There is one thing that I am amazed and impressed by (most) Germans: their organizational skill. Almost everything (checking up an apartment, visiting doctors, getting a haircut, etc.) is scheduled with an appointment and on time. Some German friends told me that they like how it works this way, so we do not waste the time of other people and ours. Yet, the train system in Germany is something else.
There were a few students who alerted me that trains in Germany (specifically, trains organized by the Deutsche Bahn or DB) were often delayed and could mess my schedule up badly. However, I refused to believe that since “I barely had any unpleasant experience with the train system, they were almost always on time, and only sometimes delayed for a few minutes”, I told my friend. Finally, I had my first time riding an emotional roller coaster with the DB this week.
There is one thing that I am amazed and impressed by (most) Germans: their organizational skill ... Yet, the train system in Germany is something else.
It wouldn’t be so troublesome for a short distance. The problem only appeared to me when I traveled for a long distance through many trains and different cities. The trains are interdependent; therefore, one delayed train might put you in a difficult situation. For my trip, originally, I had reserved a ticket from Düsseldorf to Stralsund via Berlin from 15:09 to 11:43. However, the DB sent me an email informing me that my timetable had changed (not the whole trip, only the train from Berlin to Stralsund was canceled), and they suggested a new schedule which was, to put it lightly, not exactly optimal for me because the trip would have lasted from 15:09 to 05:43 the next day. I really didn’t want to be stuck in a really small station at 2:00- 3:00 am and not be home until morning. But because my ticket had a train binding which didn’t allow me to change trains as I pleased. So, what should I do in this case?
- First of all, I went to the DB app/ website to search for an alternative route that offered a better connection (e.g. I found a route from Düsseldorf to Stralsund via Hamburg from 15:33 to 23:47)
- Then, I went to the Reisezentrum (Travel center) inside the Düsseldorf main station to ask for the right to take the new route instead of the recommended one from the DB (there is always a DB travel center/counter at the main station of a city). There, after I provided my booking number and last name, they printed my original ticket, stamped and signed it, lifting the train binding.
- Afterwards, I was able to take this authorized paper on the train, and show it to cabin crews when they wanted to check my ticket.
My new train route was Düsseldorf – Hamburg – Rostock – Stralsund. My happiness for this alternative wasn’t lasting for too long because I soon received the news that the first train I was supposed to take would be delayed for around 30 minutes.
If you have booked a journey by train through Deutsche Bahn (DB), first of all, I recommend that you download their app in advance. When your schedule has been changed, you should be informed by an official email from the DB. However, the DB app keeps you informed immediately. Besides, when you are on the train and you might not understand the announcement in German about the changes in your journey, you can just have a look in the app easily.
The good thing was that I still had more than 20 minutes to transit to the next train in Hamburg. Suddenly, my train was once again delayed. Nevertheless, I said to myself “It isn’t the worst thing. Instead of waiting for the whole transit time in Hamburg, I will just wait here. And, I still have 9 minutes to change to the other platform to catch my next train”. If it is your first time in Germany (and from a country where the train system is totally different), you might not be able to make your transit in 9 minutes if it is a large central station (Hauptbahnhof) without asking the local to let you know where to find the correct platform and running to it. With two years of experience, I could get used to the system and am confident enough to be certain that I can catch the next train just in time.
Life, however, doesn’t always happen as we expect it to. When I was on my train, I realized that my train was delayed twice. As a consequence, I wouldn’t have been able to catch the next train because my arrival time would be much later than the departure time of the next train.
Astonishingly, somehow our train managed to arrive “only” 4 minutes late and I was delighted when seeing the app notifying me that the train would wait due to connecting passengers. “Well, nobody told us that we had to wait”, that was what we, however, heard from a worker at a counter on the track. He advised me to contact the travel center when I let him know that the train was the last one which I could take to go home today.
In spite of all troubles, the DB offered great customer service which helped me solve the problem, and that is what counts in the end.
Lucky enough, the travel center agents at Hamburg central station were still working at around 20:30. Unfortunately, the one I talked to insisted that I couldn’t make the journey via Hamburg since my original trip was via Berlin. I tried to prove that my train on the other route was canceled (for some reasons, she couldn’t find it on her computer system and refused to take a look at my app or the email that the DB sent to me). Besides, I also explained multiple times that her colleagues in Düsseldorf issued a paper which was also accepted by the ticket controller on the train, therefore, that shouldn’t be my problem. After a long and exhausting discussion, the woman somehow accepted that my previous train was indeed canceled.
In the end, other passengers (who headed to the same direction as me and were also affected by the delayed train) and I were provided with a shared taxi to go home on the same day. I truly felt over the moon not only because I could be back home a bit sooner but also because I stood up for myself. If this had been my first journey in Germany, I would have already waited at the train station for hours and taken another in the morning.
Keep in mind that those are only my individual experiences with the DB and only during my latest long-distance trip. Usually, I am very satisfied with the service they provide, but in case anything goes wrong, which I hope it won’t, you now know how to proceed. In spite of all troubles, the DB offered great customer service which helped me solve the problem, and that is what counts in the end.