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Abfahrtstafel (Departures board), Frankfurt am Main Hauptbahnhof, fotoeins.com

How to read signage at German train 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 train stations to help get you on your way. Examples below are taken from Frankfurt am Main Hauptbahnhof (central or main train station), although descriptions should apply similarly at other stations.

Below are descriptions to:

  • Departures board (Abfahrtstafel)
  • Destination signage (Zugzielanzeiger)
  • Car sequence signage (Wagenreihungsplan)
  • Arrivals-, departures schedules (Ankunfts-, Abfahrtspläne)


Departures board (Abfahrtstafel)

Where is my train?

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. Track or platform (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.


Destination signage (Zugzielanzeiger)

What is my train?, 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, fotoeins.com

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 is my train?, at night.

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


Newer “Multizuganzeige” signage

Some of the latest installed information signage includes multiple trains: the current train at the track, and the next two trains to appear at the same track.

Multizuganzeige, Dresden Hauptbahnhof, Deutsche Bahn

Information display at Dresden Hauptbahnhof. “StationsAnzeiger”, May 2016, Deutsche Bahn.

In the image above from Dresden Hauptbahnhof, we see that at track 2 train IC2446 is scheduled to depart at 1720h (520pm) for Hannover Hauptbahnhof, via Leipzig and Halle an der Saale. The next two trains are also on display. Train RB31 to Elsterwerda-Biehla originally scheduled to leave track 2 at 1708h is delayed by 5 minutes (+5) and is leaving from track 1 instead. At 1744h, train RB31 is arriving from (von) Coswig near Dresden.


Car sequence signage (Wagenreihungsplan)

Where is my coach or car?

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.

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

Wagenreihungplan (car sequence) for trains on track 12, Frankfurt am Main Hauptbahnhof.

The photo above are for trains departing Frankfurt train station from track 12, effective for the period in 2014 between June 15th and December 13th (15.06.2014 – 13.12.2014). Shown left to right are the labeled columns:

  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)

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’s locomotive engine indicates the direction of the train leaving the station. In the sign shown above, coaches next to platform sections C, D, E are at the “front” of the departing train at Frankfurt station.

But where am I; where is the location of this “Wagenreihungsplan” signage? The answer is given by the red dot and red vertical line; they indicate I’m standing between platform sections B and C.

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

Track 12: IC2297 coach sequence for departures Mo-Mi (Monday to Wednesday), Do (Thursday), Sa (Saturday).

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 black asterisk is assigned for departures Monday to Wednesday (Montag bis Mittwoch) inclusive. Where the red vertical line intersects this row shows that the “Wagenreihungsplan” signage is located opposite 2nd-class coach number 6. The coach sequence is different for Thursday (Do) and Saturday (Sa) departures.

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 (Pläne)

Frankfurt am Main Hauptbahnhof, fotoeins.com

Car sequence information, arrivals schedule: Frankfurt am Main Hauptbahnhof.

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

The two example images below provide information for trains departing Frankfurt train station at 8am and trains arriving at Frankfurt train station at 12pm. The current time in Germany is shown as “aktuelle Uhrzeit“.

Deutsche Bahn, German Rail

8am departures information (in yellow), Frankfurt am Main Hauptbahnhof.

Deutsche Bahn, German Rail

12pm arrivals schedule (in white), Frankfurt am Main Hauptbahnhof

Shown left to right are the labeled columns:

  1. Time of departure (Abfahrtszeit) OR time of arrival (Ankunftszeit)
  2. Train (Zug)
  3. Direction, stops along the way (Richtung, Unterwegshaltestellen)
  4. Track number (Gleis)
  5. Real-time information (Aktuelles): numbers in green, on-time/early; numbers in red, late (in minutes)

Departures examples from above:
at 801am, train EC207 will depart on time for Zürich from track 2. The train is scheduled to arrive at Basel central train station (Basel SBB) at 1054am and end in Zürich at 12pm. At 804am, regional S-Bahn trains will depart on time: S6 to Friedberg from track 104 and S1 to Rödermark from track 102. Both S-Bahn trains leave from “Frankfurt Hbf, tief” which is the lower or underground levels of the train station.

Arrivals examples from above:
at 12pm, train ICE73 arrives on track 6 from Kiel (via Hamburg and Hannover). At 1204pm, train ICE724 arrives on track 7 from München (via Nürnberg and Würzburg).

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.


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

5 Responses to “How to read signage at German train stations”

  1. CrazyChineseFamily

    Those things are just impossible…the worst is when the train departments are in the wrong order so you have to sprint to get into the righting or wait till the next train station to switch. Another bad thing is when you finaly arrive at the right train just to see that they have changed them without the announcement and and and…but I guess this is what happens in every country 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    • fotoeins

      Hi, Timo. Ah yes, the infamous “umgekehrte” or “abweichende” Wagenreihung! This reminder meant I just put an extra section above to describe briefly the Wagenstandanzeiger (Wagenreihungsplan). 😉 Thanks for reading and for your comment!

      Liked by 1 person

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