German high speed trains: the good, bad, and scary


Last night, I got back from a quick overnight trip. It was a solo trip to see one of my doctors – so, nothing glamorous – and it had me thinking on the German high speed rail system. I’ve taken numerous trips across the country and into other countries this past year, and have enough experiences to practically write a book…or at least a solid article on it. So, I thought it’d be fun to share my thoughts.

In short, Germany has a great high speed rail system or “Deutsche Bahn” as it’s called. Their website is very easy to navigate, and bonus points, they have several languages to choose from. “Cookies” aren’t used, or at least that I know of, so prices don’t rise, rise, rise with each train search you do.

I do loathe that with other websites.

Though I’ve listed a couple goods already, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of traveling through the Deutsche Bahn, hitting on the scary first, because ending on the “good” is always better, in my opinion.

Scary

**This might be an isolated incident, but it happened to us, and could certainly happen to others.

– We arrived at the train station for a trip with 15 minutes to spare, so we discussed what bistro booth we should get our customary croissants from.

At that moment, a guy who was right in front of me stopped, turned, and stared me down as we walked past, making me sidestep. As soon as we passed, he was right on my heels yelling vulgar obscenities about me (in English), and how much he hated Americans.

We never broke stride and he never broke away from us, continuously yelling pretty awful things about us. Whenever G (my husband) would look him in the eyes, the guy would immediately look away, but continue yelling. We were finally able to make our way into a line for a bistro booth, which made the guy finally walk away.

Never once did we acknowledge him, which we knew was exactly what he wanted. With G’s job, he can’t “react” like a typical guy would in that situation, so he remained alert and quiet. As scary as that situation was, we found it more odd than anything. Neither of us had our adrenaline pumping – something we both found interesting; we had our wits about us, and knew though he was spewing some pretty nasty things, would never touch us. G knew because of how the guy refused to make eye contact, and I knew because I’ve been in enough hairy situations, and my body wasn’t reacting like it would if I were in danger.

fight or flight! bodies are amazing and definitely should be listened to in times like this!

BUT thanks to this guy throwing us off with his crazy antics, we didn’t realize our train had changed platforms, and ended up missing it! Thankfully, because it was the station’s fault for the change, we were put on the next train without charge, though it made us four hours behind schedule.

– Trains leave on time: One time, G and I arrived at the station 15 minutes early (our standard, apparently), so we got in line for two coffees at a little bistro booth next to the platform. We were second in line, but the attendant only had one coffee machine that was as slow as molasses, with four coffees before ours. As time was ticking, I told him to get on the train with our stuff, and I’d wait for our coffees. With only one coffee in hand, the other still brewing, and two minutes before the train left, I took off running. I ran to the closest car I could and was told to hop on (and walk through the train to my seat), and within 20 seconds of boarding, the doors closed and we were off. I was sweating buckets!

Bad

– Despite reserving a seat, people will still take your seat. This has happened on half of my trips, and I’ve had to tell each one that it was mine. There’s even an electronic screen above the seat that shows whether or not it’s reserved, but I think people bank on you not showing up. Thankfully, each person has moved without issue.

– Trains leave on time: They don’t care you’re literally five steps away calling out for them to wait, they will close the door in your face and pull away. I’ve actually seen this happen! One conductor saw a guy coming, smirked, turned her back, and closed the door. I stood their stunned.

Some may say, “well, they should have gotten there earlier.” and I agree, however, there’s always extenuating circumstances, ie. their connecting train could have delayed, shortening their transfer time. Regardless, it still stinks to be rightthere and still miss the train.

– There’s lots of construction and delays. Completely counters my previous statement, but I have a dear friend who travels twice a week, and is constantly having her trains delayed by hours which make her miss her connecting trains. To say she’s constantly frustrated is an understatement.

– Some conductors are…shall I say, unfriendly. I’ve been yelled at in English AND German by one because I was halfway in the train with the door closing on me. Now! There was a lot of chaos happening with several passengers to make him extra irritated at me for my {little} indiscretion, and truthfully, I deserved it, but darn, it’s not fun getting yelled at – in two languages, no less.

– The trains are loooooooong and you never know where your car will be, so you have to walk very fast when it pulls in to get on before it leaves. Everyone, and I mean everyone, is scrambling like headless chickens and it usually has everyone gasping for air by the time they take their seats.

Good

-Prices are cheap! I’ve scored first class roundtrip tickets for only $120. This was on a trip that was six hours one way, so, very long! Had I chosen second class, it would have only been $40. Quite the difference, I know, but we agreed I could splurge a bit, and I was glad I did.

Had the car all to myself for 1 1/2 hours. It was wonderfully fun!

– Free wifi on most trains, ie. ICE, IC. This really comes in handy because Germany is not known for exceptional cell service, and 80+% of your trip will have you without any connection.

– Trains leave on time.. yes, this goes in all three categories!! Germans are known for their efficiency. If the train is supposed to leave at 2:52pm, doors will close at 2:51 and 40 seconds.

– Many conductors speak English and are helpful. Last night, while waiting at the train station for my connecting train home, I saw my train (that was still 20 minutes away), was going to be at least 10 minutes late. I was tired at this point, and just wanted to be home. While my train was delayed, another train going to my same destination was on the platform about to leave.

I walked up to the conductor, asked (in German) if she spoke English, and proceeded to ask if I could board this train despite my ticket showing for the other one. She gladly allowed me on.
Bonus: the car I got into was virtually empty, so I had plenty of seats to choose from.

– You can reserve your seat for only 4.50Euro (one way). I do this for every trip. I don’t want to risk a crowded train, and not be guaranteed a seat. I know some who have had to stand for hours because they didn’t reserve their seat. No, thanks!

Overall, riding the train is fun, affordable, stress-free, and my go-to way of getting around Germany. It beats driving in terrible traffic, and when you arrive at the station with plenty of time to spare, don’t get accosted by crazy psycho strangers, or yelled at by conductors, it can be quite an enjoyable experience.

If you’ve ridden the DB, I want to hear some of your stories. What are some goods, bads, and scaries you’ve encountered?

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