Category Archives for "Euro 2024 Germany"

Jun 14

German Trains: 21 Insider Rules from a Survivor

By Edward | Day Trains , Euro 2024 Germany

German trains are having an annus horribilis this year. Apparently only half of Deutsche Bahn's InterCity (IC) and InterCityExpress (ICE) trains are on time. Frankly, I think that is a lie. I think punctuality is much worse. I have only been on one ICE that was on time, and I use DB every week. This makes me something of a survivor of German trains. 

When you have finished this post, you will have 21 strategies for surviving German trains.

I group them into 3 chapters of 7 rules each that are similar to each other.

And we are off on a German train with Fenster Auf (open windows)

Rules for planning travel on German trains

1. Allow enough time for your German train journey

Allow time when going on German trains. If your connection is a ferry, a night train or, God help us, a football match, give yourself about 20 minutes of padding for every hour of time en route. So if your journey is 6 hours, times that 20 minutes and you've got 120 minutes padding. Add 30 minutes if you have to change somewhere.

2. If you have to change trains in Germany, plan enough time between trains

If you have to change from one Intercity train to another, and especially at a big junction like Cologne Hbf or Frankfurt Hbf, allow no less than 20 minutes. If you are changing from a local train onto an intercity train or vice versa, 10 minutes should be enough. 

Due to the shorter distances of local trains, less tends to go wrong. They have less time for mishaps. However, there are regional differences depending on the line. The trains from Hamburg to Westerland (Sylt) are so bad that I do not recommend making any plans involving the RE6 from Hamburg to Westerland. Lots of single-track, not electrified, 19th century signalling and overcrowded Westerland makes for bad punctuality.

The Lahn valley from Giessen to Koblenz is a wonderful German train route

3. Have plans B and C ready

For every change you have to make, check when the next departure in your direction is if you miss your initial connection. This may cause extra changes. Ideally, you should have at least two subsequent connecting trains that get you onwards.

Omitting those leaves you vulnerable to stranding.

4. Know alternative train routes through Germany

Germany is federal and decentralised. If you are going really long distances (say, Munich-Hamburg), notice that there are German trains that go from Munich to Hamburg via Berlin and ones that go from Munich to Hamburg via Hanover. Also some go via Augsburg, while some go via Ingolstadt. 

ICEs via Augsburg tend to have cheaper tickets because they take longer and because they tend to be overlooked by the booking engines' algorithms.

German trains

ICEs standing at Munich Hbf. In the background a French TGV from Paris Est

5. Two German regions with the latest trains

There are two regions of Germany that are notorious for causing delays to intercity trains. 

The Rhineland. Cologne-Düsseldorf-Duisburg-Essen and the line Cologne-Wuppertal-Dortmund-Bielefeld are terrible for delays. Is your journey passing through here? Add an extra hour to your padding.

The Frankfurt area. Anything between Mannheim, Koblenz, Frankfurt and Aschaffenburg will almost certainly make you late. Add an extra hour of padding

6. Try and get direct trains

A no-brainer, but I'm trying to reach 21 here. Not having to change is a magnificent boon. I just love settling down on the train that is taking me to my destination and having one worry less. 

7. Favour crucial German trains

There are some trains that are too important to fail and are particularly unlikely to be cancelled, no matter how late they are.

Usually that is the last train of the day in a particular direction. Very long running EuroCity trains tend to make it to their destination, because they are needed early the next morning for their return run.

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German Train Survival: Your EU Passenger Rights

As Germany is part of the European Union, you have certain rights that are guaranteed to you by the EU. These rights are regulated in Regulation (EU) 2021/782 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 29 April 2021 on rail passengers’ rights and obligations and you can find read the whole lot here if you want:

EU Railway Passengers Rights

If that is too long, then look no further than here. Please find below the things you need to know:

First of all, what does it say on your ticket? You have a contract with the train operator to get you from your departure station to your destination station. If you have several tickets (perhaps for different operators) you have several contracts, which can be hampering.

8. 20 minutes delay

Once your train is delayed by 20 minutes, you are no longer bound to a particular train. You can use any train you want that can get you to your destination sooner. You can use any other DB train without problems. 

In theory, you can also use a FlixTrain, but you have to buy a ticket for the FlixTrain and then submit it to Deutsche Bahn so they can reimburse you. And that is a terrible hassle.

The main point is: you are now entitled to use any train.

9. What you get after 60 minutes delay on a German train

  • You are entitled to 25% compensation of what you paid
  • you are entitled to a drink. DB has 0.5 litre tetra paks of mineral water especially for this purpose
  • Furthermore, you may to take any other route if it gets you there faster, and  to give back your ticket and claim a full refund if your journey has become pointless

10. What you get after 120 minutes delay on a German train

  • you may claim 50% compensation of what you paid
  • in addition to that drink you are now entitled to some food.

11. When you can claim a taxi

If you are made so late that you end up arriving between 12 AM and 5 AM, you can probably get a taxi to your destination. So lets say your late ICE makes you miss the last train of the day to Hintertupfing: then DB is liable to pay for a taxi that gets you to Hintertupfing. 

The taxi voucher is capped at €120 - reader Lennart told me this. Follow him on X, he is brilliant.

12. When you can claim a hotel

If there is no way to get you to your destination and it is too far to impose a taxi on you, you are entitled to a hotel voucher. At major stations DB has deals with particular hotels.

The caveat is this: if they run out of rooms, you are on your own. You have to get a hotel room for yourself, keep the invoice and then submit it to DB so they can reimburse you.

To get your taxi or hotel voucher, your first place to go is the DB Information desk at major stations. If it is already closed or you arrive at a station without an information desk, travel back in time 30 minutes and ask the train manager of your train to issue you a voucher.

Me stranded at Frankfurt Hbf

13. Claiming back stuff

Now about claiming back stuff. You claim back stuff from whoever sold you your ticket. So if you have a DB ticket, you go through DB's compensation system. If your ticket is issued by ÖBB Austrian Railways, you go through ÖBB's system and so on.

14. Acts of God and German Trains

Since 2023 and the updated EU Passenger Rights, Acts of God can stop you from getting delay repay. Acts of God are anything that the railway company could not reasonably prevent, such as:

  • trespassers on the tracks
  • floods
  • freak weather
  • bomb disposals (this still happens often)

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German  Train Survival: During your Journey

15. Useful apps and websites for German Train survivors

DB Navigator: The DB Navigator is reasonably useful. For one thing, you can use it to show your ticket, even if you booked it online on DB's website. If the app knows your itinerary, it is quite good at letting you know if something changes.

The home screen of the DB Navigator Deutsche Bahn's website. Extremely good for planning train travel throughout Europe. Best option for buying DB tickets.

Hellany Bahn App: This is not an official railway company app. It is developed by an agency in Berlin that does all sorts of other apps. However, this is one of their most popular. It aggregates information from various sources and can give you much more detail about the train you are about to catch. It also allows you to search particular train numbers so you can see in detail how well your train is doing or how late or punctual your connecting train is.

Bahnapp is in German, but if you use the browser version with a translator it works fine in English

Hellany Bahn App

Bahnapp on Google Chrome using the translator extension. Recommended!

I recommend this app. It is my absolute favourite for travel in Germany.

16. Survival Food for German Trains

There was a time when I planned for the dining car and went there out of principle. Not any more. Too often have I been left in the lurch. Too often have I got onto a train hungry, only to find out that the restaurant car was closed due to some technical defect or because of staff shortages. 

My brother enjoying his emergency food. He is single, by the way.

Now I always have a little bit of something with me, because it is too risky. At the very least, have something to keep the wolf from the door, and definitely have enough to drink.

Sometimes it comes to this

17. Mindset for Surviving German Trains

In the Coen Brothers'  2004 remake of the film "Ladykillers" the (Vietnamese) Colonel says at one point: 
Must float like lily on river of life

As our civilisation hurtles towards its self-inflicted demise, we have an inexplicable urge to plan everything and minimise even the tiniest of risks. Fear of the uncontrollable rules our lives. Not only is this a waste of our beautiful minds, not only is it depriving our children of a proper childhood, it also makes train delays unduly painful for us.

One of the nicest German train rides is down the Rhine valley

If you can get your mindset into a place of unblinking submissiveness, you will have a much more relaxing time on your train travels.

A delay is neither good nor bad. It is what it is.

German Train Survival: Station Smarts

Write something pithy about Wiesbaden here

Handling stations is can be the hardest part of any train journey.

Think about it. Once you are on a train all you have to do is sit, or stand pressed against the door of an out-of-order loo with a rucksack in your face, if it is the Eurocity from Hamburg to Copenhagen. Anyone can do that.

Surviving DB stations calls for completely different skills. Paramount is 100% attention.

DB Display

How to read the display: the white carriages are first class, the black second class. The platform is divided into sectors A-B-C...G. This shows you where which carriage number will stop. 

18. Always expect platform changes

Sometimes the platform a train arrives on can be changed at short notice. This can be a problem if you have positioned yourself far away from the over- or underpass for changing platforms and will mean you have to run in an undignified manner with your luggage akimbo. 

Wait for your train where you can easily react to a spontaneous platform change

This is totally avoidable if you remember to wait in a place where you can swiftly change platform ahead of the stampede.

19. Double-check what it says on the train

Sadly, the displays on the platforms can sometimes be wrong. The ICE to Berlin might be written on the displays, and what arrives is a slow train to Niederdollendorf. Being at a station demands 100% attention to your surroundings

20. Useful signals to know as a passenger

Fahrtanzeiger: positioned around the middle of the platform. Signifies that the train is cleared for departure. Means that it can set off any moment.

If this signal lights up, it means the train is cleared for departure. Get yourself clear of the doors

Red signal: stop. Train isn't likely to go anywhere. There are exceptions, so don't get cocky.

Green signal: train is cleared for departure. Drop what you are doing and get on.

21. Dealing with Pondlife

There will always be pondlife at stations. I wonder why there is never pondlife at airports. Be that as it may, this also demands 100% attention. The following pondlife can be expected:

Before I start, let me say that all pondlife should be treated with respect. They are human beings and we should be nice to them. Just not give them money.

Because I don't want to post pictures of real people here, enjoy the coffee cup lid faces made by my children and me on late trains.

Coffee face No.1

  • Random loiterers: Mainly in Western Germany. Cologne, Düsseldorf, Essen. Youngish bums walk up and down the platforms begging for spare change in a whiny, snivelly voice. Look them in the eye and say, no, sorry.
  • organised beggars. Nice, unobtrusive, my favourite. Mainly found in Frankfurt/Main and Hanover. Sometimes with a sign saying something. They will ask you if you speak English. Smile and say, no, sorry, not a word of English.
  • Drug addicts. Mainly outside major stations. I wouldn't say they are a big problem, they just make the place look unsafe as they hang around smoking and playing zombie apokalypse. Worst in Frankfurt/Main.
  • Lunatics. Berlin and Hamburg is the terrain of the lunatics. They circle the station shouting or muttering to themselves. Hamburg seems to be a collecting point for Danish nutcases, whereas in Berlin it is more Poles.

Coffee face No.2

Bonus: for the truest Survivors

22. Try surviving FlixTrain

A newly refurbished FlixTrain

There is another operator of passenger trains in Germany, and that is FlixTrain. I used to work on these and have written an detailed post all about FlixTrain. Check it out over here.

Now it's your turn to survive German trains

Change is underway. Many, many lines are now being upgraded and refurbished. This is one of the things causing the delays at the moment. So it is a bit like in the medieval times. We endure this life so we can have a magnificent afterlife. Here's hoping.

Let me know in the comments how things go for you!

DB Christmass

Praying and hoping it will get better