My rail trip from Berlin to Hamburg was a disappointment with a late, underwhelming train that had stinky lavatories. I hoped the return would be better.
Booking- 7 out of 10
I found bhan.com to be a little more complex than I felt it needed to be. German Railways want you to know every single possible piece of information before you commit to buying your ticket. Conditions of travel, what hotels can be booked and even what platform your train will be leaving from are all thrust upon you.
There were several choices of ticket delivery including MMS and email. The MMS ticket left on your phone is valid for travel. The emailed version is not even though they look identical. I could not print my ticket before I got to Hamburg Station. I tried to print it out at the ticket machines at the station- to no avail. I waited fifteen minutes for a ticket agent to do it for me. Be warned and have enough time.
The Thayls trains between Paris, Belguim, Holland and Germany allow ticketless travel. It is time Deutsche Bahn (German Railways) did the same.
Boarding- 8 out of 10
Hamburg station is a rabbit warren. I acknowledge it is a lovely looking building with some great shops (NB shops here are open when most of the other shops in the city are closed). There are few decent waiting areas and getting to the platforms involves more weaving and ducking that I would like.
A great feature on German platforms is the train diagram (Wagenstandanzeige) which shows you exactly which part of the platform your train will appear on. It, of course is meaningless, if the rail company changes the platform your train is going from or if the train is replaced with a different type which is what happened last trip.
Helped by the map on the platform, I was waiting in exactly the right spot for the correct door to my carriage. Boarding was a little chaotic in my carriage with a group of excited over 65s going on a day trip. I found my seat at the front table of the carriage and settled in (I had requested a table on booking). There are small electronic screens over each seat pair which confirm where that seat is reserved to. I found that I had the table to myself until Spandau just outside of Berlin.
The Train:10 out of 1o
The InterCityExpress (ICE) train swept majestically into Hamburg station. It’s colour design and shape makes it look fast and generates the excitement of going to new and exciting places. The colours include a Traffic Red stripe on the lower part of the Pale Grey train. The windows are a continuous black band of windows. This design has been patented by DB!
The ICEs have been travelling across Germany since 1991. The trains are capable of 300km (180mph) running but this speed is limited to a few sections of the German rail network. ICE 1711 started in Hamburg at 952am and would travel to Berlin, Leipzeig, Nurnberg, Augsburg before arriving in Munich at 1842 (642pm). Eight hours and 50 minutes across a distance of 982 km (610 miles). A similar distance trip in Australia is from Sydney to Brisbane and it takes 13 hours and 13 minutes. In the US, Boston, MA to Williamsburg, VA is 11 miles longer than this trip but takes 12 hours exactly.
My journey from Hamburg Central to Berlin Central was 282km taking one hour and forty minutes. The Hamburg to Berlin line has a top speed of 200 to 230km/h.
On Board- 10 out of 10
The French will not appreciate me saying this but the ICE carriages feel roomer than their TGV equivalent. The size of windows are amazing giving a phenomenal view. The seats are comfortable and feel very roomy. Coats can be hung behind each seat.
Second class seating was 2-2 with a shared movable armrest between the seats. All seats can be slightly reclined and the seats also shift forwards with a release lever, under the front right corner of each seat. There are groups of seats available with a table in between them which is where I was sitting. There is a small rubbish receptacle next to the window at each seat. Seat pitch is a very generous 102cm (40″) .
First Class seating is 1-2 with two full movable armrests on each seat. All seats can be reclined and shifted forwards. All seats feature a reading light. Seat pitch is 111 cm (44″).
All trains have disabled lavatories and spaces for wheelchairs. Luggage spaces are available at the end of each carriage and above the seats. Courtesy of a TV screen at the end of each carriage, it was very easy to keep track of how fast we were travelling:
- 1006am: 0km/h
- 1015am: 169km/h (105 mph)
- 1023am: 200km (120mph)
- 1036am: 228km/h (135mph)
The ride was incredibly smooth. The only noticeable gravitational impact was at one point when we slowed from 210 to 140km/h in what felt like seconds.
Meal – 7 out of 10
There is an on board cafe. A DB employee passed through the carriages with a trolley from which he sold coffee, tea snacks and sandwiches. One of the passengers from the day tripping group near me ordered a cappuccino which he was told was not possible.
Many did what I had done and brought snacks or sandwiches with us. The pensioner group near me, unrolled bags of amazing looking cheeses and meats and breads. I tried not to stare!
Entertainment: 7 out of 10
There are headphone jacks which take a standard stereo jack (3.5mm) located at each seat. According to my trauin guide there were three pre-recorded audio programs available:
- Klassik und Jazz
- Hits and More
- Kindergeschichten (Children’s Programming)
In First class, I understand, seats have video screens.
There are power outlets through the carriage. One of the older passengers helpfully pointed out my nearest outlet, as I opened up my computer. Power was reliable for the whole journey. I was surprised that there was no on-board wifi. Some carriages have in-train repeaters which improve mobile phone reception and others are designated quiet zones.
The scenery of corse was more than entertaining. At one point we passed a massive wind farm with a sea of gently spinning turbines. I wondered how much of the electricity driving this train was coming from these magnificent turbines.
Arrival: 10 out of 10
The train arrived into Berlin, right on schedule. I could almost time my second hand on my watch (if I had one) as we zoomed down the platform to a smooth stop. I bid farewell to my elderly backpacker friends and headed toward the Berlin subway.
My rating: Overall 85%
Positives: Train, seat, View, Speed, Noise level, Power
Negatives: No E tickets and no wifi
Would I do it again? Yes please. This was one of those journeys where I regretted leaving the train-although the amazing Berlin awaited.