Posts tagged ‘Deutsche Bahn’

Should I buy a German rail ticket in advance?

A friend, an astronomy colleague, and kind reader from the USA asked:

I was just trying to figure out the German train booking system for a trip I’m taking between Frankfurt am Main and Bonn this July and thought I’d ask you before doing something stupid. Would it be easier/better to buy ahead or should I just want until I’m in country and buy it at the airport.

An excellent question about Deutsche Bahn (DB)

DB ICE (InterCityExpress) at Stuttgart Hbf, by Greg O'Beirne, CC BY 2.5

DB InterCityExpress train, photo by Greg O’Beirne (Wiki, CC BY 2.5)

Buy a ticket before or after arrival?

If you can afford it, I would wait until you’re in country. A big reason is this: if you buy ahead, your ticket is tied to a specific train and time. If for any reason your plane is late arriving in Frankfurt, you may be stuck with buying a new ticket, as an advance ticket with savings will likely have restrictions which you should check if you decide to buy early.

If you decide to buy a ticket upon arrival, you have the benefit of being rushed. At Frankfurt airport, follow the signs to Frankfurt am Main Flughafen Fernbahnhof (Frankfurt airport station for long-distance trains). When you enter the train station, you’ll find automated machines to buy your ticket. The machines allow you to change the language, and subsequent transactions allow cash, European EC cards, and major credit cards. Alternatively, you can enter a staffed DB-Reisezentrum (DB travel centre), which is not the same as a staffed information booth. Buying a ticket over the counter with the help of a member of the DB staff may incur an extra charge of a few Euros.

Have a look at Deutsche Bahn’s USA/English website; enter “Frankfurt Airport” and “Bonn” for departure and arrival stations, respectively, as well as the appropriate date and time.

If you think you’re going to be on the train on 5 or more separate days, you might consider a RailEurope pass. The savings are significant on long-distance trains with distances in excess of about 250 kilometres. I’ve written about how 5- and 10-day RailEurope passes in Germany have saved me money.

Frankfurt am Main Flughafen Fernbahnhof, Airport long-distance train station, by zug55, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Frankfurt am Main Flughafen Fernbahnhof, by zug55 on Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

•   Frankfurt airport railway stations: Regionalbahnhof, Fernbahnhof
•   Rail connections from Frankfurt Airport to cities in Germany and beyond, PDF

No Connection, Unpaid, My Own Opinions Disclosure: No Connection, Unpaid, My Own Opinions. I have not received any compensation for writing this content and I have no material connection to Deutsche Bahn or RailEurope (cmp.ly/0). This post appears on Fotoeins Fotopress at fotoeins.com as http://wp.me/p1BIdT-6MP.

Surviving the latest Deutsche Bahn strike

In Germany, I am neither first-time visitor nor a permanent resident.

In this interesting middle-ground, having traveled in and around the country every year since 2001 means gaining knowledge and some handle of the language, whether it’s reading the signage or speaking to people to get some help.

As of writing (20 May 2015), the GDL locomotive drivers’ union have struck for the 9th time in the last 11 months. The present strike does not yet have an announced stop date (which is new), but will likely match or exceed the recent 5-day stoppage in early May, which at that time was the longest in Deutsche Bahn’s 21 year history. A significant fraction of the full passenger- and freight-capacity has been affected. In the German capital city of Berlin, regional trains and S-Bahn trains are affected (reduced), whereas the city’s bus, tram, and U-Bahn networks remain in full operation.

Bahn strike, Bahnstreik, Cancelled trains, Dresden Hauptbahnhof, Germany, fotoeins.com

Signage indicating cancelled train service between Dresden Hbf and Frankfurt Airport, 22 April 2015

Online updates (in German) of Deutsche Bahn’s train service:

•   FAQ on ARD Tagesschau
•   @DB_Info: Deutsche Bahn information on Twitter
•   bahn.de
•   bahn.de/aktuell
•   bahn.de/p/view/home/info/streik_gdl_150519.shtml

From the latter link, there are two “buttons” to note:

Live-Auskunft (“live information”) : a dynamic link providing an overview of trains traveling along your specified route; cancelled trains are not shown.

Reiseauskunft (“trip information”) : a dynamic link providing a schedule of trains traveling along your specified route, which will show cancelled trains (red ‘x’) and possible alternatives.

From a day-to-day standpoint, I have used both links to check what was and was not available for my desired route, providing valuable information for advance planning.

Additional words to recognize are:

•   Ersatzfahrplan: makeshift operating schedule
•   fällt heute aus: cancelled today
•   Fernverkehr, Nahverkehr: long-distance transport, regional transport
•   Halt entfällt: stop cancelled
•   Verspätung: delay

During the 5-day long strike (5 to 10 May) and despite a significant fraction of train routes cancelled, I was fortunate I needed only to travel from Berlin to the cities of Bielefeld and Frankfurt am Main. The following graphic shows what routes remained in operation and to what frequencies (if any) these routes ran.

DBahn strike 2015May

Operating & affected long-distance trains: Deutsche Bahn drivers’ strike, Apr/May 2015. Click here for full PDF.

Regular hourly trains (thickest solid colour line) ran between Berlin and Düsseldorf and between Berlin to Köln. Other trains ran every two hours (thin solid colour line), every four hours (long-dashed colour line), or only one train the entire day (dotted colour line). It meant for some “interesting” change-of-trains, service delays, and for others, a very long day on the train. During this last strike some minimum level service was maintained with a train “approximately” every two hours among the country’s five largest cities: Frankfurt, Köln, München, Hamburg, and Berlin.

But that was then, and this is now.

The graphic above shows the makeshift operating model over the last couple of strikes in late-April and early-May. There’s no guarantee these routes and services (or frequencies) will be maintained in the present strike, which means keeping abreast of service updates (re. Live-Auskunft, Reiseauskunft).

Mandatory requirements or my wishful requests, whichever you prefer:

•   patience and understanding for your fellow travelers,
•   sense of adventure and a very good sense of humour.

But these are characteristics we all think we should have and practice, OR?

I had advantage of having a general familiarity with the country, and being able to read and speak some German. I took the strike in stride, and I didn’t panic into buying a ticket on a long-distance bus service, although for a few moments I admit sweating out a few of the details along the way. During the early-May strike, I traveled from Berlin to Bielefeld just fine, but Berlin to Frankfurt was a bit of an adventure on a fully packed train.

Good luck!


Update: 0130h CEST, 22 May

The rail strike ends 21 May with Deutsche Bahn and the GDL union going into arbitration and a period to continue mediated negotiations. Regional service should be back to nominal operation by 22 May, and long-distance service to nominal operation by this (Pentecost holiday) weekend 23/24 May. Full S-Bahn service in Berlin is scheduled for 22 May.

•   Tagesschau article, in German







Berlin Hauptbahnhof

Berlin Hauptbahnhof, 2 May 2015

No Connection, Unpaid, My Own Opinions Disclosure: No Connection, Unpaid, My Own Opinions. I am not affiliated with and have no material connections with Deutsche Bahn (cmp.ly/0). This post appears on Fotoeins Fotopress at fotoeins.com as http://wp.me/p1BIdT-6Mn.

How to read signage at German rail stations

You’re excited – you’ve finally arrived in Germany.

You’ve decided to travel the country by train, but you’re not familiar with the German language, and you may find the signs puzzling and difficult to read.

The following is a short visual descriptive guide to signage at German rail stations to help get you on your way. Examples below are taken from Frankfurt am Main Hauptbahnhof (central or main train station). The general descriptions should apply everywhere throughout the country.


Where’s my train? The departures board (Abfahrtstafel)

Abfahrtstafel, departures board, Frankfurt am Main Hauptbahnhof

In most medium- to large-sized German cities, every Hauptbahnhof (Hbf) or central train station will have a large departures board in the central hall and/or over the information booth. The photo above shows the departures board in the middle of Frankfurt’s station with the message:

“Herzlich Willkommen in Frankfurt am Main Hbf – Welcome to Frankfurt am Main Central Station”.

Information on the departures board appears as white block lettering on a dark blue background. From left to right in the photo below, there are six primary columns of information:

  1. Departure time (Zeit)
  2. Train number
  3. Intermediate stops (Über)
  4. Final destination for train (Ziel)
  5. Platform number (Gleis)
  6. Additional information

Abfahrtstafel, departures board, Frankfurt am Main Hauptbahnhof

The departures board above shows Regional Bahn train RB 15231 leaving at 830pm (2030h) for Aschaffenburg from platform 12, with stops at F-Ost (Frankfurt Ost) and Maintal Ost. There’s no additional information which means the train is scheduled to depart on time.

Abfahrtstafel, departures board, Frankfurt am Main Hauptbahnhof

The other departures board shows InterCity Express ICE 773 leaving for Stuttgart from platform 6 at 905pm (2105h), with stops at Frankfurt Airport (Flughafen) and the city of Mannheim. There’s an additional note that the train is about 15 minutes late, putting the departure time to about 920pm.


What’s my train? Train destination signage (Zugzielanzeiger), by day

Above every platform are overhead digital signs to confirm what travelers might see on the central board. The signs also appear as white lettering on a blue background. Occasionally, two trains will share the same platform which the signage will also reflect. Highlighted sections will correspond to the appropriate train; take note that you board the correct train.

The following are examples of daytime departures from platforms 8 and 9.

Zugzielanzeiger, Train destination signage, Frankfurt am Main Hauptbahnhof

Zugzielanzeiger, Train destination signage, Frankfurt am Main Hauptbahnhof

From platform 8, InterCity Express train ICE 76 leaves at 1158am for Kiel Hauptbahnhof (Hbf), with stops in Kassel-Wilhelmshöhe, Göttingen, Hannover, and Hamburg Hauptbahnhof. There’s a five-minute delay, pushing the departure time to about 1203pm.

Every platform is “divided” into sections, which are also labeled with overhead signage (A, B, C, etc.) indicating where you are along the platform. The electronic sign also shows how the train itself is divided. 1st-class cars are in section A, the dining car is in section B, and the rest of the train consists of 2nd-class cars from sections C through E.

Zugzielanzeiger, Train destination signage, Frankfurt am Main Hauptbahnhof

From platform 9, InterCity Express train ICE 595 leaves at 1150am for München (Munich) Hauptbahnhof, with stops in Mannheim, Stuttgart, Ulm, and Augsburg. The sign above shows that first-class cars are along section A, the dining car along section B, and the rest of the train consists of second-class cars from sections C through E.


What’s my train? Train destination signage (Zugzielanzeiger), at night

The following is an example of a nighttime departure from platform 8.

Zugzielanzeiger (Train destination signage), Frankfurt am Main Hauptbahnhof, fotoeins.com

It’s 917pm, but the 910pm train from platform 8 hasn’t departed. I’ve labeled the train ICE 526, overhead signage indicating platform sections ‘A’ and ‘B’, as well as the familiar red and blue Deutsche Bahn ticket machines. It’s preferable (and often cheaper) to purchase a ticket before boarding the train; the ticket machines have multilingual options and sell tickets for regional and long-distance trains.

Zugzielanzeiger (Train destination signage), Frankfurt am Main Hauptbahnhof, fotoeins.com

In fact, ICE 526 heading to Dortmund Hauptbahnhof is approximately 5 minutes late, which means this train is about to leave at any moment. The train makes stops at Flughafen Frankfurt am Main Airport and in Köln (Cologne) at Messe/Deutz station. Note that 2nd-class cars are located along sections A and D, dining cars at sections B and E, and 1st-class cars at sections C and F


Where’s my coach? Coach sequence signage (Wagenreihungsplan)

If you’ve purchased a ticket with assigned seating in a specific coach or car, you have to locate the correct coach for the train. Every station platform has a large sign “Wagenreihungsplan” or “Wagenstandsanzeiger”, describing how coaches are sequenced for each train leaving from that platform.

The labeled columns shown left to right in the photo below are for trains leaving from platform 12:

  1. Departure time (Zeit)
  2. Train (Zug)
  3. Information, notes (Hinweis)
  4. Direction, destination (Richtung, Ziel)
  5. Coach sequence (Wagenreihung)
  6. Signage location, “where am I?” (Standort)

Wagenreihungsplan, Gl. 12, Frankfurt am Main, Germany, fotoeins.com

Coaches in green are 2nd-class cars, coaches in yellow are 1st-class cars, and coaches in red are dining cars. Every coach is labeled by a number. The short black arrow next to the train engine indicates the direction leaving the station. In other words, coaches next to platform sections C, D, E are at the “front” of the departing train at Frankfurt station.

Where is this “Wagenreihungsplan” signage located? (“Where am I?”) The red dot and red vertical line indicate the sign’s location between platform sections B and C.

For example, train IC2297 leaves platform 12 at 820pm (2020h) for Stuttgart. However, there are three rows for the same train number, indicating different coach sequences for different days of the week. The train indicated by the white asterisk or star is assigned for departures Monday to Wednesday (Montag bis Mittwoch) inclusive. Where the red vertical line intersects this row shows that the “Wagenreihungsplan” signage shown here would be located opposite 2nd-class coach number 6.

At times, you may hear a public announcement and/or see a notice on the overhead track signage about changes to the coach sequence: namely,

•   “umgekehrte Wagenreihung”: coach sequence is completely reversed.
•   “abweichende Wagenreihung”: coach sequence is different than scheduled.


Schedules for departures & arrivals

You’ll also see printed-paper displays for arrivals and departures. Arrivals are always displayed as black text on a light grey background, and departures are always displayed as black text on a yellow background. The lists of arriving and departing trains are ordered by the time of day.

Frankfurt am Main Hauptbahnhof, fotoeins.com

The Deutsche Bahn website also provides an updated to-the-minute online version of an arrivals and departures board here in German or here in English. Up-to-date information is given two hours in advance from your present time, including information about the assigned platform for arriving/departing trains and whether trains are early or late. Just like the printed-paper displays, arrivals and departures are shown on light grey and yellow backgrounds, respectively.


Questions or comments about trains in Germany? Please leave them below!

I made the photos above at Frankfurt am Main Hauptbahnhof on 10 October 2009 and 20 November 2014. This post appears on Fotoeins Fotopress at fotoeins.com as http://wp.me/p1BIdT-6k7.

Saving money with German Rail Pass, Nov-Dec 2014

It’s full on fall, and it’s time I’m in Germany once again.

To continue my streak of visiting the country every year, I’m “home” for the 13th consecutive year with the following itinerary over three weeks in November and December (2014):

  • Frankfurt am Main Airport to Köln (Cologne)
  • Köln to Heidelberg
  • Heidelberg to München (Munich)
  • München to Bielefeld
  • Bielefeld to Berlin
  • Berlin to Leipzig
  • Berlin to Frankfurt am Main

I’m very enthusiastic about the train, and my attachment to Deutsche Bahn’s cross-country trains remains. I’ve purchased a 2nd-class rail pass for ten days (within a one month interval) for USD $345, which includes a promotional 25% discount for this year’s 25th anniversary of the fall of the Wall.

Bahnhofshalle Fernbahnhof, Flughafen Frankfurt : by Martinroell (Wikipedia)

Long-distance train station, Frankfurt Airport : photo by Martinroell (Wikipedia)

Wartehalle Fernbahnhof, Flughafen Frankfurt am Main : by Heidas (Wikipedia)

Departures hall, long-distance train station, Flughafen Frankfurt am Main Airport : photo by Heidas (Wikipedia)

Am I saving money?

It’s a question everyone asks, and the following comparison will show that the answer is yes.

In the following table, I’ve listed point-to-point fares. I checked fares for the individual “legs” for specific dates on the Deutsche Bahn website, taking note of the lowest and highest 2nd-class fares in both “Sparangebote” (save offers) and “Normalpreis” (normal price) categories. The last farecheck occurred on 23 October (2014). I estimated distances using “Route” (road distances) values returned by the Luftlinie distance calculator (in German). “Hbf” is the abbreviation for “Hauptbahnhof” or “main train station”.

Route, Nov-Dec 2014 Distance Sparangebote Normalpreis
1. Frankfurt(M) Flughafen – Köln Hbf 180 km € 19—45 € 46—67
2. Köln Hbf – Heidelberg Hbf 250 km € 29—55 € 54—82
3. Heidelberg Hbf – München Hbf 340 km € 29—65 € 73—86
4. München Hbf – Bielefeld Hbf
(via Hannover)
740 km € 81—111 € 142
5. Bielefeld Hbf – Berlin Hbf 390 km € 29—49 € 73—84
6. Berlin Hbf – Leipzig Hbf 180 km
€ 19—39
€ 40-47
7. Leipzig Hbf – Berlin Hbf 180 km
€ 19—29
€ 34-47
8. Berlin Hbf – Frankfurt(M) Hbf 540 km € 29—79 € 110—123
9. Frankfurt (M), Hbf – Flughafen 10 km € 4.35 € 4.35
TOTALS
(€1 = USD $1.3)
2810 km
€ 258—476
USD $335—619
€ 576—682
USD $749—887
10-day German Rail Pass
(25% off promotion included)
USD $345 USD $345
Money saved < USD $274 USD $404—542

The Rail Pass does not restrict the passholder to a specific train on a given date and time. To save the most money, purchasing individual Sparpreis fares ahead of time would be the way to go. I could save money by purchasing individual “Sparangebote” fares well in advance. Otherwise, there are generally available “Normalpreis” fares, which are less restrictive but more expensive. The price difference between Sparangebote and Normalpreis fares is much larger with long-distance rail journeys over 250 km; that’s always been the case whenever I’ve visited Germany and I’ve had to cross the country by train.

I want the schedule flexibility, and that’s why I purchase a Rail Pass in advance. If I decide to stay longer or leave early, I can’t change a “fixed” ticket without incurring extra fees. My 10-day Rail Pass allows me the freedom to take a train on any day at any time (up to the maximum of 10 days. My desire for this versatility will save me at least USD $350.

Deutsche Bahn lists the following conditions for their two categories.

Sparangebote: Preis für alle Reisenden. Bei Aktionsangeboten und regionalen Angeboten gelten besondere Konditionen. Zugbindung, d.h. Ihre Fahrkarte ist nur in den auf Ihrer Fahrkarte aufgedruckten Zügen gültig. Umtausch und Erstattung 15 EUR; ab 1. Geltungstag ausgeschlossen.

Normalpreis: Preis für alle Reisenden. Volle Flexibilität (keine Zugbindung/unabhängig von der angegebenen Verbindung auf der gewählten Strecke). Umtausch und Erstattung kostenlos, ab dem 1. Geltungstag 15 EUR.

My rough-and-ready translation is:

Savings offers: price for all travelers. Conditions apply to special and regional offers. Your ticket is valid only as printed for the specified train. 15 EUR charge for exchange or refund before the first valid day; no exchange or refund afterwards.

Normal price: price for all travelers. Full flexibility (no specific train / regardless of specific connection on the chosen route). No charge for exchange and refund before the first valid day; 15 EUR charge afterwards.

Koeln Hauptbahnhof, by Remon Rijper

Photo by Remon Rijper on Flickr

Berlin Hauptbahnhof #XII, Alexander Rentsch

Photo by Alexander Rentsch on Flickr

Previously, on German rail and rail passes

•   German Rail Pass, July-August 2013
•   German Rail Pass, late-2012 RTW
•   Yet another trip with German Rail (2011)
•   Across the country with German Rail
•   Saving money with a German Rail Pass
•   Flexibility with a German Rail Pass

The first two photos are from Wikipedia, and the last two are from Flickr. All photos are used with the generosity of the Creative Commons license. This post appears on Fotoeins Fotopress at fotoeins.com, and is part of the Sunday Traveler series.

No Connection, Unpaid, My Own Opinions Disclosure: No Connection, Unpaid, My Own Opinions. I have not received any compensation for writing this content and I have no material connection to the brands, topics and/or products that are mentioned herein (cmp.ly/0).

Instants in tempo: Berlin Hauptbahnhof

Welcome to Berlin, signage, Berlin Hauptbahnhof, Berlin Central Station

“Willkommen in Berlin” | Welcome to Berlin (Instagram)

I love Berlin.

I love train stations.

These two preoccupations always converge at the Berlin Hauptbahnhof (central train station). Looming overhead is the large glass roof, like the temple of transport hanging over scurrying passengers; trains pass overhead as the shops reside below; tempting scents from baked goods and grilled bratwurst waft from neighbouring stands; calm measured station announcements and excited conversations in the air is punctuated by screeching brakes of trains entering the station.

I’ve always had a love of transport infrastructure and fascination with transport logistics. I’ll always set aside some time to hang out at the central train station. I’ll come here to observe and, even surrounded by noise, to meditate. I’ll wander through each floor, across the platforms, up and down on the escalators between levels. I’ll watch residents head out to work, going shopping, meeting friends, returning home to their families; it’s easy to pick out new visitors to the city, as they step out into the grand hall towering over the tracks, eyes wide and shiny in anticipation of their visit to the German capital.

From around the city, region, and the country, there are S-Bahn and U-Bahn trains; regional trains; and Eurocity, InterCity, and InterCity Express trains. Converging at this Hauptbahnhof focal point are trains from all corners of the country and beyond.

And if you’ve just arrived on a train and stepped out onto the platform, you might see the overhead sign that greets you: “willkommen in Berlin”.

You might wonder why your welcome is sponsored by Bombardier – they produce trains for Berlin’s S-Bahn urban rail network.

Above all, this place represents my kind of hope: a hope for people from the outside to see what an energetic place this is, and a hope for residents to accept and embrace new ideas from the outside.

Up and down, Gleis 14, Platform 14, Berlin Hauptbahnhof, Berlin Central Station

Auf Gleis 14 | On platform 14 (Instagram)

Mr. Pink, Berlin Hauptbahnhof, Berlin Central Station

Mr. Pink, under the S-Bahn trains (Instagram)

Platform 3, Platform 4, Section E, Berlin Hauptbahnhof, Berlin Central Station

“3E and 4E” (Instagram)

2nd floor above ground, 2nd floor below ground, Berlin Hauptbahnhof, Berlin Central Station

2. Obergeschoss & 2. Untergeschoss | 2nd floor above & 2nd floor below ground (Instagram)

Up and up, escalators, Berlin Hauptbahnhof, Berlin Central Station

“Folks on the up and up” (Instagram)

Golden light, Berlin Hauptbahnhof, Berlin Central Station

“das Sonnenlicht vergoldet die Hauptstadt …” | golden light blankets the German capital (Instagram)

DAS ist Berlin, Berlin Hauptbahnhof, Berlin Central Station

“DAS ist Berlin” | THIS is Berlin (Instagram)

I made all of the photos above with a 4th-generation iPodTouch in 2012 and 2013. This post appears on Fotoeins Fotopress at fotoeins.com.

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