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Traveling by train in Germany and some hints for getting the most out of your travel.
Traveling by train in Germany
By Jerrold VanNocker
Some of our most cherished and memorable moments of Germany came from our train travel. Train travel is an excellent way to meet people. In our December train travel of Germany almost everyone we met on the trains were German residents. Some appeared to be commuters, some were out doing Christmas shopping, others were on their way to family Christmas gatherings. We have particularly fond memories of our train encounter with a German couple in their 80's. Traveling to a family Christmas gathering in Austria they were particularly excited at seeing their great grandson for the very first time.
Your destination will likely determine your train type. All you really need to know when doing a train booking is where, what date and time you want to leave (or arrive at the destination) and (if booking a round trip fare) when you wish to return. If you are seeking a cheaper ticket, the slower trains may get you there at a cheaper price.
ICE & ICE Sprinter
High-speed in Germany and through Europe. Traveling up to 300 km/hr (186 mph).
IC (Intercity) & EC (Eurocity) Trains
Connects major cities at speeds up to 185 km/hr (115 mph).
IRE - Regional Trains
Regional Express (RE) connects various regions of Germany to each other. Regional trains RB and S-Bahn trains connect cities and villages.
More essential info on traveling in Germany by Train.
Finding a seat on the train - As mentioned on page 1, seat reservations are not required for most trains but you may have wished you had one if your train is particularly full. Generally you should be able to fine a seat without too much of a problem but be prepared to give up your seat should someone asks you to do so. Reserved seats are indicated by either an electric sign or a slip of paper that is slipped in to a plastic sleeve. These signs are located next to the seat number. The reserve sign will show the section of the train route for which the seat is reserved (ie Koln Hbf. - Hamburg Hbf., etc).
In my case I was usually confused most of the time and it was a mental challenge to determine if any particular city segment was before or after our destination. It wasn't until about our 3rd train trip before we even figured out that the electronic signs were telling us the train seats were reserved. Maybe it was the Christmas season but anytime we were asked to give up our seats, to the seat reservation holder, we were asked very nicely.
The information on this page comes from our 2008 visit to Germany.