This page last updated
February 28, 2010
ICE train near the Rhine Falls
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 be comfortable,
economical, and punctual. Europe in general has a high utilization
of trains, and Germany is especially reliant on them. Other than the automobile, rail is by
far the most common means of transportation.
Although there are a few independent regional
rail lines, the main passenger rail system in Germany is the Deutsche Bahn
(DB, or GermanRail), also known colloquially as "Die Bahn".
Over 4.5 million people a day use the DB's 29,000 trains serving over 5,500 stations
along 35,000 km of track. The Deutsche Bahn was
formerly a government corporation but 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. The DB was
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
Deutsche Bahn logo
Even though it's declined a
bit in recent years, trains in Germany are generally very punctual.
While you may not be able set your watch by the trains anymore, the DB
reports that 90% of
trains arrive within five minutes of schedule.
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
Most of the rolling
stock in Germany has been recently upgraded with fewer and fewer of the
old hand-me-downs still around. But you will see many trains in big cities (especially the Frankfurt and Rhein-Ruhr areas)
with exteriors covered by graffiti. Generally, it's mainly the lower-end
local and regional
trains that suffer from these problems and no matter what the exterior
of the train looks like, the interior will usually be quite clean.
Oftentimes, train sets will contain cars or locomotives from neighboring countries.
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.
On this page:
The 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:
- ICE (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 new tilting
trains which allow for high speed travel on conventional tracks.
(See "High speed trains" below.)
- IC/EC (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)
EN, CNL, NZ (InterCityNight, EuroNight, CityNightLine; Nachtzug)
- Various overnight trains providing long-distance sleeping
- D (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 exclusively overnight.
- IRE (InterRegioExpress)
- IRE trains are express trains that connect the larger regional cities at regular intervals.
- RE (RegionalExpress)
- The RE is a regional express train connecting medium-sized
towns to the main rail hubs.
- RB (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.
- SE (StadtExpress)
- A local train that connects medium and
large cities to their outlying satellite towns.
- S (S-Bahn, Schnellbahn) -
Suburban commuter rail service in and around major
In 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.
Relatively new to Germany are
double-decker trains. These generally serve high-volume RE routes.
Many regional trains have a special area for storing bicycles; those
cars are marked with a large bicycle symbol on the outside.
Long-distance trains (ICE,
IC, and IRE) are usually white with red markings, while regional trains
(RE, RB, SE, and S) are usually red with white or gray markings.
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.
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
means first class tends to be less crowded than second class.
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
There are now three
generations of ICE trains operating
on over a dozen lines connecting all the major cities. The
major routes run on special-built roadbeds that are straight and level and
have welded tracks resulting in a smooth, quiet ride, 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 system.
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.
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.)
In addition to
domestic service, various other high speed trains connect Germany to
countries. The Thayls connects Cologne to Paris and Brussels
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.
There 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.
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.
Aside 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.
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.)
Both 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
If 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
City Night Line cabin
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.
If 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 from
In 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.
Shortly 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.
There 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, while the timetable tome is still available (€15 at any DB
station), the Internet makes finding schedules 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.
Some tips on
using this service:
- Be 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
Berlin's shiny new Hauptbahnhof opened on May 28th, 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
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 = 19:00).
- If 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.
- You 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 submitted.
Over 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
course, timetables are still posted in the station (see "At the Station"
below). You can also get "quickie" schedules from the new ticket
vending machines now in most stations.
printout from station vending machine
Like 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, is 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.
There 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 are also valid for
travel on DB buses (Bahnbus) and KD river cruises.
If 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.
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.
Passes 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
If 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. 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
Prior 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.
There are a variety of ways to purchase tickets nowadays; the method
you choose will depend on your circumstance.
The "old-fashioned" way:
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.
Some 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.
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.)
The "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 relatively new and
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 and new
If 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 short-haul
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.
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.
This is handy if you have a Germany-only pass and want to, for example, travel from
Frankfurt to Paris. You can use your DB pass to get from
Frankfurt to the border, but you'll need a separate ticket from there to
Paris. You can buy this ticket in Frankfurt by simply explaining
this to the ticket agent. They'll even figure-out which border
crossing you'll be using so as to get you the right ticket.
ticket for seats 23 and 24 in car 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 (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 up to
three months before departure all the way up to the time of departure.
The standard fee is
€4.50 for each seat reserved (€5.50 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 €5.00
(€7.00 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
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.
See the section "On
Board" below for information on claiming your seat aboard the train.
station & boarding
The 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.
Once 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 page.
Signs in all
stations use standard international pictograms. Here are some of the
more important ones:
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 major 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.
(On 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
Once 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. 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".) Then 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.)
Partial Wagenstandanzeiger 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 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, 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
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.
Just to keep everyone on
their toes, cars 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 stations.
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 the door.
Make 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 line, 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!
The conductor will
blow a whistle just before departure and may shout "Alles einsteigen!"
("All aboard!") The doors will close automatically
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, the seat numbers will be on the rail above
the seat. In compartment cars, the seat numbers are shown on the
outside of the cabin. Reserved seats are marked with a small
ticket in the little plastic doohickey next to the seat number. On newer trains, there is a
small electronic display that shows reservation information. 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)
If 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.
You 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.
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.
Once 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 (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
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
Older IC interior with mixed
open and compartment seating
announced shortly before arrival. If you miss the announcement (or
just don't understand it!), signs on the platforms will tell you where
you're at. 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 onboard. 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.
Once you get
off the train, follow the "Ausgang" signs to leave the station.
Large stations have multiple exits, so double-check to make sure you're
headed in the right direction. 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
Unfortunately, trains and stations are known hotbeds for 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 by locking or clipping them to the rack. 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.
Bus & ferry
The 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 these services.
sites of interest