Navigating the Deutsche Bahn

Navigating the Deutsche Bahn

by Amanda Palumbo
Stripes Europe

To many locals, European rail travel is one of the most romantic ways to explore. It's not only an easy way to travel but a train winding through the German countryside gives breathtaking views. You're taking a road trip without having to take turns driving, make pit stops and argue over music. If you're a Deutsche Bahn novice, here’s a guide to navigating the German rail system. Viel Glück!

Purchasing tickets

Tickets can be purchased through Deutsche Bahn's app, which is available in English and is user-friendly. Your ticket is stored in the app, so there's no worry about losing a paper version. You can also purchase tickets through any Deutsche Bahn kiosk or the customer service desk.

Much like planes, the earlier you buy, the cheaper the ticket. A non-stop ticket from Kaiserslautern to Paris purchased two months in advance can run you 39.90 euros A ticket for Paris purchased a week in advance is 101 euros. Tickets during tourist season, April through October, will always be more expensive.

Types of Trains

Deutsche Bahn operates several different types of trains:

  • RE (Regional Express trains) - connect to larger cities and are faster.
  • RB (Regional Bahn) - connect the surrounding villages, make more stops and are slower.
  • IRE (Interregio Express)
  • IC (Intercity)
  • ICE (Intercity Express) - are more expensive but are the nicest of the trains, often having ample leg room, tray tables, free WiFi and USB outlets. They're also fast, traveling up to 300 km/h (186 mph).

Navigating the Train Station

Trains are labeled with the type of train, its number and final destination. For example, a train traveling from Kaiserslautern to Mannheim is called ICE 9557 Frankfurt (Main) Hbf. You'll be getting off at Mannheim, but the train will end at Frankfurt Main Station. 

When you get to the train station, you can either reference the big board in the lobby or your app. You'll see your train next to the word ‘gleis’ and a number. ‘Gleis 7’ means your train will arrive at platform seven.

You can find your platform usually by going downstairs and locating its corresponding number. Stairs or an elevator will lead you up to the platform. The platforms will have digital screens displaying the scheduled trains.

Delays & Missed Connections

This may happen to you at some point. DB used to have some of the most punctual trains in Europe but that has drastically declined. More than a quarter of DB trains last year were more than six minutes late.

If you purchase your ticket online or through the app, DB will alert you via email if your train is delayed and possible alternatives if you miss your connection.

Just like airlines, there is a passenger bill of rights which is far stricter than the United States. If your train is delayed by more than 60 minutes you can either give up and get reimbursed or continue the journey on ‘comparable trains.’

You don't necessarily need to check in with DB customer service if you miss your connection. If it's a similar train going in the same direction you can hop on and your ticket will still scan. Boarding an ICE train as an alternative can be a little trickier if you bought a regional bahn ticket.

If DB delays you to your destination between 60 and 119 minutes, you can get 25 percent of the ticket back. If the delay is 120 minutes or longer, you can get 50 percent of the ticket returned. Reimbursement request forms can be picked up at any DB customer desk or printed out online.

Ways to Save

Deals will periodically pop up on the DB website, especially for the German Rail Pass. Those give you unlimited journeys on any DB train and select trains in surrounding countries for either select days of the month or consecutive days. You can buy passes anywhere between three and 15 days. This saved me a couple of hundred Euro when I went on a cross country trip to Frankfurt, Berlin, Dresden, Kaiserslautern and Munich. You'll need to have your passport handy when your ticket is scanned. Some deals are only good for non-citizens.

Though taking public transportation can be overwhelming, take the time to familiarize yourself with this effective, and sometimes hassle-free way of travelling!



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