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Trains in Germany

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Aug 17th, 2013, 08:46 AM
  #1
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Trains in Germany

We're going to Germany in a few weeks and will be taking the train from Berlin to Nuremberg, Nuremberg to Munich, and Munich to Salzburg. Our only other experience taking trains was a few years ago in Amsterdam when we went down to the platform about 20 minutes before the train was scheduled to depart and then the platform number changed 5-10 minutes before departure. The first time this happened we ended up missing the train. Is this type of platform change typical in Germany? Should we wait until shortly before departure time to go to the platform?
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Aug 17th, 2013, 08:51 AM
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Yes you should wait until just before departure to go to the platform. I never thought about doing it any other way. I think it's fairly typical of European trains.

On popular, frequent routes the same platform is used but you never know if there will be a last minute change. If you're going to stand around, why not stand around the departure board. I don't see the advantage in standing on the platform (but maybe I'm not thinking this through clearly and there is a reason to stand on the platform).
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Aug 17th, 2013, 08:53 AM
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Platforms normally do not change (in the four years I have been living in Germany, I have experienced it exactly twice); HOWEVER, schedule delays are more common.

Also, it doesn't make sense to arrive 20 minutes early to the platform unless it is at the beginning of the route.
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Aug 17th, 2013, 08:54 AM
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If you look at the German train site you can see the platform number and you can hang around near that platform but keep an eye on the departure board.
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Aug 17th, 2013, 08:59 AM
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Hard to be keep your eye on the departure board if your train is leaving from Gleis 20 (I'm think Nürnberg here since it's a thru station, unlike München)

Also, be aware that the sign at the platform only gives updates in German.
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Aug 17th, 2013, 09:00 AM
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I almost forgot to say that if you order your ticket online you can opt to receive email and SMS updates regarding changes to your trip. Unfortunately, these notifications tend to be vague and sometimes arrive too late.
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Aug 17th, 2013, 09:02 AM
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If you know where to look there are paper posted "schedules" which are usually good for one month. Those posters list all the trains which will come and go by times of day and they also list the platforms from which the trains are scheduled to depart from.

Yes, those can change but in my experience I have found that changes from those posted schedules are rare. You should look at the departures board also but those posted schedules are helpful.

Usually the departures are in one color and the arrivals in another. Sometimes they are posted under glass on all of the platforms. You can also find them posted at the entrances to the platforms especially if that entrance is out of a below-ground passageway which is the case in most stations with more than a couple of platforms.
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Aug 17th, 2013, 09:07 AM
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<< Hard to be keep your eye on the departure board... >>

"sparkie" - I take your point but the OP said "we" so one person can keep an eye on the departure board and the other person can hang at the platform if it makes them feel better. Just trying to be friendly and offer options!

I never worry about these things since I started traveling before the internet and before most people in Europe spoke English. I don't even get to the station 20 minutes before the train, let alone find the platform.
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Aug 17th, 2013, 09:23 AM
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The first time this happened we ended up missing the train. Is this type of platform change typical in Germany?>

not typical in Holland either but as others say can always happen - Germany has very good overhead signs at the front of the platform that keep up to date with what train will be arriving next - if it says something like 'Spatleise' (sp? and + or 1 X number of minutes you know that train will be coming in that many minutes late and then platform changes can happen in busy stations with lots of trains coming and going.

But for the most part trains will use the same platform as listed - for lots of great stuff about German trains check out these IMO fine sites - www.seat61.com (good info on discounted tickets which however are train-specific and cannot be changed nor refunded and as they are sold in limited numbers must be booked in stone weeks in advance to guarantee) - and http://www.budgeteuropetravel.com/id9.html and www.ricksteves.com.

If you want flexibility to hop any train anytime then full fare tickets can be awfully expensive - if you want that flexibility to hop any train on those routes then look at the German Twin Railpass - two names on one pass and then just waltz to the station and hop aboard - pass would be cheaper I believe than three full fare tickets on fast trains.
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Aug 17th, 2013, 09:38 AM
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Depending on how much luggage you have I can understand a desire to have it in the right place in advance.

I know the rule of many people is to travel with just a small wheelie - but I have seen family groups with 5 or 6 big bags plus carry-ons - and with only 10 minutes they might not make it to the train.
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Aug 17th, 2013, 09:54 AM
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Actually, you should not wait to the last 2-3 minutes until you make your way to the platform.
Especially in the larger stations like Berlin Central or Munich Central it can take more than a minute to get to the platfprm.

You should check the given platform numbers against the displays in the main hall 10-15 minutes before departure.
At Berlln Central you will probably use the lower, underground platforms for your train to Nuremberg. If you can use escalators with your luggage you should calculate at least 5 minutes to get down there with the (slow and few) elevators.
At Munich Central, the trains to Salzburg depart from platforms (5-10, I think) outside the main hall. 5 minutes walking along the Southernmost platform in the main hall (where Starbucks is).
Depending on your hotel location in Munich and when you plan to take a regional train and not the intercity services, you will have less of a walk to the platforms at Munich East - where the regional trains also call on their way to Salzburg.
Munich East and Nuremberg Central are more compact and by layout similar to Amsterdam - parallel tracks and connector tunnels from the main hall.
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Aug 17th, 2013, 09:56 AM
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The stations you mentioned are large stations with good digital display infrastructures showing info in German and English.

If you, however, end up venturing to smaller stations with more than one platform serving per direction, it is a different story. The yellow departure sheet posted throughout the stations show "usual" tracks. However, there can be a last minutes track change announcement made only in German. If you see people suddenly get grumpy and start heading to the stairs in mass after an announcement you didn't understand, find a local and ask what PA said. In fact if you see people around you start moving, always find out if there was a change in track.
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Aug 17th, 2013, 10:24 AM
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The stations you mentioned are large stations with good digital display infrastructures showing info in German and English.

Nuremberg does not have this digital display infrastructure in English. The yellow and white arrival/departure signage have some info in English though. Enough to get by though.
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Aug 17th, 2013, 11:06 AM
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I also cannot remember any additional information given in English - other than that most display show either static or alternating the few relevant phrases like departure/Abfahrt, track or platform/Gleis, and so on.
As in Amsterdam, you should know more than "it's the 5.20 service to Nuremberg" but especially the train number (like ICE 487) as more than one train can leave at the same minute. The train number is also the best tool to identify your train, as not all displays show all calling points but only the final destination. So your train to Nuremberg will be shown as the ICE1015 to München, not Nürnberg.
Which also is an item to remember that German Rail always gives all place names strictly in the local language.
It's not relevant for you, but if you were traveling from Munich to Florence, the signs would all say Firenze and never Florence or Florenz.

At some larger stations, announcements are also made in English via the platform PA system
In most cases, you will be sooner be able to understand the German language version than what is said in that language remotely resembling English..
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Aug 17th, 2013, 11:52 AM
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Look, SOMEBODY NEEDS to keep that eye on the departure board...why make a major thing out of this? Track assignments rarely change and even if they do that "somebody" is just going to have to pay attention.
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Aug 17th, 2013, 03:34 PM
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Track assignments rarely change and even if they do that "somebody" is just going to have to pay attention>

not in Germany IME - not unusual due to very hectic stations where a few trains running late push things askew - and sometimes if your train is delayed there may be another train arriving on that platform so yes like dukey says just look at the overhead boards.
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Aug 17th, 2013, 05:53 PM
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Pat, I use trains in Germany every day to get to work. I think platform changes are rare and I always move to the platform even if I'm half an hour early.

Greg's advice that you should get suspicious if everybody else moans and starts moving in the direction of the stairs is in my opinion a very good one. When I wait for a train I normally read something and tend to ignore anouncements. Because of that I also become aware of a platform change only if I notice that all the people who were close to me five minutes ago have disappeared.

Waiting at the board in the main hall is in my opinion not a big advantage in Germany. If there's a change, it's normally very short term (normally a delayed train not clearing the platform before your train is scheduled). The most reliable information is in my opinion available on the platform and not the main hall.
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Aug 17th, 2013, 06:05 PM
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Pat, sorry, I've looked only now at your schedule and train stations. There'll definitely be a lot of other people waiting together with you on the platform for these trains. If there's an issue and you don't understand the anouncement, you'll see other people move away from the platforrm.
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Aug 17th, 2013, 06:22 PM
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The suggestion about watching others' body language and expression is exactly the way you'll get clued in. You may also be able to ask a staff person for added insurance, but don't be too shy or you can miss your connection. Another thing that can happen is for a later scheduled train to arrive BEFORE one that has been delayed. This can be a little confusing, so watch the signage and ask if you need to for clarification. That said, the trains are great and probably nothing like this will happen on your trip.
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Aug 18th, 2013, 03:10 AM
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If you sense a problem, ask any intelligent-looking face in the crowd around you rather than a staff member. You are more likely to find someone who speaks good English among the passengers. Most people will gladly help.

(I once played the shepherdess for a Japanese couple, a Korean business man who spoke no English but Japanese, and half a dozen British lads at Düsseldorf station when the train to Essen broke down and we had to hop over to another platform to find another train. A very funny situation.)
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