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An Easy Guide to Deutsche Bahn – Navigating German Train Travel

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Train travel in Germany is one of the easiest, fastest, and most comfortable ways to get around the country. When given the choice, I always try to go by train. I find it much more relaxing, quite scenic, and stress-free. However, navigating German train travel the first few times can be a bit confusing! There are multiple types of trains, varying ticket prices, and lots of secret hacks to make the process as smooth as possible. Here’s an easy guide to Deutsche Bahn – breaking down everything you need to know to be an expert on German train travel!

Deutsche Bahn is the official name of the German train system. You will also see it abbreviated a lot of the time as “DB” for short. It has a unique financial make-up as it is a private joint-stock company yet its only shareholder is the German government. As a transportation company, it is the most extensive in Europe with a wide array of operations and infrastructure. Additionally, by revenue, Deutsche Bahn is the largest in the world. It carries around 2 billion passengers annually.

It’s important to note that Deutsche Bahn owns all of its train tracks – meaning that its trains don’t have to stop and pull over for other freight or incoming trains. This is a big contrast to Amtrak in the United States, which rents most of its train tracks from freight and private companies.

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Types of Train

As part of this guide to Deutsche Bahn, it’s important to know the difference between the different kinds of trains and connections offered by them. Knowing the type of train you’re taking dictates its speed, amenities, and costs. Here’s a brief overview of the most popular types of DB trains.

High-Speed Trains

ICE (Intercity-Express) – ICE trains are the fastest trains in Deutsche Bahn’s fleet! With a speed of almost 200 mph (320 km/h), ICE trains are high-speed long-distance trains used to connect major cities in and around Germany (these routes can also be international). Because there are only stops in major cities, trains can travel much more efficiently. ICE trains are also the most luxurious trains with air conditioning, wifi, in-seat charging, and food options (usually a restaurant and the BordBistro). The newest version of the ICE – ICE 4 – came into use in late 2017/early 2018. These ICE 4’s are modernized and offer more high-tech options. If possible, I always prefer to travel on an ICE train.

  • There is also an ICE Sprinter classification. These routes only run a few times a day but they might only make one or two stops. For instance, on an ICE Sprinter, you can get from Berlin to Munich in less than 4 hours.
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ICE train

IC (InterCity) – IC trains are a step below ICE trains. They are considered semi-high-speed long-distance trains with a top speed of 135 mph (220 km/h). These trains tend to make more stops, especially in smaller cities. While they will have similar amenities as ICE trains, it is hit or miss whether they have wifi. Additionally, they usually only have a BordBistro and no restaurant option. While IC trains are perfectly fine, they do tend to be on the older side and not as modern as ICE trains.

EC (EuroCity) – EC trains are similar to IC trains but run between international borders. The type of carriages and amenities on EC trains varies depending on which rail company is operating the train. Because these are running between international borders, it’s not uncommon to get a train from the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, etc. Some of these trains will have additional amenities such as wifi.

  • Train Tip: If you’re taking a train from Hamburg to Prague (or any other international route), make sure to check the train prices not just on the Deutsche Bahn website but also on the equivalent train website for the other country (in this case for the Czech Republic, make sure to check České dráhy). I’ve found cheaper train tickets offered on other train websites for the same route and time.

Local or Regional Trains

IRE (Interregio-Express) – These regional trains cover longer distances but at a much slower speed and with very few amenities. A step below the IC trains, IRE trains are rarely used these days. You can find them running the Hamburg-Berlin route as well as several different routes in Baden-Württemberg.

RE (Regional-Express) – RE trains are commonly confused with RB trains (see below). There are no amenities on these trains, including no seat reservations. Because these trains connect stations in a specific region, they’re commonly quite filled. Additionally, the tickets are quite cheap, making them accessible to all. Unlike RB trains, RE trains don’t necessarily stop at every station on a regional route. However, they’re still quite slow-moving trains.

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Regional train in Schleswig-Holstein

RB (Regionalbahn) – Compared to RE trains that only stop at bigger stops along a regional route, RB trains stop at every stop along a route. They’re the most basic train service offered by Deutsche Bahn and have no amenities. Additionally, they’re the cheapest option with no seat reservations. During morning and evening rush hour, as well as on the weekends, these trains can be packed.

S-Bahn – The S-Bahn is a combination of a metro and train system. Similar to the London Underground, it’s usually just a city train that connects stations within a city. Most S-Bahns don’t operate that far beyond the city limits. They’re a high-frequency train that can go every 5 to 10 minutes, especially during morning and evening rush hour.

Night Trains

While Deutsche Bahn does offer overnight trains via their ICE and IC trains, they don’t have beds or any additional amenities. In this sense, they aren’t traditional overnight trains (and they’re not very common). However, Deutsche Bahn does offer overnight trains with sleepers and couchette coaches via some of their partner railway companies.

  • ÖBB Nightjet (Austrian Federal Railways): to/from Hamburg, Hannover, Düsseldorf, Cologne, Frankfurt, Berlin, Magdeburg, Freiburg, Munich, Rosenheim, Innsbruck, Linz, Vienna, Basel, Zurich, Verona, Milan, Bologna, Florence, Rome, Udine, Treviso, and Venice.
    • From Hamburg, there are connections to/from Hannover, Freiburg, Basel, Zurich, Munich, Innsbruck, Passau, Linz, and Vienna. I’ve taken the overnight train a few times from Hamburg to Innsbruck. It leaves late in the evening and arrives around 9:00 the next morning.
    • See all routes and ticket prices.
  • Russian Night Train: to/from Paris, Karlsruhe, Frankfurt, Berlin, Warsaw, Minsk, Moscow:
    • See all routes.
    • Please note that you’re unable to book this train online.

Partner Trains

As mentioned above, when DB trains are crossing international borders, it’s not uncommon for the train to be run by a different company. Similar to airline alliances, many train companies in Europe have partnerships along certain routes. Deutsche Bahn works with the following rail companies: ÖBB Railjet in Austria, DSB Train in Denmark, SNCF’s TGV in France, České dráhy in the Czech Republic, Trenitalia in Italy, and more.

Types of Deutsche Bahn Train Tickets

There are different categories of train tickets depending on the type of train you’re taking. As a basic principle, the earlier you book your ticket, the cheaper it is. ICE, IC, and EC trains run on a sliding scale – if you book any of these trains the day of, you’ll pay the maximum fare for the route. On the other hand, all local and regional trains can be booked the day of – they have set fares that don’t change. This makes it a bit confusing when trying to figure out if you should book in advance or not. Just to recap:

  • High-speed trains (ICE, IC, and EC): you should book these tickets in advance as the fare gets more expensive the closer you get to the date
  • Regional trains: you can book these tickets the day of as it is a set fare.

When it comes to booking IC, IC, EC tickets, there are several options including Super Sparpreis, Sparpreis, and Flexpreis.

  • Super Sparpreis (Super Saver Fare) – starting at 17.90 Euros: each train route only has a limited amount of these tickets so they tend to sell out first. While this is the cheapest fare, this fare also has the most limitations. You can buy this fare up to 180 days in advance. If you buy a Super Sparpreis, you’re bound to the specific date, specific time, and specific route. If you decide to cancel, you get no money back and if you decide to take a different train, you’ll need to buy a new ticket. This fare also does not include a City-Ticket (see below). Lastly, even if you have a 1st class ticket, you don’t get access to the DB Lounge at the railway station.
    • Please note: if you buy a Super Sparpreis ticket and part of the journey is on a regional train, you’re allowed to take any regional train (not just the one assigned to you on your ticket). However, you’re always bound to the ICE, IC, or EC on your ticket!
  • Sparpreis (Saver Fare) – starting at 21.50 Euros: this is the ticket fare that I tend to buy as it is still cheaper than the Flexpreis but offers a bit of flexibility and a few more amenities. You can buy this fare starting 6 months in advance. Similar to the Super Sparepreis, you’re bound to the specific date, specific time, and specific route. However, you’re able to cancel the ticket for a fee of 10 Euros before the first day of validity (your refund is issued as a DB voucher). This fare also includes a City-Ticket, allowing you to use the public transportation of your starting destination to get to the train station and allowing you to use the public transportation of your end destination to get to your hotel/house (as long as the trip is over 100 km). Lastly, even if you have a 1st class ticket, you don’t get access to the DB Lounge at the railway station.
    • Please note: if you buy a Sparpreis ticket and part of the journey is on a regional train, you’re allowed to take any regional train (not just the one assigned to you on your ticket). However, you’re always bound to the ICE, IC, or EC on your ticket!
  • Flexpreis (Flexible Fare): While this is the most expensive fare offered by Deutsche Bahn, this option offers the most flexibility and is particularly nice when you don’t know your exact departure time (a great example of this is arriving in Germany on an incoming flight). When you’re buying a Flexpreis ticket, you’re just buying the starting destination and the final destination – this means you can hop on/hop off and explore other cities along your route. You’re able to take any train on the day of your ticket’s validity. Additionally, refunds and exchanges can be done free of charge before the first day of validity. Lastly, this fare also includes a City-Ticket, allowing you to use the public transportation of your starting destination to get to the train station and allowing you to use the public transportation of your end destination to get to your hotel/house (as long as the trip is over 100 km). These fares can be booked up to 6 months in advance.
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Ticket machines at the train stations

Each of the above tickets is offered as a 2nd class ticket option and a 1st class ticket option. Depending on your level of comfort and amenities required (and ultimately, the price you’re willing to spend!), you can choose which class you’d like to book. Here are some of the main differences for ICE trains (for regional trains, there isn’t that big of a difference):

  • 2nd Class: Within 2nd class, there are 4 seats per row and no at-seat food and beverage service. However, there still is a trolley that comes around with bottled drinks, coffee, and small snacks to buy. Additionally, seat reservations are not included in the ticket price and you’re not able to access the DB lounges at train stations. However, I find 2nd class carriages still quite comfortable! There is free Wifi available (with a data limit) and outlets for charging your devices between the seats.
  • 1st Class: Traveling 1st class on Deutsche Bahn is quite a luxury! However, if you’re savvy enough, you can find reasonably priced 1st class tickets. As most families tend to travel 2nd class, the 1st class carriages are always so quiet. Along with the lack of noise, there are only 3 seats per row, and your seat reservation is included in your ticket price. Additionally, there is in-seat food and beverage service from the Bordrestaurant along with free daily newspapers. Wifi in 1st class is unlimited and depending upon the type of ticket you buy (Super Saver vs. Saver vs. Flexible), you also get access to the DB Lounges located at select train stations.
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Additional Deutsche Bahn Ticket Prices

City mobil: If your fare doesn’t include the City-Ticket, you can pay extra to get the City mobil ticket (fares depending on the destination). This allows you to use the public transportation of your starting destination to get to the train station and allows you to use the public transportation of your end destination to get to your hotel/house.

Seat Reservation: While 1st class tickets include a seat reservation, 2nd class fares don’t. However, I highly recommend booking a seat reservation, especially on longer routes or busier routes. All ICE, IC, and EC trains have seat reservations and some regional trains in Bavaria, Rhineland-Palatinate, Saarland, and Schleswig-Holstein offer it. A seat reservation costs 4.00 Euros and can be booked either during your initial ticket booking or at a later date as a separate purchase.

Bikes: Bikes are only allowed on certain train connections. All IC and EC trains can accommodate bikes but only certain ICE trains allow it (it will be noted at the initial stages of reserving the fare whether a bike is allowed or not). Additionally, the bike must be stored in a bike space on the train. The bike fare can cost up to 9 Euros, depending on whether it is an international trip or just locally within Germany. Bikes are permitted on all regional trains – pricing differs depending on the state.

Dogs: There is an extensive list of rules for traveling with dogs. Depending on the size of the dog, how it travels (with or without a crate), and the type of train (high-speed trains vs. regional trains), the pricing and regulations differ. Here are the full guidelines (only in German).

Children: As a general rule, children under the age of 15 ride for free. Children from 0 to 5 years old travel for free and don’t need their own ticket. Children between the ages of 6 and 14 who are traveling with parents or grandparents travel free of charge. However, they must be noted on the reservation at the time of booking. If they are traveling with other individuals or alone, they must pay 50% of the ticket price. Anyone who is 15 or older must pay full price for their ticket.

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The screen of the ticket machine at train stations

Deutsche Bahn Train Passes

There are several passes or annual options that can help decrease the cost of individual fares. While the annual options only make sense for individuals either living in Germany or traveling in Germany frequently, short-term travel passes can make sense when traveling on the weekends or with a group.

Deutsche Bahn Card

If you live in Germany and/or plan on using Deutsche Bahn at least once or twice a month, it makes sense to look into buying a Deutsche Bahn Card. There are three main options for each class:

  • Bahn 25: This card gives you 25% off super saver fares, saver fares, and flexible fares. If you’re not so spontaneous with your travels, book in advance, and/or don’t use Deutsche Bahn a lot, this is a great option for you! It is 55.70 Euros for 2nd class and 112 Euros for 1st class. The card is valid for a year. You can book the Bahn 25 card here.
  • Bahn 50: This card gives you 50% of flexible fares and 25% of super saver fares and saver fares. If you tend to book your travels more spontaneous (and thus have flexible fares), this is the perfect card option for you! It is 229 Euros for 2nd class and 463 Euros for 1st class. The card is valid for a year. You can book the Bahn 50 card here.
  • Bahn 100: This is the card for the seasoned Deutsche Bahn traveler! It covers the cost of all Deutsche Bahn fares as well as other private train companies and bus companies. Additionally, it includes a City-Ticket for all locations where it is offered. You can either pay a flat rate of 4,027 Euros for 2nd class and 6,812 Euros for 1st class, or you can pay a monthly subscription of 372 Euros for 2nd class and 632 Euros for 1st class. You can book the Bahn 100 card here.

There are also special Bahn card offers for youth travelers between the ages of 6 and 18, travelers between the ages of 19 and 26, travelers over the age of 65, and business travels. You can see all the specific offers here.

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A regional train in Schleswig-Holstein

Deutsche Bahn Passes

Depending on when, where, and how you plan to travel on Deutsche Bahn, they offer an extensive list of passes to decrease costs. It’s important to note that the Bahn card 25 and 50 can not be applied to these passes.

  • Germany Day Ticket (Quer-durchs-Land-Ticket) – starting at 42 Euros: With the German Day Ticket, you’re able to travel on all Deutsche Bahn 2nd class regional trains (and some other partner trains). This ticket is valid Mondays through Fridays from 9 am to 3 am the next day or on weekends and public holidays all day until 3 am the next day. Up to 5 people can travel on this ticket. The base price for the first person is 42 Euros with each additional person costing 7 Euros. You can take as many journeys as you’d like during this time period, provided it is only on regional trains. This is a great option for groups of up to 5 individuals and/or individuals wanting to travel by regional training and requiring flexibility or spontaneity. You can find out all the specifics here.
  • Regional Day Ticket (Länder-Ticket) – starting at 22 Euros: Each German state offers its own version of a day ticket that can be used within its borders on all Deutsche Bahn 2nd class regional trains. Some states, especially city-states such as Hamburg, Bremen, and Berlin, include the bordering states. The specific base price and price increase per person varies from state to state but the rules are the same – the ticket is valid Mondays through Fridays from 9 am to 3 am the next day or on weekends and public holidays all day until 3 am the next day. You can take as many journeys as you’d like during this time period, provided it is only on regional trains. Once again, this is the ideal option for groups of up to 5 individuals that plan on spontaneously traveling through just one German state. You can find out the specifics of each regional day ticket here.
  • German Rail Pass – starting at 156 Euros: This pass allows you to take as many journeys as you’d like within a certain time period. You can either choose 5, 10, or 15 consecutive days of travel or 5, 10, or 15 days of travel within a one-month period (but the days don’t have to be consecutive). This pass is only valid for travelers who live outside the EU, Turkey, and Russia. Unlike the German Day Ticket, this rail pass allows you to use all types of Deutsche Bahn trains, including ICE trains! Additionally, this rail pass is valid on a few routes outside of Germany in Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, and Italy. If you’re coming from overseas and looking for an economical way to book all of your transportation, definitely check out the German Rail Pass.
  • Group Passes: If you’re traveling with 6 or more people (up to 30 people), Deutsche Bahn offers group travel prices that include a seat reservation. Unlike the Germany Day Ticket, the group passes are valid on high-speed trains as well as regional trains. There’s an option to book group passes in Germany or within Europe (if your train goes beyond Germany’s borders). You can book group passes up to 6 months in advance and, depending on the type of pass you buy, you can change your reservation up to 21 days in advance. Find out more about group travel passes.

Europe-Wide Rail Passes

There are two Europe Rail Passes offered – one for residents of the EU, Turkey, and Russia and one for individuals living outside the EU. This allows you to travel around Europe affordably while seeing as many places as possible.

  • Interrail – starting at 51 Euros: With the Interrail pass, you can either buy a one-country pass or a global pass (allowing you to travel to up to 33 countries). This pass is only available to residents of the EU, Turkey, and Russia. Travel periods vary from 3 days to 3 months. You can find out more information about Interrail here.
  • Eurail: Similar to the Interrail pass, you can either buy a one country pass or a global pass (for travel to 5 countries or more) with the Eurail pass. This pass is only available to those individuals living outside the EU. Depending on the fare you select, travel either has to be taken within a certain time period (flexible) or on consecutive days. You can find out more information about Eurail here.
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Deutsche Bahn online booking platform from the English website.

Buying a Deutsche Bahn Ticket

There are multiple options to buying a Deutsche Bahn ticket – online, at a ticket machine in a train station, or at a Deutsche Bahn Travel Center in a train station. I prefer booking all of my tickets online as it is quick and easy. The online system accepts all major credit cards as well as Paypal – making it easy to pay even if you live abroad. Additionally, the Deutsche Bahn website is available in not only German and English but an array of other languages. The English version of the website is a slimmed-down version of the German website. However, it still has everything you need!

  • Here’s a step-by-step guide to buying your ticket online
  • Hint: If you’re trying to travel on a specific day but you’re not tied to a certain time, you can also search for the cheapest option by clicking on “Saver fare finder”. This will sort the fares of all the trains from that day from cheapest to most expensive.

The advantage of buying a ticket at a Deutsche Bahn Travel Center is the can help you find a more empty train, optimize your train connection, etc. However, the Deutsche Bahn website does such a great job presenting all of your travel options that I only use the Deutsche Bahn Travel Center when I’ve had a delayed or canceled train.

Hints for reading a Deutsche Bahn train ticket. This one has been printed out from home via an online purchase.

DB Navigator App

I highly recommend downloading the DB Navigator App. It’s available in multiple languages in app stores around the world. Not only can you buy tickets on the DB Navigator App (which are automatically downloaded and saved to your phone) but you can also check connections, see if your train is on time, get alternative connections, etc. Additionally, you see whether your specific train route is busy depending on the time of day. I always rely on my DB Navigator App when traveling by train.

Not Buying a Train Ticket

There are heavy fines for riding the train without a ticket. It varies depending on the route, type of train, and the exact situation but riding a regional train without a ticket can occur a fine of 60 Euros. I will admit that it is hit or miss whether they check tickets on a regional train. However, it isn’t worth the hassle of paying the fine – just buy yourself a ticket!

When it comes to an ICE, IC, or EC train, the fines can be hundreds of Euros depending on the route. They check tickets on these high-speed trains 99% of the time so don’t be caught without a ticket. Not only will they fine you but you’ll also be kicked off the train at the next stop. Instead of a fine, they might make you pay for a ticket right on the spot. As the ticket is a day-of ticket, you will be charged the maximum amount for that route.

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Deutsche Bahn Seat Reservations

As mentioned above, seat reservations can be made on all high-speed trains as well as select regional trains in Bavaria, Rhineland-Palatinate, Saarland, and Schleswig-Holstein. If purchasing a 2nd class ticket, a seat reservation is an additional 4.00 Euros at the time of booking. If purchasing a 1st class ticket, a seat reservation is included in the fare price if you select it at the time of booking. To reserve a seat in 1st class at a later time, it costs 5.30 Euros. Regional train seat reservations, if offered, are usually only an additional Euro. Deutsche Bahn also has special seat reservation offers.

If you’re reserving a train on an ICE via Deutsche Bahn’s online reservation system, you can pull up the train plan and decide whether you want a window seat, aisle seat, compartment seat (compartments are for 6 people – perfect if you’re traveling in a group), etc. Also, if you’re prone to motion sickness, they’ll sometimes even tell you the direction the train is going!

Quiet Carriages

Within 1st class and 2nd classes, there are specific carriages marked as “Quiet Carriages” (German: Ruhebereich). If you choose to sit in one of these carriages, please note that you’re not allowed to have loud conversations, talk on the phone, listen to loud music, or make any other loud noises. These are especially for travelers who want a quiet atmosphere on their journey.

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Family Areas and Toddler Compartments

Deutsche Bahn has a lot of fun opportunities and programs for families and children! They have specific Family Areas and Toddler Compartments on ICE trains and select IC/EC trains. Additionally, childcare is also offered in German on select ICE routes on Saturdays and Sundays. No reservation is needed beforehand. Unfortunately, this service is currently suspended.

  • Family Areas: These areas are suitable for families with kindergarten children or children in elementary school. You’ll be around other families as well so no need to be concerned about noise levels!
  • Toddler Compartments: These special toddler compartments are the ideal situation for children up to 3 years old. They fit up to 5 people total and offer enough space for toddlers and babies to crawl around and play. Additionally, there are parking areas for strollers nearby, childproof sockets, a specific place to plug in a bottle warmer, and a changing table. #

Luggage Storage

Along with a seat reservation, luggage storage is another question that comes to mind! If you book either the first row or last row in a carriage, you’re usually able to store your suitcase behind your seat (there is a bit of a crack between the seat and the glass – a perfect storage space for luggage!). Each carriage also has a luggage rack for large pieces of luggage and storage space above each seat for smaller pieces of luggage.

I’ve never had any issues storing my luggage on a Deutsche Bahn train. However, I wouldn’t recommend bringing 2-3 large suitcases and expecting to be able to easily manage them. Just like on a plane, only bring what you’re able to manage (and be respectful of the other people in your carriage!).

While I’ve never had any theft happen to me on Deutsche Bahn, it does happen! I always keep my luggage within my eyesight. Additionally, when a train is pulling into a station, I never leave then to go get food or go the bathroom. You never know who could just snatch your suitcase and leave the train. If I do happen to leave to go the bathroom or to go get food, I might ask someone near me to watch my luggage. I also never leave my purse and/or wallet at my seat! It’s all about using common sense and being smart about the situation.

No Seat Reservation

If you decide not to make a seat reservation (living life on the edge!), you might still be able to find a seat – especially if the train is during an off-peak time or on a low-traveled route. Above every seat and/or located on the side of every seat, it will tell you whether the seat is reserved. If it says nothing on it, then the seat is free. If it says “Hamburg – Frankfurt”, then the seat is reserved from Hamburg to Frankfurt. However, if you get on in Frankfurt and are headed to Stuttgart, you can still sit in that seat because it is no longer reserved.

Quite often, people will just sit down in seats, even if they say they are reserved. If someone is sitting in your reserved seat, don’t feel bad kicking them out – you paid for it! It’s important to note that if you don’t claim your seat within 15 minutes of boarding, then anyone can take the seat. However, I’ve never really seen this happen and most people are respectful of the reservation system.

Reading the Deutsche Bahn Timetables

Being able to properly read the Deutsche Bahn timetables is critical to booking the correct train. The timetable information is listed both online and at the train stations. As I mentioned above, I mostly book and reserve all my tickets online. However, it’s still important to be familiar with the signage at the train stations and know how to properly read the in-person timetables.

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Departure Timetable
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Arrival Timetable

The above timetables show every train departing and arriving through the entire day. It’s important to note that Deutsche Bahn updates these timetables every 6 months depending on which routes are/aren’t heavily frequented. If you take an up-close look at the timetables, they look like this:

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Departure Timetable

All ICE, IC, and EC trains are labeled in red to make it easier to distinguish long-distance trains from the regional trains. The trains are all in chronological order. Here’s an example of how to read the timetable correctly:

  • At 20:00, ICE 524 is departing from platform 6. It will make stops in Würzburg at 20:52, Aschaffenburg at 21:32, Frankfurt/M (Frankfurt am Main – there are multiple Frankfurts in Germany) at 22:04, Köln Messe/Deutz at 23:37, and Düsseldorf at 23:58 with its final destination Dortmund at 0:49 the next morning.

Below some of the times are Mo. – Fr. or Sa., So. – this just means that this train only operates either Monday through Friday or only on Saturday and Sunday. A great example is the train at 20:08. It’s the same train (RB 58531) but from Monday through Friday, it departs from platform 19 and on Saturday and Sunday, it departs from platform 20.

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Arrival Timetable

Reading an arrival timetable is the same as reading a departure timetable, just in reserve! It’s important to note that I took this photo at the Nürnberg main train station. Here’s an example of how to read the timetable correctly:

  • At 20:54, ICE 522 arrives at the Nürnberg main train station at platform 7. This train started in München Hbf at 19:48 and made a stop in Ingolstadt at 20:25 before arriving in Nürnberg.

Being able to read the timetable is especially helpful if you’re going on a day trip and trying to coordinate the best time to come back. These timetables are located on every platform. Additionally, you can find them at the Deutsche Bahn Information Center.

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When booking a Deutsche Bahn ticket online through their website, they show you all the train options for your route. This makes it easier to see the time that trains are arriving and departing. Here’s an example:

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Online Timetable

Looking at the online timetable above, it’s showing me the Hamburg to Frankfurt connections at 9:00 am on April 30th. Here’s how to read the timetable:

  • Journey 1: There’s a train that leaves Hamburg at 9:28 and arrives in Frankfurt at 14:00. The duration of the journey is 4 hours and 32 minutes with 0 transfers (meaning you’re on the same train the entire time). It’s an ICE train and the demand for this route is expected to be low, meaning that the train should be quite empty. The Saver Fare is 38.90 Euros and the Flexible Fare is 95.40 Euros.
  • Journey 2: Below the above example is a train that leaves Hamburg at 10:01 and arrives in Frankfurt at 14:44. The duration of the journey is 4 hours and 43 minutes with 1 transfer. I’ve opened up the reservation so you can see the transfer route. This not only gives more information about the transfer but gives additional information about each train including the specific train number, whether bikes are allowed on the train, whether there is a Bordrestaurant, and any other specific details or regulations (such as having to wear a mask). The train transfer happens in Kassel-Wilhelmshöhe and there is 15 minutes between the arriving train and the departing train. Luckily the 1st train arrives on platform 4 and the 2nd train departs from platform 4 (pure luck!). Both trains are ICEs and the demand for both train routes is expected to be low. The Saver Fare is 59.90 Euros and the Flexible Fare is 95.40 Euros.

In the above case, I would always choose Journey 1 – the duration of the journey is shorter and I wouldn’t have to switch trains, making it less likely that something goes wrong. Additionally, Journey 1 is cheaper and arrives in Frankfurt earlier than Journey 2.

Navigating the Deutsche Bahn Train Station

The final step to navigating German train travel is figuring out where to go and what to do in the train station! Especially if you’re traveling through a larger station, it can be confusing to find the right platform or even the right section of the platform!

Announcements

Almost all announcements at the train stations are done in German and English. If you’re unsure about something, either ask a Deutsche Bahn employee (all over the station) or ask a fellow traveler near you. I find that people are really helpful and willing to assist you.

Each train is announced on the platform two times before it arrives at the station – the first time is a few minutes before it arrives and the second time is when it is about to pull into the station. It’s not common to have a platform change but it also isn’t uncommon. This usually happens if another train is running late (and platforms need to be switched around) or if your train is running late. If there is a platform changing, it will announce it. Additionally, on the platform’s electronic board, it will show a platform change. If you don’t catch the announcement, your first clue to a platform change will be the mass exodus of people – this is usually a pretty good clue that something’s up!

Main Departure Board

The first thing you’ll see when you get to the train station is the massive Departure Board near the entrance. I always stop to read this and orientate myself. Not only will it show your train’s platform but it will also indicate any delays, train changes, etc.

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Main Departure Board in Nürnberg

It’s important to note that the Departure Board will only show the upcoming trains for the next 30 minutes to an hour. If your train leaves later than that, don’t be worried if you don’t immediately see it on the board! While the headers above are in English, I find that the notes on the far right are not always translated.

  • Example: the first train route shown leaves at 12:50 and is ICE 1521. The train’s final destination is München with a stop in Ingolstadt. It is leaving from platform 9 and has no additional notes.
  • Example: if you go down to the sixth train route that leaves at 13:05, you see it is a regional train (RE 58218). The train’s final destination is Würzburg with stops in Fürth, Neustadt, and Kitzingen. It departs from platform 13 and there are additional notes. Because it is a regional train, it won’t take up the entire length of the platform. The notes are probably telling you what section of the platform to find the train.

The Main Departure Board is usually above a Deutsche Bahn Information Center so if you have any issues with your train or any questions, they should be able to help you!

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DB Lounges

If your train fare allows access to the DB Lounge at the train station, I’d highly recommend taking advantage of it. Only the bigger train stations have DB Lounges. I’ve been in them a few times and they’re a great way to relax from the hustle and bustle, especially if you’re quite early to the station. They’re very similar to an airport lounge with sofas, coffee, newspapers, and food.

Finding Your Platform and Seat

This is the most important part – making sure you find your platform, the correct train, and your seat on the train (if you’ve reserved one). After checking the Main Departure Board, head to the platform that is indicated next to your train.

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Platform Electronic Boards

Each platform is divided in half with a train arriving on each side. However, each side is given a different number so there’s no confusion. In the background, I can see the signs pointing to platforms 1 and 2 as well as 5 and 6 so I can infer that the electronic board on the right is for platform 3 and the electronic board on the left is for platform 4. There are also numbers above the platform that have been cut out of this photo!

So how exactly do you read these electronic boards!? It’s important to note that the next train arriving/departing will always be at the top of the board. Here are a few examples below to help you:

  • Example – Right: The next departing train is ICE 929 at 12:37 with a final destination of Frankfurt Hbf. It will make stops in Neumünster, Hamburg Hbf, and Dortmund Hbf. There might also be additional stops that they can’t fit on this electronic board. If you’re unsure if this is your train or not, always align the train numbers! Below the main information is a visual of the train – each platform is divide into sections from A-F (sometimes even more sections if it is a longer platform). Align your carriage number with the letter – this tells you where to stand on the platform! The white shaded sections are first class and the unshaded sections are second class. The fork and spoon show where the Bordrestaurant/Bordbistro are located. The arrow at the end indicates the direction of the train. Lastly, the white banner at the top signals any information regarding the train (sometimes this information is at the bottom of the electronic board). Based on what I can read, this particular message notes that the carriage line-up has changed, and to make sure to double-check it.
    • Underneath all the information for the Frankfurt train are two more trains – these are the next two trains to arrive/depart after the train to Frankfurt. The first train is ICE 801 that is headed to München at 14:24. However, the note next to it indicates that it has been canceled (“Zug fällt aus”). At 17:22, ICE 1020 is arriving (Ankunft) from Regensburg Hbf. This is an arriving train, not a departing train – you’re unable to board this train!
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This is another electronic board on a platform in Nürnberg. The layout is slightly different but gives the same information.

  • Example: In the above example, the train is leaving Nürnberg at 13:09 and it’s final destination in Hamburg-Altona station. It’s ICE 788 with stops in Würzburg, Fulda, and Hannover (remember, not all stops are listed so it’s best to go by the train number if unsure!). 1st class is located in section A, the Bordrestaurant / Bordbistro is located in section B, and 2nd class is located in sections C through F. After this train departs, there is a regional train (RE 4022) arriving at 14:49 from Ingolstadt and another regional train (RE 4027) departing for Ingolstadt at 15:09.
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This is platform 3, section A. As you head down this platform, you’ll reach sections B, C, etc.

When in doubt, the German train stations have good signage and present most information in English and German. At bigger train stations, there are Deutsche Bahn employees stationed on almost every platform willing to help. As I’ve explained multiple times, I’ve always found other passengers to be super helpful and willing to help when I’m unsure where to go or which train to board.

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Carriage Plan

Typically, the same trains arrive and depart from the same platform. Thus, Deutsche Bahn has carriage plans on every platform indicating the arrangement of the carriages (usually in numerical order), the direction of the train, the setup between 1st class and 2nd class, and where to stand on the platform to be closest to your carriage.

It’s really easy to use this chart – find your train and departure time, find your carriage number, and then scroll up or down to see what letter it best aligns with on the platform. Green carriages indicate 2nd class, red carriages indicate the Bordrestaurant or Bordbistro, and yellow carriages indicate 1st class. In the above photo, there is a red vertical line going through all the trains. This red line signals where you’re standing at the moment (in this instance, somewhere between letters C and D). The purpose of this is just to help you orientate yourself.

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ICE train (older version)
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ICE train (newer version)

Finding your seat and carriage is pretty straightforward. On the side of the carriage, it will always indicate with a big number whether the carriage is for 1st class or 2nd class. Depending on the type of train you have, the specific carriage number whether either be written on the side directly or will be shown on an electronic monitor.

  • Example: In the photo on the left, it is a 1st-class carriage and the carriage number is 14. Additionally, it shows a seat with the numbers 11-76. This means that anyone who has a seat reservation in carriage 14 and their seat is number 11 through 76 should enter at this door. Lastly, it has a cell phone visual (hard to see!) – this means that this carriage can be used for phone calls, surfing the internet, etc. Pretty much, it’s the opposite of a quiet carriage!
  • Example: In the photo on the right, it’s a second-class carriage and the carriage number is 21 (on the electronic board on the left). Anyone with a seat reservation in carriage 21 and a seat between 11 and 88, should enter at the door right outside the frame on this photo.
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This carriage is similar to the one on the left above. However, this is a quiet carriage, indicated by the “shhh” symbol and the cell phone with the line through it. Remember – if you’ve booked a seat reservation in one of these carriages, you should not be making noise in them!

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Regional train: 2nd class
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Regional train: 1st class

When it comes to finding your seat on board the train, it’s quite simple. The numbers are denoted either above the seats or on the seat sides, depending on the type of train that you’re taking. The two photos above are taken from regional trains in Schleswig-Holstein. Each regional train looks slightly different depending on the German state and whether the train is updated or not.

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ICE train: 1st class

The above photo is from the 1st class section of an ICE train. When booking, I specifically like getting the single seats on the right as it gives me room to stretch out. A 2nd class carriage looks very similar to this. The main difference is the number of seats. There are 2 seats on each side of the aisle, meaning that the seats are closer together.

German Terms to Know for Navigating Deutsche Bahn

While there is an English version of Deutsche Bahn’s website as well as English signage at train stations and on the trains, here are some German words to know that will help make navigating Deutsche Bahn a bit easier!

  • Hauptbahnhof: Main Train Station
  • Bahnhof: Train Station
  • Zeit: Time
  • Über: Via. In terms of Deutsche Bahn, this means “Via” – these are the destinations between the starting point and end destination.
  • Ziel: Destination. In terms of Deutsche Bahn, this means “Destination”. This is the final destination of the train
  • Gleis: Platform
  • Verspätung: Delay. This is usually followed by a number indicating how late the train is going to be.
  • Minuten: Minutes. This usually followed a “Verspätung” message indicating how late the train is going to be.
  • Wagenreihnung: Wagon Order or Carriage Order. Usually, you will see this word when the carriage order is different than what is indicated at the train station or online (maybe it’s missing a carriage or there are different carriage numbers).
  • Ankunft: Arrival
  • Anreise: Departure
  • Folgezüge: Next Train. This is usually on the individual platform boards to indicate which train will be coming to the platform after the current train.
  • Von: From. This will be on a ticket and indicates where you’re catching the train.
  • Nach: To. This will be on a ticket and indicates where you’re getting off the train.
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Electronic boards into the train that indicate the train information and upcoming stops
  • Sitzplatz: Seat. If you’ve reserved a seat, this is where you can find it.
  • Klasse or Kl.: Class. This indicates whether it is a 1st or 2nd class ticket.
  • Zugtyp: Type of Train. This indicates whether it is an ICE, IC, EC, etc.
  • Zug: Train Number. This indicates the train number. It’s important to make sure you’re getting on the correct train because sometimes you’ll have trains to the same destination leaving around the same time (especially if one train is delayed).
  • Wagen: Carriage number. This is usually about your seat reservation and indicates which carriage to find it.
  • Fahrplan: Timetable
  • Gültigkeit: Validity
  • Hinfahrt: Outward Journey
  • Rückfahrt: Return Journey
  • Auftragsnummer: Order Number. This is what Deutsche Bahn considers your reservation number.
  • Umsteigezeit: Transfer Time. If you have to switch trains, this is the amount of time you have between your first train arriving and your second train departing.
  • Abfahren (or fährt ab): To Depart (verb)
  • Einsteigen: To Board (verb). A lot of times, you’ll see “Bitte nicht einsteigen” or “Bitte nicht mehr einsteigen” – this means you’re not allowed to board the train or you’re not allowed to board the train anymore. This usually flashes on the screen right before the train is departing the station.
  • Ausfallen (or fällt aus): To Be Canceled (verb). You’ll mostly see this written as “Zug fällt aus” meaning that your train has been canceled.
  • Hinweis: Please Note. This is to give you a heads up about a unique situation (maybe the train schedule is off, the carriages are in a different arrangement, etc.)

Deutsche Bahn Delays, Missed Connections, and Cancelations

It’s a running joke in Germany that Deutsche Bahn is always delayed. However, after using Deutsche Bahn considerably over the past 5 years (including almost 50 long-distance trains one year), I can only count on one hand severe delays on cancelations I encountered. In those instances, it was out of Deutsche Bahn’s control – bad weather, a WWII bomb was found near the train station (very common in Germany!), or someone was on the tracks (unfortunately, this is usually due to someone committing suicide). However, if you do face a delay, missed connection, or cancelation, it’s important to know your rights and what you’re entitled to going forward.

Delay

If your train is delayed, you might be eligible to receive compensation. For a train delayed more than 60 minutes, you’re entitled to receive a 25% refund of the fare paid for a single journey. For a train delayed more than 120 minutes, you’re entitled to receive a 50% refund of the fare paid for a single journey. You can claim your refund here as well as free postage here. I’ve always found the refunds to be paid out quickly and promptly. Additionally, you can get this form from the conductor (if the train is severely delayed, they’ll usually pass them out to all passengers) or from a Deutsche Bahn Travel Center.

If your train has more than a 20-minute delay, you have a few options according to Deutsche Bahn’s website:

  • continue driving on the same route or another route at the earliest opportunity, or
  • continue the journey at a later point in time if this can reduce the arrival delay at the destination station or
  • use another train that does not require a reservation.

If you’re booked on a regional train that’s more than 20 minutes delayed, you can switch and take a high-speed train. However, you must buy a new ticket for the high-speed train and then retroactively apply to claim back the money (through this form). You can always go from a high-speed train to a regional train for no additional cost.

Lastly, if your train is delayed more than 60 minutes, you can cancel the trip and have the full fare reimbursed. Once again, you’ll need to fill out the above form to get your money back.

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Missed Connection

There’s no worse feeling than seeing your next train pull out of the station while your train is still pulling into the station! On an adventure to the Harz Mountains during the winter months, my train was caught in a heavy snowstorm, delaying its arrival at the next train station (where I had a connection). I ran to the other platform and got there just as the train was pulling out of the station. Because it was a small station with only a few platforms (and it was 9:00 pm), my next available train didn’t come until 11:00 pm. Thankfully, there was a McDonald’s open where I could sit for the next 2 hours. If that hadn’t been there, I would have been standing in the snowstorm for those 2 hours!

In instances of a missed connection, you’re allowed to take the next available train to your destination. Once again, if you’re scheduled to be on a regional train and the next available train is a high-speed train, you’ll need to buy a new ticket for the high-speed train and then retroactively apply to claim back the money (through this form). Additionally, if you miss your connection and it is the last train to that destination for the delay, you will be reimbursed for hotel costs through the form above.

Cancelation

In the unlikely event that your train is canceled, the steps forward are similar to a missed connection. You’re allowed to take the next available train to your destination. If you’re scheduled to be on a regional train and the next available train is a high-speed train, you’ll need to buy a new ticket for the high-speed train and then retroactively apply to claim back the money (through this form).

Passenger Rights

When in doubt or you’re not sure what you’re allowed/not allowed to do in the event of a delay, missed connection, or cancelation, I recommend talking to someone at Deutsche Bahn’s Travel Center or Information Desk. They tend to be helpful and have found me train connections that I didn’t realize existed.

Make sure to read this article from Deutsche Bahn so you know all your rights as a passenger.

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Bordrestaurant where you can grab food on an ICE

Travel Tips for Deutsche Bahn

Besides the above information, here are some tips for making your train journey smooth and comfortable.

  • Bring your own water and food, especially if your train doesn’t have a Bordbistro. If you do plan to buy food on the train, I highly recommend the Currywurst – so good!
  • Try to get to the train station 20-30 minutes before departure, especially if you’re headed to a big train station like the Berlin Hauptbahnhof (it’s quite a few floors). If you’re not familiar with a larger train station, they can be a bit overwhelming and confusing.
  • Most trains will announce the upcoming destination in both English and German. This will happen about 5-10 minutes before the train enters the station. Be prepared to leave the train right when it pulls into the station because most trains only stay at the platform for a few minutes. Usually, there is an electric board in each carriage showing the next destination. However, when in doubt, don’t be afraid to ask someone! I found the most passengers are really nice and helpful.
  • Everything is done in military time so don’t get confused when you see times such as 15:24 (3:24 pm) or 18:36 (6:36 pm). Also, remember that dates are written differently in Germany versus the USA. If it’s March 6, 2021, the date will be written in Germany as 06.03.21 (date.month.year).
  • The doors for trains close about 30 seconds to a minute before the train departs the station. If you’re cutting it close getting to the station, remember to get to the train a minute or two ahead of time so the doors don’t close on you.
  • In terms of getting on and off of the train, make sure to let all the people get off the train before getting on it yourself. It’s seen as rude and impolite to immediately rush onto the train. Plus, it makes it more orderly getting a bunch of people on and off the train in a quick and timely manner.
  • Download the DB App – it’s a great way to see if your train is on time, look at other connections, plan your trip, etc.

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