Tips for foreigners to survive the German train system

Oktoberfest 2019 is approaching soon. People from around the world will travel to Germany to experience one of the most famous drinking cites in the world. Die Deutsche Bahn – the company that primarily operates the train system throughout Germany – has many bilingual information available, however there are many instances where problems can arise “in real time”, for which translations are not handily available. For those travellers that do not speak German, here is a brief list of tips, some in great detail, in case you get caught in a problem or looking for suggestions.

 

  1. Assistance: If you have any questions in a station, there are often Information booths or the Reisezentrum (Travel center) in the larger stations to assist.
  2. Train terms: some quick, useful translations:
    1. Gleis = Platform.   If for example Gleis 3 appears next to your train, it indicates a change in scheduled platform. In larger stations, be aware that some trains share a platform, for example 7A-C and another train docked in 7D-F.
    2. Zug fällt heute aus = The train is cancelled.   With a valid ticket you are able to take the next available connection. It’s advised to visit the Reisezentrum to find an alternative connection.
  3. Discounts and offers:
    1. The main website, http://www.bahn.de, will often show if there are saver’s fares for a particular connection, which may not appear on other booking sites. The Deutsche Bahn also offers a variety of special offers, such as regional offers (for example, “Bayern Ticket” allows you to travel as much as you wish for one day throughout Bavaria).
    2. For long-distance trains, if you cannot find a cheap option (<50€), there is a partnership with a company called MaxDome, which sells a promotion of video streaming, including a ticket with the ICE (Inter-City Express). This offer is valid only with the ICE, so only journeys to big cities are valid (e.g. Frankfurt to Munich). Unfortunately, the website appears to only be available in German. Link here.
    3. Discount passes: If you plan to travel a lot during your stay, you may consider purchasing a BahnCard 25. This is a pass for approximately 70€, but allows you to purchase any ticket in the regional and long-distance connections at a 25% discount. Only the cardholder can receive the discount (not a group offer), but if you plan to travel more than 300€ worth of costs, it would pay off. When purchasing online, be sure to select the BC25 under passenger options (Ermäßigung). Note: this is NOT valid for city transportation (busses, trams, subways)…
    4. City-Ticket: …however, with purchase of an IC (Intercity) or ICE ticket, there is sometimes the offer that a City-Ticket is included, which then does permit travel within the city of destination. It will shown on your ticket often as +CITY (e.g. “Berlin+City”)
  4. Delays/Cancellations: if you find yourself subject to a delay, possibly resulting in a missed connection, you are entitled to 25% back of the purchase price if you arrive with a delay of 60 minutes to your destination; 50% with a delay of 120 minutes. Take note of the train information (departure time, train number, etc. for example: RB 55624, departure 13:45, scheduled arrival 15:10). Visit the Reisezentrum and request a Fahrgastrechte-Formular (Passenger Rights Claim). With proof of ticket (paper-form, not electronic), you should be able to receive cash back immediately. This includes seat reservations that were not usable.
  5. Carriage count: several trains consist of multiple carriages, that may split up. One example: an ICE train with a front carriage traveling to Cologne, the second carriage will travel to Düsseldorf. A regional train traveling from Cologne to Mainz may have two carriages, but the back carriage may end in Remagen with only the front carriage continuing. This happens seldom, but if you see on the platform’s display two trains with different destinations but the same departure time, be sure you are in the right carriage.
  6. Alcohol consumption: Most regional and long-distance trains permit drinking on board. One known exception is the Metronome, the regional train company in the North (Bremen, Hamburg, Hannover, etc.); they do not permit drinking. Consumption of alcohol is not permitted in the city transportation (including subways).
  7. Platform numbers: Some stations have one or two platforms that are more difficult to find, or are located at the very end of a larger platform. One example is in Andernach: there are standard platforms 1, 2 and 3, but there is a platform “24”, located at the very end of the walkway sharing platforms 2 and 3. It is 150 meters away from the “central” platform, and very easy to miss. Koblenz also has an obscure platform; I believe it’s 104 and shares the walkway with platforms (I believe) 4 and 5.