First class? Second class? ICE, IC, RE or RB? Acronyms and amenities abound when confronted with the dazzling array of options for train travel within Germany’s Deutsche Bahn network. Ease your travel jitters in Europe and pave the way for a smooth ride by determining whether to pay extra for a first class car or stick with second, and find out how to get the best prices on whichever you choose.
All About ICE
Germany’s Intercity-Express, or ICE, trains are the crème de la crème of the German train system, taking you to major cities like Dresden, Frankfurt, Cologne, Hamburg and Munich, and everywhere in between. Not dissimilar to Amtrak, Eurostar or TGV lines, these premium trains run at speeds of 175 to 186 mph on special high-speed rail lines and up to 130 mph on upgraded conventional lines. The trains painted white with red stripes resemble aerodynamically sleek monorails. ICE trains run all across Germany and into some neighboring countries like Switzerland, and they outpace almost all of their competition, such as the IC Intercity trains, RE Regional-Express trains and RB regional trains, in both speed and amenities offered. The ICE is your best option for traveling in or out of Germany to places like Vienna in Austria, Paris, France, or Amsterdam on a direct, accommodating, and high-speed train.
Although premium long-distance trains typically come with premium ticket prices, booking ahead and taking advantage of discounts offered directly by the official German rail provider, Deutsche Bahn, on its English-language website can net you good deals on both first- and second-class ICE travel.
Both ICE classes provide free Wi-Fi, but first class doesn't set data limits, so you can surf and binge-watch your favorite shows freely throughout your rail travel. Some ICE first-class sections also have special amplifiers that allow interruption-free cellphone reception, which can be critical if you need to get work done en route. First class also offers a bit more leg room, free newspapers and a fixed table at each seat. Both classes have air conditioning and in-seat power outlets, so don’t worry about running out of charge while enjoying the Wi-Fi. If you face a long layover, you might choose first-class tickets so that you can access the DB lounges in larger train stations, where you can watch TV, enjoy a bistro, read magazines and rest up. Otherwise, train stations such as the Hauptbahnhof (HBF) in Berlin, offer plenty of comfort and amenities for all travelers.
A German Rail Pass is the cheapest option for visitors looking to travel across the country. Eurail offers a variety of European train pass options to accommodate various travel needs.There are also several loyalty programs, such as the Bahncard, available that offer travel points for every Euro spent on train tickets.
Dining in Transit
You will typically find a Bordbistro or a Bordrestaurant on ICE trains, which offer meals like currywurst, salad, chili, rice dishes and desserts, along with an ample beverage service providing coffee, beer, wine, soft drinks and juice. In 1st class, you can even order food and drinks at your seat. Of course, first- and 2nd class passengers can always bring their own food and drinks on board the train. The DB lounges usually serve free food and drinks, sometimes including alcoholic beverages, which can help sweeten the voyage even more.
Guaranteed Seat Reservations
First-class seats are automatically reserved upon purchase, allowing you to enjoy a virtually worry-free trip. When the train rolls into the station, just board the carriage indicated on your ticket and find your seat. The electronic display above the seats should show your reservation. If you choose second-class travel, you can pay a bit extra and reserve a seat. Since German trains can be crowded on peak routes and during busy travel times, making a reservation will save you the stress of wandering the train with luggage in tow in search of a seat. If you don’t make a reservation, you can tell whether a seat is reserved or not by looking for seats with a blank electronic display. You usually stow your luggage in the overhead bins or on racks at the end of the railway cars.