page last updated December 2, 2019
ICE train near the
are known to gripe about just about everything, but don't listen to
them when they complain about their trains. Germany easily has one of
the world's best and most efficient passenger rail systems. There
aren't many places that it doesn't get to, and the trip will generally
be comfortable, economical, and punctual. While there certainly are
issues that need attention, train service in Germany on the whole is
superb. Europe in general has a high utilization of trains, and Germany
is especially reliant on them. After the automobile, rail is by far the
most common means of transportation.
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
stations along 33,300 km of track. The Deutsche Bahn was formerly a
government entity with a monopoly, but it is now completely privatized
(although it is
still owned entirely by the government.) It was created from the old
West German Deutsche Bundesbahn (German Federal
Railways) and East German Reichsbahn (Imperial
Railways). Connections between the former eastern and western halves of
the country have been upgraded and expanded, and high-speed lines now
reach all of the major eastern cities. Nearly all of the roadbed in the
eastern part of the nation has either been upgraded or junked.
Deutsche Bahn logo
maintenance work, years of deferred investment, and other factors have
once sterling punctuality rates of the DB to suffer in recent years. As
of late, only 75% or so of trains-- and only about two-thirds of ICE
five minutes of schedule. The DB and government are working on
solutions to improve on-time rates.
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 plenty of advance 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. An interesting note about
these situations: since trains and punctuality are so important in the
German world, conductors will hand-out official "certificates of train
tardiness" (Bescheinigung über Zugverspätung) if a
train is significantly late. You can use these as "excuse slips" for
arriving late to work, school, or other appointments, or keep them as
souvenirs of your encounter with European organized labor.
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
bus. Ironically, one of those bus companies-- FlixBus-- now operates
three train routes in Germany and the service is named-- you guessed
of the DB's rolling stock has been upgraded leaving
and fewer of the old Cold War era train sets to be found, 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. 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.
Types of trains
DB offers a complete hierarchical assortment of services identified by
an alphabet soup of letters. 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 metropolitan areas. Trains usually run every hour
or sometimes even more frequently. There are now several generations of
ICE, including tilting trains which allow for high speed travel on
conventional tracks. (See "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.
EN, CNL, NZ (InterCityNight, EuroNight, CityNightLine; Nachtzug)
- Various overnight trains providing long-distance sleeping
(Durchgangszug) - The venerable D-Zug is a
fairly rapid long-distance train that provides connections on some of
the lesser traveled routes or times. These trains now run almost
(InterRegioExpress) - IRE trains are
express trains that connect the larger regional cities at regular
(RegionalExpress) - The RE is a regional
express train connecting medium-sized towns to the main rail hubs.
(RegionalBahn) - The RB is the main local
train in the DB arsenal and connects the smallest of towns to the RE
system and main rail hubs.
(StadtExpress) - A local train that
connects medium and large cities to their outlying satellite towns.
(S-Bahn, Schnellbahn) - Suburban commuter
rail service in and around major metropolitan areas.
addition to the above services, you may find an interesting train known
as a "Taxi" or "Railbus" train. This is basically a bus on tracks and
provides occasional service on routes that have low ridership. Just
like buses, these trains usually only stop on request.
trains (ICE and IC) are usually white with red markings, while local
and regional trains (IRE, RE, RB, SE, and S) are usually red with white
or gray markings. Many regional trains are double-decker.
Typical RE train
On many local routes serving smaller towns, trains
alternate which stations they stop at. Often, the first train on the
line will stop at all stations, then the next train a half-hour or hour
later will only stop at selected stops (maybe every other station, or
every third one), then the following train after that will again stop
at all the stations. Another stopping pattern is when two trains
running a half-hour or hour apart have the same starting and ending
stations, but the first train will stop at towns 1,3,5 and 7 along the
way, and the second train will stop at towns 2,4,6, and 8. If you're
headed to an out-of-the-way place, be sure to double-check that the
train you plan to board will actually stop at your intended destination.
Most regional and IC trains
have a special area for
storing bicycles; those cars are marked with a large bicycle symbol on
the outside. For IC trains, you will need a special bicycle ticket and
reservation. For regional trains, it depends on the location-- inquire
at the station or check online prior to your journey. Some newer ICE
trains now also include space for bicycles; these also require tickets
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."
Trains are divided into two classes-- first and second. The
cars 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 car. 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.
High speed trains
ICE and IC/EC are the fastest trains on the GermanRail roster and are
the services that tourists use the most. Due to legal issues (it's a
long story), Germany fell a bit behind the curve in development of
high-speed rail, 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 now reach 330 km/h, among the fastest
in the world. The 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. Unfortunately, the ICE could shave even more
travel time off the longer journeys, but due to political pressure,
most ICE routes stop in some questionable
are now four generations of ICE trains operating on over a dozen lines
connecting all the major cities. Most major routes run on special-built
roadbeds designed for high speed, while on other routes, new tilt-train
technology has allowed ICE service on existing conventional tracks. The
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 luxurious of GermanRail
trains. These trains feature adjustable cushioned seats, individual
reading lights, piped music from armrest jacks (bring your own
headset), conference rooms, public telephones, and fax machines. First
class passengers also have video players at their seats.
outgunned by its newer sibling, the IC is still an excellent service
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 trains run hourly, usually 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 domestic service, various other high speed trains connect
Germany to most neighboring countries. The Thayls
connects Cologne to Paris and Brussels and provides a nice segue to the
Eurostar to London. In conjunction with France's TGV service, two
high-speed links connect Frankfurt and Stuttgart/Munich to Paris. Some
of the DB's own ICE routes cross into neighboring countries (Basel,
Amsterdam and Salzburg are the major examples), and more international
high-speed connections are in the works.
are many long-distance trains, both domestic and international, that
operate overnight. Besides being a unique experience, night trains
essentially 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.
years have seen the proliferation of dedicated "hotel trains" (NachtZug)
connecting Berlin, Munich, Hamburg and Cologne, as well as some other
specialty international hotel trains. These trains are basically
full-service hotels on rails. They don't have regular seating, just
sleeper compartments (see below for more information on these). These
trains are a bit on the luxurious side with fares to match.
from the hotel trains, there are many standard trains that run
overnight, mostly the "D-Zug" services. These trains usually have
sleeper (Schlafwagen) and couchette (Liegewagen)
berths available. Most overnight trains also have regular seating cars,
but fewer of them, and some may not have any regular seating at all.
feature private cabins 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 cabins that also include a toilet
and shower. Sleepers are full-service and attended by a porter who will
provide whatever assistance you require. In most sleepers, you can get
food delivered to your cabin, although expect to pay a rather steep
premium for this service. On some trains, breakfast is included free.
Sleepers are usually categorized as first class, which means you'll
need a first class ticket, pass, or supplement to book them.
(pronounced koo-SHET) berths are a cheaper (and
ergo less luxurious) form of the sleeper. Each couchette compartment
has 4-6 bunks, and you will very likely be sharing your cabin with
strangers of both genders. You will be provided with a pillow and
blanket, but you'll be expected to sleep in your street clothes or
something similar (e.g. sweats.)
types of compartments have room to store luggage and usually also have
locking doors. The conductors and porters also act as watchmen to keep
out the riffraff. It's a good idea, however, to sleep with any
significant amounts of money, credit cards, or plane tickets 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 the
you don't want to spring for the couchette or sleeper, you can always
try sleeping in the regular seats if the train has them. In open coach
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. You'll fare better in compartment
seating. There, the seats usually can be pulled-out from the bottom.
The back cushion then slides down behind the bottom cushion and the
armrest folds up forming a cushioned horizontal surface. Pull two
opposing seats out and you have a nice little bed for one, or pull them
all out and have a nice queen-sized bed.
City Night Line
Sleeper and couchette services require a reservation and
carry a surcharge on top of the regular fare or rail pass day. The
surcharge varies depending on the type of accommodation, class, and
distance. For instance, couchette reservations start at around €20 for
destinations in Germany, while sleeper accommodations start at €40. You
can book sleepers or couchettes up to three months in advance, either
through a travel service or at a DB station. While you can
theoretically reserve at the last minute, either at the station or even
on the train, it's best not to wait any later than a few days before
your travel date to book as these services tend to fill-up, especially
on weekends and holidays.
you have a rail pass that requires you to write-in the dates as you use
it, and you use it on a direct overnight trip departing after 7:00pm,
you are only required to fill-in the following day's date.
With your ticket or pass and reservation slip in hand, head
to the platform for your train. Once there, locate your assigned car
and board it directly from the platform (more on doing that later). If
you have a couchette reservation, you then locate your cabin yourself
and settle-in. For sleeper reservations, you must check-in with the
porter of the car where your cabin is located and they'll direct you
both the sleeper and couchette cars, the conductor or porter will take
your tickets and passport and keep it 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 usually 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.
Over the past couple of
decades, a number of competitors have begun operating passenger rail
services in Germany. These are mostly local or regional services that
the DB abandoned or cut back on, and many of these are operated or subsidized by the individual states. However,
there are now even a few long-distance services. Often, these are
low-cost, no-frills services using older (but refurbished) train
and ticketing for many of these services is integrated into the DB
booking system (see below), but some are not (FlixTrain being a notable
example), so you should investigate these options ahead of time.
used to be a day not long ago when you had to purchase the massive
timetable book (Kursbuch)
or call the DB if you wanted to check train schedules without trekking
down to the station. Nowadays, the Internet makes finding schedules anywhere
much simpler (and free!) The DB has an excellent website-- probably the
best in Europe, and in English no less-- from which you can get train
schedules for all of Europe for any date and time. 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 shiny new
Hauptbahnhof opened in 2006 and essentially replaced the Zoo
and Ostbahnhof stations as Berlin's primary long-distance station. 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)".
that the date is written dd.mm.yy (e.g. Christmas
2010 is 25.12.10) and that time is on the 24-hour clock (e.g. 7:00pm =
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 pretend age.
may be prompted to pick a more specific station than the one you typed;
if so, do your best to find what you're looking for. 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
the past few years, many cool new features have been added to the
website. For instance, there is now a feature to automatically create
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
means of transport for your journey.
DB timetable website
course, timetables are still posted in the
station (see "At the Station" below). You can also get "quickie"
schedules from the ticket vending machines now in most stations.
from station vending 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, can be
a bit pricey. Fortunately, most tourists shouldn't need to deal with
this hassle as rail passes tend to be a much better deal and are
usually purchased from the relative comfort of your home.
are a variety of tourist passes offered by GermanRail. These passes
generally are a great 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 4 to 10 days (consecutive or non-consecutive)
within a month. The GermanRail TwinPass is a discounted GermanRail Pass
valid for two people traveling together. For travelers under 26,
there's the GermanRail Youth Pass, which allows unlimited travel for
one month. GermanRail also offers various fly-and-ride, drive-and-ride,
holiday, and student passes. Check with your travel agent or on the web
for prices and information on all passes. 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 need.
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 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 (which it probably will if you have a couple of
long-distance trips), then the pass will be a better deal.
Unfortunately, you often 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.
can be purchased either through your travel agent or on the web. There
are a number of agencies dealing with rail passes; I've included links
for ones I recommend at the bottom of this page.
TwinPass; note the date boxes at the left center filled-in for each day
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
minor admonishment.) However, those steps are usually quite easy. Most
require that you have the pass 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), remember to write
the date ("dd.mm") 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.
point-to-point ticket fares and surcharges
to 2002, most fares were calculated based on a flat, per-kilometer fare
with surcharges tacked-on for faster services. Since the 2002 tariff
reform and subsequent tweaking in 2003, 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 route and class of service
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, and class of service. These "Relationspreise"
constitute the standard fare (Normalpreis), against
which an insane array of discounts are offered-- far too many to be
discussed here. In short, it's best to just use the DB's website,
automated ticket machines, or a ticket agent to find the best fare.
The DB has numerous several special ticket offers including
overnight fares, special weekend deals, and discount cards. 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.
Go to the station, locate the departure timetable (large
yellow schedules), and find the train that you need. Note the train
number, departure time, and destination. Then go to the ticket counter
(in larger stations, look for "Reisezentrum" signs)
and give this information 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 most stations are not as well-staffed 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 (much like the
Personal Timetable service on the DB website above.)
"newfangled" way: If you're up-to-speed with modern
technology and don't want to wait in line, or just fear face time with
the Teutonic train emissaries, you have two options. One is to book and
print your own tickets online at the DB's sleek website (see the timetables section
above). Or you can use the increasingly prolific
self-service ticket vending machines (marked "Fahrkarten",
"Fahrausweis", or "Fahrschein")
that you'll now find in most stations. In the past, you could only use
these to buy tickets for journeys of less than 100 km. Nowadays, you
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. You'll often get a slight discount if you
purchase your ticket or seat reservation from the machine. The machines
are multi-lingual and touch-screen operated and are fairly intuitive.
Some of the machines only take credit cards, others only cash, and some
take both, so double-check before you start to make sure the machine
will accept your payment type.
Old (left) and new ticket
all else fails: As a last resort, tickets can be
purchased on board the train from the conductor for a small surcharge.
Note, however, that this is only possible on long-distance trains;
most local and many regional and local 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.)
for trips on other
European railway systems can also be bought at stations in Germany.
Indeed, you can purchase tickets for trips between any two points in
Europe (domestic or international) at any DB station. If you purchase a
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 DB pass to get 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 explaining
your plan to the
ticket agent. They'll figure-out which border crossing you'll be
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.
for seats 23 and 24 in car 2 on the ICE 990 from Munich to Stuttgart
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 (noted with a bold "R"
on the schedule.) If not required, these reservations are purchased
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 from three
months before departure all the way up to a few minutes before
standard fee is €4.50 for each seat reserved (€5.90 for first class),
but that's reduced by €2.00 if you get the reservation online or at a
ticket machine at the same time you purchase your ticket. For
groups of two to five people, you can purchase a "family reservation" (Familien-Reservierung)
for €9.00 (€11.80 for first class) if you purchase it online or at a
ticket machine at the time as you purchase your tickets. In
all cases, a reservation on one connecting train is included free (i.e.
one fee gets you a reservation for one seat on your outbound train and
on one connecting train.)
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 car. Each compartment has four
to six total seats facing each other. The Großraumwagen
is an open coach car with varying seat configurations. You'll
also want to specify rauchen (smoking) or nicht
rauchen (non-smoking). If you want a window seat (am
Fenster), aisle seat (am Gang), or a table
(am Tisch), be sure to specify that, too.
the section "On Board"
below for information on claiming your seat aboard the train.
the station & boarding
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 major station
in the western half of the city and the Ostbahnhof, which prior to 1998
had been called Hauptbahnhof, being the hub for the eastern
part. However, a massive new central station for the entire
city opened in May 2006 across the Spree River from the Reichstag on
the site of the former Lehrter Bahnhof, relegating the other stations
to mostly regional services. The five-level glass-shrouded
Berlin Hauptbahnhof is the largest rail station in Europe with 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.
you get there, you will find that the larger stations are
self-contained cities. Most now feature a large shopping
arcade 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, public showers, and
a traveler's aid service called Bahnhofsmission. A few even have an on-site 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 all stations 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 larger stations, there will also be
large electronic display boards showing the trains scheduled for the
next hour or so and their status. Use these resources to
determine which platform you need to head to for your train.
a sad note, most of the old electromechanical "split-flap" signs with
their distinctive clicking sound have been or are being phased-out in
favor of new LCD displays.)
Departure board at
Stuttgart central station
If you already have your ticket, there is no check-in required-- just head to your platform.
you arrive at the designated track, confirm
you are at the correct place by using 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; you can confirm this on the timetable. There will also 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 Wagenstandanzeiger
(say that three times fast) 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, section B, section C and so on.)
If you have a seat reservation, check your reservation ticket for the
car number (usually listed after the word "Wagen".) Locate your train on the chart and find that car 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 car when the train arrives. If you don't have a
reservation, find where a first or second class car (depending on your
ticket) that's headed in your direction will stop and wait
there. First class cars are shown in yellow; second class cars in
green. The ultimate destination of each car is listed above it on the chart
(see the example below.)
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 cars shown in green, the restaurant or bar
car in red, first class cars in yellow, and sleeper cars in blue. The
white square on each car shows the car number, and symbols indicating
specific other notes about each car (e.g. smoking, type of seating,
etc.) are shown to the right of the number. Listed just above each car
is its ultimate destination and along the top and bottom of the chart
are letters which correspond to the lettered signs above the platform
used to approximate where each car will stop along the platform. The
orange dot shows your current position.
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 an addendum reading "auf Gleis 12",
then that means your train has been moved to track 12.
New LCD platform
indicator sign indicating that this is platform 1 and that the next
train is the ICE 557 departing at 10:46 bound for Berlin Ostbahnhof
over Cologne Messe/Deutz, Wuppertal, Hagen, Hamm, Bielefeld, and
Hannover. Second class cars will stop in sections A and B, the
restaurant car in section C, and first class cars in section D.
to keep everyone on their toes, carriages are
sometimes scheduled to be removed and switched to other trains en route
(or just sidetracked altogether.) This means you have to verify that
the car you are boarding is actually going where you want to go. You
can use the aforementioned Wagenstandanzeiger to
determine this ahead of time, or, when the train arrives at the
platform, check for the signs on or near each door on the train that
lists the train and car numbers, origin and destination, and
intermediate stops. Older trains still use paper signs; newer trains
have fancy electronic displays. Make sure you see your target listed on
the car you board or you could very well wind-up on a different
continent. If in doubt, ask the conductor.
Car number and
destination signs (left) indicating that this is
car #15 on the IC 2110 headed from Stuttgart to Cologne over
Heidelberg, Mannheim, Mainz, and Bonn. Class and seat numbers indicator
(center) showing that this is a second class car
with both smoking and non-smoking sections and that seat numbers 81-126
are on this end of the car. New electronic indicator (right)
shows that this is second class car #22 on the ICE 511 from Cologne to
Munich. The middle line has a scrolling list of the intermediate
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 will almost surely miss your train!
conductor will blow a whistle just before departure and may shout "Alles
einsteigen!" ("All aboard!") The doors will close
automatically shortly thereafter.
second-class open coach interior
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
are clearly posted. In open coach cars (Großraumwagen), the seat numbers will be on the
rail above the seat. In compartment cars (Abteilwagen), the seat numbers are shown on
the outside of each compartment. Reserved seats are listed on an electronic display or with a small ticket
in the little plastic doohickey next to the seat number. Ask the conductor if you need help locating your seat. If
there is someone already sitting in a seat you have reserved, simply
indicate that you have reserved that seat ("Entschuldigung,
ich habe diesen Platz reserviert!") Most Germans will vacate
the seat cheerfully (real or feigned) and wish you a good trip. 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.
tags for compartment (left) and electronic
reservation display in open seating car (right)
you have not reserved a seat, locate a vacant seat and check to see if
there is a reservation for it. If the seat has been reserved by
someone, the reservation will indicate the part of the route for which
the seat is reserved. If your journey doesn't include that section, you
can have the seat. Otherwise, you may sit there until that segment is
reached and the seat is claimed. Before sitting down, you should make
sure it doesn't already have a squatter by asking nearby passengers if
it is available ("Ist hier noch frei?"). Note that
there are sometimes standing generic reservations for people with small
children (posted as "Kleinkinder"), for handicapped
people ("Schwerbehindert"), and seats that the
railroad anticipates selling at the last minute (usually marked as "ggf
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" are for certain frequent travelers and must be surrendered if someone claims them, and seats marked "ggf
reserviert" mean the reservation system is out of date, so the seat may or may not be reserved.
can store your luggage on the racks above the seats. There are also
usually storage areas at the ends and sometimes in the center of the
cars, although I wouldn't use these unless you have a chain lock or a
clear view of the storage area.
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
the train has been underway for a little while, the conductor will come
through and ask for tickets. If you just boarded, present your ticket
or pass (and passport if proof of age or residency is required for your pass.)
The conductor will, in good German form, punch or stamp your ticket and
return it to you. You will not need to show it again for the duration
of your trip unless there is a staff change. Some 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.
Once you've settled-in and had your ticket checked, you can roam about
the train (be sure to take your ticket with you.) Toilet facilities (WC)
are located at the ends of the cars and thankfully are not emptied
directly onto the tracks anymore, so you can use them at any time.
However, you still can't use the water from the sink as drinking water.
On the ICE and some newer trains, there are electronic displays at the
ends of the coaches showing the train's itinerary, estimated arrival
times, and the train's speed. Some of them even
allow you to check schedules for connections (although I have yet to
see one of these).
Most higher-end trains have a bistro, buffet,
restaurant, or lounge car serving a variety of foods, snacks, and
beverages, including beer and wine. Some trains will have a small snack
cart that passes through the cars. 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.
trains have power outlets at all seats and free wi-fi, although the
latter can be spotty depending on mobile phone service coverage.
Older IC interior
with mixed open and compartment seating
Stops are announced shortly before arrival. If you miss the
announcement (or just don't understand it!), signs on the platforms
will tell you where you are. If your train has them, the electronic
displays at the ends of the coaches will show the name of the upcoming
stop as you approach it. Also, you will usually find an itinerary flyer
near your seat listing the scheduled stops and available connections at
each, as well as the services on board. 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 at a door and when
the wheels grind to a halt, open the door and leap 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 yellow schedules or 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 on board the train as it approaches each
station. In many cases, you may only have to cross the platform for
your connecting train.
Unfortunately, trains and stations are known hotbeds for
petty thieves. However, you can reduce the possibility that your bags will
spontaneously walk off by keeping them near you and in sight at all
times, and/or by locking or clipping them to luggage racks. If it takes any
additional effort to remove your bag, a ruffian will likely leave it
and move on to easier prey. Otherwise, trains are relatively safe,
although it is not recommended that you sit in an empty car at night,
especially if you are a single woman.
& ferry service
DB operates regional bus service (Bahnbus) in the
few 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