
nostalgia. There's still something magical about going to sleep in
Munich and waking up in Venice.
of an ersatz bed in a regular seating compartment
Most overnight trains require reservations, and it is
advisable to purchase tickets ahead of time. Sleeper berths can be
with fares over €100, while couchette bunks are more economical
starting at €50 or so.
can be purchased at the station, but it's probably best to book them
online. The Austrian railway's NightJet site
is the best source for more information and booking of their own
services as well as those of other operators of overnight services in
With your ticket in hand, head
to the platform for your train. Once there, locate your assigned carriage
and board it directly from the platform (more on doing that later.) If
you have a couchette reservation, you then locate your compartment
and settle-in, and the conductor will stop by to check your ticket if
they didn't when you boarded. For sleeper reservations, you typically
must check-in with the
porter of the carriage where your compartment is located and they'll direct
that bunk numbering is not always intuitive, so ask the porter or
conductor if you're not sure you've located the correct bunk.
both the sleeper and couchette carriages, the conductor or porter may take
your tickets and passport and keep them for the duration of the trip to
avoid having to wake you for ticket or passport checks. You will get
them back when you arrive at your destination.
before arrival at your destination, you will be awoken by the conductor
or porter. If you are disembarking at the last stop on the line (which
is often the case), you will typically be allowed a reasonable amount
of time to get up, get ready, and get off, especially if the train
arrives before 7:00am.
Non-DB servicesSince 1999, the
DB has faced competition for rail service, mostly on regional lines.
There are presently over 100 rail companies providing service in
Germany. Ironically, one of the biggest intercity
bus companies-- FlixBus-- also operates multiple intercity train
routes in Germany, and
the service is named-- you guessed
of the competing services are included in the DB's timetables on their
website, but notably, FlixTrain is not, so you'll need to investigate those options separately.
buses were once prohibited in Germany by laws designed to protect the
DB from competition. With the
repeal of those laws in 2013, several low-cost intercity
bus companies have emerged, and a significant share of intercity
passenger traffic has shifted to
Timetables and schedules
used to be a day not too long ago when you had to purchase the massive
timetable book (Kursbuch), call the DB, or visit a
travel agent if you wanted to check train schedules without trekking
down to the station. Nowadays, of course, the Internet makes finding
much simpler (and free!) The DB has an excellent website-- maybe the
best in Europe, and in several languages no less-- from which you can
schedules for nearly all of Europe for any date and time that
has published schedules. For most domestic
and many international trips, once you've located your desired
connection, you can then purchase and print your tickets.
tips on using this service:
sure to include "Hbf" (the abbreviation for Hauptbahnhof)
if you want the central station for a large city (e.g. "Stuttgart Hbf"
is the central station for Stuttgart). Berlin's massive new
Hauptbahnhof opened in 2006 and replaced the Zoo
and Ostbahnhof stations as Berlin's primary long-distance station,
although several stations still also serve long-distance trains. By
the way, the "(Main)" in "Frankfurt (Main) Hbf" doesn't mean the "main"
Hauptbahnhof (that would be redundant)-- it means it's Frankfurt on the
Main River; there's another Frankfurt way over in eastern Germany on
the Oder River, listed, of course, as "Frankfurt (Oder)".
- You can use either
the German or English spelling for cities-- for example, either
"Munich", "München", or "Muenchen" will work.
large cities with multiple long-distance stations, the drop-down
selection may show the city name in capital letters (e.g. "BERLIN"); if
you select this, it will search for connections to all the stations in
that city. This can help you find a connection to a station in town
that may be a better fit for you than the Hauptbahnhof.
that dates in Germany are written dd.mm.yy (e.g.
in 2020 was 25.12.20), and that time is on the 24-hour clock (e.g.
you are going to be using a rail pass or already have tickets, you can
ignore the pricing information. You may be prompted to fill-in your
age-- this is so the system can calculate the proper fare. Again, if
you have a pass, you can feed it your "wish" age.
searching for a station, note that the DB timetables
include local transit services as well, so the list may include bus
stops, subway stations, or airports that closely resemble what you
submitted. If you know your ultimate destination, this can be helpful
in finding connections all the way through to that last stop.
the past few years, many cool new features have been added to the
DB website. For instance, there is now a feature to automatically
and download a calendar item for your electronic calendar. There is a
section that shows you the services and a map of the station or a map
of the route. And there's even a section that will compare the
estimated time, costs, and environmental impacts of the various other
modes of transport for your journey.
course, timetables are still posted in the
station (see "At the Station" below). You can also get "quickie"
schedules from the ticket vending machines in stations, or just use the DB app or website on your mobile phone.
printout from ticket machine
any major transportation service, the DB offers a myriad of tickets,
fare schedules, and special deals. Even railway officials sometimes
have problems navigating the Byzantine structure of the DB's ticketing
options. To top it off, train travel in Germany, while a good value,
a bit pricey, especially if you book at the last minute; good deals are
usually available if you can book early.
Fortunately, many tourists don't need to deal with
this hassle as rail passes may be a better deal.
are a variety of tourist passes offered by GermanRail. These passes
generally are a good deal and pay for themselves after a couple or
three long-distance trips. The most popular is the GermanRail Pass.
This pass, available for purchase only outside of Germany, allows you
unlimited rail travel for 3 to 10 days of consecutive or
non-consecutive travel within a month; the consecutive day passes are a
bit cheaper. The GermanRail TwinPass is a discounted GermanRail Pass
valid for two people traveling together. For travelers under 26,
there's the GermanRail Youth Pass.
Passes are sold
directly by the DB and also through resellers (see links at the bottom
of this page.) GermanRail passes
also valid for travel on DB buses (Bahnbus) and KD
your trip includes other countries besides Germany, there are a
plethora of Eurail international passes available that cover various
combinations of countries and time periods. It might seem unwieldy at
first, but you're sure to find a pass that fits your particular
The Rail Europe travel service and Rick Steves' website (links below)
have good comparisons to help you sort it all out.
you decide to purchase a pass, you should do a rough calculation of the
cost of individual point-to-point tickets for your planned train travel
by using the
DB's website. If the sum total of point-to-point tickets exceeds the
cost of a pass, then the pass will be a better deal.
Unfortunately, you sometimes can't get international rates on the DB's
site. However, since international trips tend to be fairly lengthy and
expensive, a pass will almost surely be a better value in those cases.
Passes also offer the most flexibility if that's important to you as
you can use any train you want on the day your pass is valid, whereas
the discounted point-to-point fares limit you to a specific departure.
Pass; note the date boxes at the left center filled-in for each day of
you purchase a pass, be sure to read the directions that come with it
and follow them precisely. Ignorance is not considered an excuse for
not properly using your pass, and you may be fined (or worse, publicly
humiliated) if you don't follow the required steps. (That said, if you
really did unintentionally forget to note the date and are sincere when
explaining, they will likely just have you fill in the date with a
However, the steps
to use a pass are quite easy. Most passes
require that you have it validated by a rail official at the
station before the first use. You do so by going to a ticket counter at
the station and presenting the pass and your passport to the agent. He
or she will then stamp the pass and fill-in the valid dates. You can do
this just before the first time you use it or you can do it in advance
if you like; just make sure to tell the agent your desired validity
start date if you're not going to start using it right away. Then, each
day that you use your pass (including the first day), write
the date in ink in the appropriate box on
the pass before you board the first train that day.
If you have any questions, ask at the information desk or ticket office
in the station.
to 2002, most long-distance fares were calculated based on a
flat, per-kilometer fare
with surcharges tacked-on for faster services. Since a 2002 tariff
reform and subsequent tweakings, the fare structure has become
significantly more complex, much like the airline fare system (if you
can call it a system.) Now, fares for each segment
are based on a combination of factors including a sliding-scale
distance fare (longer distances are actually cheaper per kilometer
now), speed and travel time on the route, class of
service, demand, and when you book it. These "Relationspreise"
constitute the standard, full price fare (now known as "Flexpreis"),
which fairly steep discounts are offered. For long-distance trips, there are four
types of tickets:
This is the full fare and offers the most flexibility (hence
name.) These tickets can be used on any train in the same category or
lower on the date of validity. Cancellations, changes, and refunds are
free up to one day before the travel date, then for a €19 fee thereafter. This ticket
includes use of local public transportation ("City-Ticket") on
the same day at each end of your train journey if your journey
is more than 100 km.
Plus: An enhanced version of the Flexpreis
fare. These tickets allow you to start your journey within a four day
period that begins one day before your booked travel date and ends two
days after. Cancellations, changes, and refunds are free up to the end
of that validity period, then incur a €19 fee thereafter. A seat
reservation is included as is use of local public transportation on
each end of your train journey.
Discount ticket with less flexibility than the Flexpreis.
You must book at least a day before your trip.
These tickets are only valid on the train listed on the ticket (with
the exception of local and regional trains, for which use of any train
to that destination that day is allowed.) You can
cancel or change up to the day before departure, but there is a €10 fee
to do so, and you will receive the refund as a voucher for future
travel. Free use of local public transportation on the same
each end of your train
journey is included. These fares start off quite cheap (as low as €22)
when first published six months before departure, but generally start
to climb closer to the departure date, especially on busier dates and
Sparpreis: This is the cheapest fare available. As with
the Sparpreis, you
must book at least a day before your trip, and it is restricted to the
train connections you book.
However, there are no cancellations, exchanges, or refunds, and this
ticket does not include local public transportation either.
still have a single fixed price with no need to purchase in advance. Furthermore, you can use regional transport cooperative (Verkehrsverbund) tickets (i.e. the you
same ticket get for the U-Bahn or S-Bahn) on all regional trains
provided, of course, it covers the required number of zones; see
the Urban Public Transport page for more information.
under age 15 ride free when accompanied by a paying adult. In all
cases, you should book as early as you can in order to get the best
for the FlexPreis Plus, seat reservations are not included unless
you're purchasing a first class ticket. However, you can add a
reservation at the time of purchase for an additional fee.
The DB has several special ticket offers
including weekend deals, regional fares (Länder-Tickets), and discount
cards (BahnCard). Visit the
DB's website or ask at the station ticket office for details on these.
to purchase tickets
There are a variety of ways to purchase tickets nowadays; the
method you choose will depend on your circumstance, abilities, and
preference. Tickets are available starting six months before departure.
Go to the station, locate the departure timetable (large
yellow schedules), and find the train that you want to use. Note the
number and departure time. Then go to the ticket counter
(in larger stations, look for "Reisezentrum" signs)
and give this information and your destination to the ticket agent.
Many agents speak
English, but if they don't, and you don't speak German, write the train
number (e.g. "ICE 123"), departure time,
destination, number of tickets (e.g. "2 Tickets"),
and first or second class (e.g. "2. Klasse") on a
slip of paper and hand it to the agent. Be prepared to wait in line a
bit as the ticket counters at busy stations are often not as
they could/should be (Germans don't work cheap after all.) Also, make
sure that the line you are in will get you the service you need-- in
some stations, there are still special lines for express service (just
tickets- no reservations or information), and domestic (Inland)
or international (Ausland) tickets.
tips: I suggest that you use the DB's website to determine the
approximate fares ahead of time. That way, you'll know if you are
getting the correct fare when you purchase. If you have the time, I've
also been told it's worthwhile to "shop around" at the station. Get a
quote from one agent, then get a quote from a second agent. If they
match, OK. If one's cheaper than the other, make sure you're getting
the right ticket. If so, then go for the cheaper one.
If you're not
confident about reading the timetables, the
ticket agents can also help you find connections. Simply tell the agent
where you're going and they will produce a computer printout listing
the next few scheduled connections and timetables and can book your
tickets there on the spot.
ticket office at Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof
(Photo by Brian Purcell)
If you're up-to-speed with technology and don't want to wait
in line, or just fear face time
with Teutonic train emissaries, you have two options. Option
one (and probably the best nowadays)
book your own tickets online at either the DB's efficient
above) or the "DB Navigator" mobile app.
Option two is to
self-service ticket vending machines (usually marked "Fahrkarten"
but sometimes "Fahrausweis", "Fahrschein",
that you'll find in most stations. (Make sure it has the "DB"
on it-- there may be ticket machines for local transit services as
well, and you usually can only get regional tickets from those.) In the
not-to-distance past, you could only
the machines to buy tickets for journeys of less than 100 km. Nowadays,
can purchase tickets and seat reservations for any distance from these
machines, as well as obtain schedules, purchase local transit tickets,
and get other information. The machines
are multi-lingual and touch-screen operated and are fairly intuitive.
Some of the machines only take credit cards, others only cash, but most
take both, so double-check before you start to make sure the machine
will accept your payment type.
(Photo by Brian Purcell)
all else fails: As a last resort, tickets can be
purchased on board the train from the conductor.
Note, however, that this is typically only available on long-distance
most local and many regional trains no longer have
conductors. Be sure to approach the conductor before he finds you;
otherwise, it will appear as if you were attempting to be a stowaway
and you could be fined for Schwartzfahren
(literally "black riding", or riding without a valid ticket.) Tickets
purchased on-board will be for the full Flexpreis fare plus
a 10% surcharge, so use this only as a last resort.
for rail trips in other
European countries can also be purchased through the DB. If you
ticket from an origin in Germany to a destination outside of Germany
it will be a single ticket for the entire journey.
you have a Germany-only rail pass and want to travel from Germany to an
international destination, you can use your pass to
the border, but you'll need a separate ticket from there to your
can buy this ticket at the station in Germany by simply
your plan to the
ticket agent. They'll figure-out which border crossing you'll
using so as to get you the right ticket. You'll then show your Germany
rail pass to the German conductor and the supplemental ticket to the
conductor after you've crossed the border.
ticket for seats 23 and 24 in carriage 2 on the ICE 990 from Munich to
Tickets or passes only guarantee passage from one place to
another; they do not actually guarantee you seated
passage. In most cases, you should be able to find a seat without much
problem. However, seat reservations (Platzreservierung)
are recommended on the busier routes, especially on Fridays, Sundays
and holidays, and are required on a few trains which are specially
noted on the schedule. If not required, these reservations are
separately from your ticket, although you can purchase them at the same
time you buy your ticket and have the fee included, and doing so
usually will get you a discounted rate. You can book seats in most
months before departure all the way up to a few minutes before
departure. Reservations are possible on all long-distance trains and
some regional routes.
As of 2023, the
standard fee is €4.50 for each second class seat reserved, and €5.90
for first class if not purchased with the ticket. For
groups of two to five people, you can purchase a "family reservation" (Familien-Reservierung)
for €9.00 for second class, and €11.80 for first class. In
all cases, a reservation all connecting trains is included free unless
reservations on one or more of the legs are mandatory.
you purchase seat reservations, you have several options. First, you
can specify Großraumwagen or Abteilwagen.
The Abteilwagen has compartments that open onto a
corridor along one side of the carriage. Each compartment has four
to six total seats facing each other. The Großraumwagen
is the typical open coach carriage (called a "saloon" on the English version
of the DB website) with varying seat configurations. Note that
all trains have both. If you want a window seat (am
Fenster), aisle seat (am Gang), or a table
(am Tisch), be sure to specify that, too. Smoking is
no longer permitted on German trains, so that's one less choice to make.
the section "On Board"
below for information on claiming your seat aboard the train.
If you have one of the Sparpreis
tickets and your booked train is cancelled, or its arrival at your
destination will be delayed 20 minutes or more, or a delay causes you
to miss a connection, then the specific train requirement for your
ticket is automatically nullified and your ticket then essentially
becomes a flex ticket for the day, i.e. you can then take any train
that day that gets you to your destination. If possible, you should get
certification of the delay from a train official (or take a screenshot
of the status in the DB app on your phone), but this is not required.
You do not need to cancel and rebook your ticket-- just hop on the next
train going to your destination and explain to the conductor that your
train was cancelled or delayed, which they then can look up if they
don't already know about it. If you have your tickets loaded in the DB
app, it should suggest alternatives for you.
your arrival at your destination is delayed by one hour or more, you
are entitled to a partial refund. You will need to submit paperwork to
obtain this refund. See the DB's "passenger rights" site
for more information.
your train is cancelled, or will be delayed more than one hour, and you
wish to abandon your trip, you are entitled to a full refund.
apply to refunds, so it is best to discuss your particular situation
with an agent at a DB travel center.
Finally, note that
if you had a seat reservation on a train that was cancelled or
missed, the reservation does not transfer. If a train is cancelled, the
next few trains are likely to be full as passengers from the cancelled
train transfer to them, so you'll want to book a reservation on your
chosen alternative as soon as possible.
the station and boarding
(Photo by Brian Purcell)
German word for train station is Bahnhof. If you're
in a large city, you will most likely be using the Hauptbahnhof,
or central station. Stations are usually located in the very
heart of the city, except in small towns where they're often located on
the edge of town. Large cities will usually have a number of
suburban stations as well. Berlin used to have several "main"
stations, with the venerable Zoo station serving as the primary station
in the western half of the city, and the Ostbahnhof, which prior to 1998
had been named Hauptbahnhof, being the hub for the eastern
part. However, a massive new Hauprtbahnhof for the city
opened in May 2006 across the Spree River from the Reichstag on
the site of the former Lehrter Bahnhof, replacing the other stations as
the city's main terminus. The five-level glass-shrouded
Berlin Hauptbahnhof has a train
departing on average every 90 seconds. By contrast, many
teeny-tiny villages have only a single trackside platform served by a
handful of trains a day. Three of Germany's Hauptbahnhofs are among the five busiest in Europe: Hamburg, Frankfurt, and Munich.
you get there, you will find that the larger stations are
virtual self-contained cities. Most now feature a large shopping
arcade under the branding "Mein Einkaufsbahnhof" with a wide-assortment of stores and restaurants that are open
extended hours or even 'round-the-clock. Information and
ticket counters are found in most stations of any significance as are
luggage lockers. Larger stations usually also have banks and
currency exchanges, luggage offices, post offices, showers, and
a traveler's aid service called Bahnhofsmission. A
few even have a hotel. Many stations are in
historical structures and have been or are in the process of being
renovated. The DB has a website that provides information on
the largest 20 or so stations; see the web links at the bottom of this
in the major stations are in German and English and use standard
international pictograms. Here
are some of the more important ones:
are prominently posted throughout the station. You will find
two schedules: arrivals (Ankunft) and departures (Abfahrt).
Departures are listed on yellow charts, arrivals on white. All trains
arriving or departing that station are listed
chronologically starting at midnight. Times are listed using
the 24-hour clock (e.g. 13:00 = 1:00pm). Various symbols
indicate the services onboard, reservation requirements, and days that
train operates-- use the legend at the bottom to crack the
code. Express trains are listed in red. The train
number and the arrival or departure track (Gleis)
number are also listed.
In most stations,
there will also be
large electronic display boards strategically placed around
the station showing
all the upcoming trains and their status. If you see information shown on a white background, pay
attention-- this usually indicates delays, platform changes, or other
information you need to be aware of.
(Sadly, pretty much
all of the old electromechanical "split-flap"
their distinctive clicking sound have been phased-out in
favor of the new digital displays.)
Departure boards at Munich central
(Photo by Brian Purcell)
you already have your ticket, there is no check-in required-- just head
to your platform.
On the platform
you arrive at the designated track, confirm
you are at the correct place by checking the overhead platform indicator
signs. These show the train number and type, destinations,
and arrival/departure time of the next train. Keep in mind
that if you arrive rather early, the sign may be showing a train that
comes before yours; subsequent trains are often shown in a list at the bottom or, on some newer displays, to the side.
also usually be a section on the sign
that shows where the first and second class sections of the train stop
along the platform. More to that end, you will usually find
an utterly practical chart called a Wagenreihungsplan
or Wagenstandanzeiger somewhere along the
platform. This chart
shows the composition of major trains that use that track
and where they will stop along the platform in relation to lettered
signs above the platform (section A, B, C, and so on.)
If you have a seat reservation, check your reservation ticket for the carriage number (usually listed after the word "Wagen".)
Locate your train on the chart and find that carriage number and its
position relative to the lettered sections. Then go wait near the
corresponding lettered sign and, magically, you'll be within a few
steps of your carriage when the train arrives. If you don't have a
reservation, find where a first or second class carriage (depending on your
ticket) that's headed in your direction will stop and wait
there. First class carriages are shown in yellow; second class carriages in
that sometimes the composition of trains is changed at the
last minute; this is usually announced at the platform and may also be
noted on the digital displays.
Train composition chart
(Photo by Brian Purcell)
Train composition chart close-up
Departure time and train number are listed at the left,
followed by any
special notes for the train (such as the location where the train will
be divided and sent to different destinations), a list of destinations
served by that train, and a graphical representation of the layout of
the train with second class carriages shown in green, the restaurant or
cafe carriage in red, first class carriages in yellow, and sleeper
carriages in blue. The
white square on each carriage shows the carriage number, and symbols
specific other notes about each carriage (e.g. type of seating,
seating, quiet carriage, etc.) are shown to the right of the number.
the top and bottom of the chart
are letters which correspond to the lettered signs above the platform
used to approximate where each carriage will stop along the platform.
orange/red dot shows your current position.
stations are now doing away with the paper train composition charts and
instead show it on the overhead digital signs like the one below. First
class carriages are shown in white on these displays.
platform display with train composition. First class carriages 11-14 will be
in sections A to B. Second class carriages 1-9 will be in sections B through
F. The bottom shows the next trains at this platform: the RE 55 to
Bamberg via Frankfurt (Main)-South at 3:34 pm, and the ICE 72 to
Hamburg-Altona at 3:58 pm.
(Photo by Brian Purcell)
the platform for a train may be changed at the last minute. This is
usually announced via loudspeaker. If you don't understand the
announcement (even native speakers often don't), watch the reaction of
the people waiting with you. If
everyone grumbles and starts walking away, you can bet that they just
announced a change, so scurry along with the herd. Such changes will
also usually be posted on the main departure boards as well as on the
platform indicator signs. For instance, if the sign at platform 4 lists
your train but has a special notice reading "auf Gleis 12",
then that means your train has been moved to track 12.
indicator sign indicating that the train already at this platform, or
arriving next if no train is there, is the ICE 522 departing at 7:26
pm bound for Cologne Hauptbahnhof via Ingolstadt and Nuremburg. First
class carriages will be in sections A and G, restaurant carriages in
sections B and F, and second class carriages in sections C, D, and E. The
white strip at the top has a special notice that the
composition of the train has been changed (i.e. it won't match what's
on the platform charts.) The bottom shows the next trains scheduled at
this platform: the ICE 721 from Essen at 7:41 pm and the ICE
from Hamburg-Altona at 8:02 pm. However, both trains are late; the
"+25" and "+15" on white backgrounds indicate the trains are approximately 25 minutes
and 15 minutes late respectively. Furthermore, the train from Essen
will now arrive on platform 23 as indicated by "Gleis 23" on the white
background to the right.
to keep everyone on their toes, carriages are
sometimes scheduled to be removed and switched to other trains en route
(or just sidetracked altogether.) If you don't have a reservation,
you'll need to verify that
the carriage you are boarding is actually going where you want to
can use the aforementioned train composition chart to
determine this ahead of time, and when the train arrives at the
platform, check for the signs on or near each door on the train that
lists the train and carriage numbers, origin and destination, and
intermediate stops. Some older and regional trains still use paper
signs; newer trains
have electronic displays. Make sure you see your target listed
the carriage you board or you could very well wind-up on a different
continent. If in doubt, ask the conductor.
Older carriage number and
destination signs (left) indicating that this is carriage #15 on the IC 2110 headed from Stuttgart to Cologne via
Heidelberg, Mannheim, Mainz, and Bonn, and electronic version (center)
indicating that this is carriage #5 on the IC 897 from Frankfurt (Main)
Hauptbahnhof to Bregenz via Heidelberg. At the right are static
markings indicating this is second class carriage, carriage number 6,
seats 81 through 144 located at this end of the carriage.
(Photos by Brian Purcell)
you're ready to board, allow those who want to
disembark to do so first, then hop on. If no one is waiting to get off
the train, the door may not open-- look for a button or handle to open
sure you are at the platform well before your train's scheduled
departure time. While some trains may have a lengthy stopover,
especially at major stations or at the starting point for a route, most
trains stop for just a couple of minutes. Connections are meticulously
timed, so it is imperative that everything run on time lest a
train-sized monkey wrench get caught in the cogs of the giant
GermanRail machine. To wit, lollygaggers take note: if you're even a
minute late, you could miss your train!
conductor will often blow a whistle just before departure. The doors
automatically shortly thereafter, usually with a beeping warning sound followed by a satisfying clunk.
Newer IC upper level open coach interior
(Photo by Brian Purcell)
Finding your seat
on board, it's time to locate a seat. If you have a reservation, you'll
need to find your assigned seat. Seat numbers are fairly logical
and clearly posted. In open coach carriages (Großraumwagen), the seat numbers
will be posted on the
rail above the seat and/or on the side of the aisle seat. In
compartment carriages (Abteilwagen),
seat numbers are shown on
the outside of each compartment. Ask the conductor if you need help
locating your seat.
If you find that
someone is already sitting in your seat, simply tell them that you have
a reservation ("Entschuldigung,
ich habe diesen Platz reserviert.") Most Germans will vacate
the seat cheerfully (real or feigned), although you may have to insist with an occasional squatter. Be sure
to claim your seat as soon as you can-- reservations expire if you
don't claim your seat within 15 minutes of departure.
Old-style paper reservation
tags for compartment (left) and electronic
in open seating carriage (right)
(Photos by Brian Purcell)
you have not reserved a seat, then look for a vacant seat and check to
there is a reservation for it. Seat reservations will be shown via an
electronic display next to the seat number, although note that these
are sometimes are out of order. Some older trains still use small
paper tags in a little plastic doohickey. In both cases, last-minute
reservations may not be shown.
reservation does not show names, but rather shows the city
the segment(s) for which it is reserved. For example, a
reservation showing "Mannheim - Frankfurt" means the seat is
reserved between Mannheim and Frankfurt. If your journey doesn't
include that section, you
can have the seat. If only part of your journey overlaps, you may sit
there until that segment is
reached and the seat is claimed. If there are other passengers nearby,
you might make
sure it doesn't already have a squatter by asking them if
it is available ("Ist hier noch frei?")
there are sometimes general generic reservations for people with small
children (posted as "Kleinkinder"), for handicapped
people ("Schwerbehindert"), and seats that the DB
holds for last-minute sales (usually marked
freigeben", which means "surrender on demand"); you can sit
in these if they're unoccupied, but if someone comes along saying
they've reserved the seat, you'll have to move. Seats marked with "bahn.comfort" or something similar are
for holders of a BahnCard and must be surrendered
if someone claims them (although they might assume you also
have a BahnCard and not even ask!), and seats marked "ggf
mean the reservation system is out-of-date (in which case, they'll
probably all show this), and essentially has the same meaning as "ggf freigeben".
Stashing your stuff
can store your luggage on the racks above the seats and in
the gap between back-to-back rows. There are also
usually storage racks at the ends and sometimes in the center of the
carriages, although you might not want to use these unless you have a
it so you can keep an eye on your stuff.
the appointed time, the train will depart. The departure is usually so
smooth that you may not even notice you're moving unless you're looking
out the window.
second-class open coach interior
(Photo by Brian Purcell)
the train has been underway for a little while, the conductor will usually come
through and ask for tickets. Present your ticket
or rail pass (and passport if proof of age or residency is required for your
If you have a paper ticket, the conductor will, in good German form,
punch or stamp it and
return it to you. For e-tickets, the conductor will scan the code on
your phone or paper copy. You should not need to show your ticket again
for the duration
of your trip unless there is a staff change or you cross a border.
regional and most
local trains no longer have conductors-- passengers on these trains are
on the honor system. You must purchase all tickets and reservations
before you board these trains. Periodic spot checks are made and hefty
fines are levied against those without valid tickets. Oh, and don't try
to hide in the WC-- they don't find that amusing for some reason.
With e-tickets on the DB app, you have the option of a "Komfort check-in",
which allows you to perform self check-in so the conductor does not
have to stop and ask for your ticket. In the app, open your ticket and
click the "Komfort check-in"
button and follow the prompts. If you do not have a seat reservation,
it will prompt you for your carriage and seat number (the carriage
number can be located on the overhead displays.) However, if the seat
you select is one of the special reservations discussed above, it will
not allow the check-in and you'll have to wait for the conductor to
check your ticket. Also, if you purchased a seat reservation after you
bought your ticket, the system may not allow you to check-in because
the reservation is technically a separate booking and the system does
not recognize it as being linked to your ticket. Finally, even if you
use the "Komfort check-in", conductors do sometimes still check, either as a spot-check or due to a system error.
Once you've settled-in and had your ticket checked, you can roam about
the train. Toilet facilities (WC)
are located at the ends of the carriages and thankfully are not emptied
directly onto the tracks anymore, so you can use them even while in a
However, do not drink the water from the sink as the water on trains is
stored in large tanks that don't get flushed and disinfected very often.
Restroom (WC) on ICE train
(Photo by Brian Purcell)
the ICE and IC trains, as well as some regional trains, there are electronic
displays overhead and/or at the ends of the carriages showing the train's itinerary, scheduled and estimated arrival
times, and occasionally the train's speed.
Overhead display in ICE carriage showing upcoming stops and estimated arrival times
as well as the current train speed
(Photo by Brian Purcell)
trains have a bistro, buffet,
restaurant, or lounge carriage serving a variety of foods, snacks, and
beverages, including beer and wine. Some trains will have
that passes through the carriages selling drinks and snacks. Wandering
around the train will also
allow you to interact with others and get that sense of belonging with
the other travelers. I have had many an interesting conversation with
people while waiting in line for a drink.
ICE and IC trains have power outlets at the seats (sometimes USB,
sometimes a conventional 220 volt outlet, so bring adapters) as well as
latter can sometimes be spotty. On ICE trains, once you connect to the
Wi-Fi, you can connect to the "ICE Portal" entertainment service on
your device (go to ICEportal.de in your browser.) Here, you can watch
free movies and TV shows and get information about the train including
the current status of internet connectivity.
Corridor alongside compartment seating
(Photo by Brian Purcell)
Stops are announced shortly before arrival. If you miss the
announcement (or just don't understand it!), the electronic displays in
the carriages and signs on the platforms
will tell you where you are. Make sure you are ready to jump
off when the train arrives at your destination-- remember that at some
stops, the train only stops for a minute or two. If you're not ready,
you may end up taking an unscheduled diversion to Germany's Timbuktu.
As the train pulls
into your station, be standing near a door and when
the wheels grind to a halt, open the door, and hop off. To open the
door, look for a handle or green button-- either should be fairly
obvious. As the disembarking passenger, you have the right-of-way over
people trying to clamber aboard, but be prepared to shove your way
through any Teutons who aren't minding their manners.
you get off the train, follow the "Ausgang"
leave the station. Large stations have multiple exits, so double-check
to make sure you're headed in the right direction. If you're
transferring to local public transportation, follow the appropriate
signs. If you are making
connections, check the electronic departure boards
to find out which track your connecting train leaves from, then follow
the signs directing you to that platform. Connection information is
also usually announced and displayed on board the train as it approaches each
station. In some cases, you may only have to cross the platform for
your connecting train.
Unfortunately, trains and stations the world over are
frequent hotbeds for
petty thieves. However, you can reduce the possibility that your bags
spontaneously walk off by keeping them near you and in sight at all
times, and if you can't keep an eye on them, by locking or at least clipping them to luggage racks. If
additional effort to remove your bag, a ruffian will likely leave it
and move on to easier prey. And be sure to take precautions with
wallets, purses, passports, cell phones, and other valuables on your
That said, trains
are quite safe,
although it is not recommended that you sit in an otherwise empty carriage at night.
& ferry service
DB operates regional bus service (DB Regio Bus) in
several areas served infrequently or not at all by rail. Most of these
routes depart from the Zentralomnibusbahnhof (ZOB),
or central bus station, usually located adjacent to a train station.
The DB also operates the KD cruise boat service along the Rhine River
from Cologne to Mainz. Rail tickets and passes are valid on both of
sites of interest