New ICE-Line and ICE City Erfurt Opens

ICE-T train stopping at Erfurt Central Station. Photo taken in March 2017

New High-Speed Line Opens after 25 Years of Planning and Construction. Erfurt and Leipzig to become ICE Cities. 80 ICE trains expected in Erfurt daily.

BERLIN/ MUNICH/LEIPZIG/ERFURT/COBURG/JENA- It took the signing of former (now late) German Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s signature to allow for the project to begin- 25 years ago. That in itself was as historic as US President Dwight D. Eisenhowers signature in 1956 to launch the US Interstate Highway System. It took 25 years, from the time of its signature until the time of its completion, costing over 12 billion Euros, and resulting in 37 bridges- including the 8.6 kilometer long Elster-Saale Viaduct near Halle (the longest in Germany)- two dozen tunnels and the complete makeover of five different stations- the main ones of which are in Erfurt and Leipzig.

And now, Frankenstein has come to life!  🙂 The new ICE line between Berlin and Munich has opened. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Richard Lutz (CEO of the Deutsche Bahn), German Transportation Minister Christian Schmidt as well as the primeministers of the states of Bavaria, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia plus many celebrities were on hand to open the ICE-Line as a pair of ICE-3 trains passed through the new stops of Nuremberg, Erfurt, and Leipzig-Halle as they started from Munich and ended in Berlin. The ceremony happened today with the grand ceremony taking place at Berlin Central Station.

With that new line, not only will the cities of Leipzig and Halle will profit from the long-distance trains stopping there on a daily basis, but also the ICE City Erfurt in central Thuringia, where as many as 80 ICE-trains will stop to board people on a dail basis travelling on the N-S axis between Berlin and Munich via Nuremberg, as well as between Dresden and Frankfurt via Leipzig on the W-E axis.  Along the N-S axis, one can travel between the German and Bavarian capitals in just over four hours, two less than its current travel. Between Dresden and Frankfurt, it is expected that trains passing through Erfurt will need only three hours instead of the normal five.  Planned is the new ICE-Sprinter connecting Berlin with Munich with a stop only in Erfurt. That stretch will take only under four hours.  Another is planned for Halle-Munich and Nuremberg-Berlin, each of which will take less than three hours.

Prior to the opening of the new ICE line, a person needed over six hours along the line that went through Naumburg, Jena, Saalfeld, Lichtenfels and Bamberg. That line will be relegated to Regio-trains which will be a total inconvenience to people living in Jena and points to the east. With that will mark the end of long-distance service for the first time in over 115 years. The state of Thuringia is working with the Deutsche Bahn to provide better access, which includes a new long-distance InterCity station in Jena to be opened in 2024.  (More on that here).  The ICE line will mean more development for Erfurt, as the ICE-City plans to build a new convention center and series of hotels and restaurants around the station to better accommodate customers and visitors to Erfurt.

ICE-4. Photo by Martin Lechler

The new line will mark the debut of the newest ICE train, the ICE 4, which will travel alongside the ICE 3 from Munich to Berlin. The ICE-T will continue to serve between Dresden and Leipzig (for more on the train types, click here).  At the same time, the older two models will be phased out bit-by-bit after having travelled tens of thousands of kilometers for over 25 years. The newest models can travel over 300 km/h and has compartments for bikes, available upon reservation.

While the new line, scheduled to be part of the train plan come 10 December, will compete with the airlines and automobile in terms of travel time, there is a catch that many people do not like: From Berlin to Munich, one will have to pay at least 125 Euros one-way, 40 Euros more than with the present route. Despite having more Regio-trains providing access to Erfurt and Leipzig/Halle from Jena and elsewhere, it will become an inconvenience when it comes to changing trains and having to rush to the nearest ICE train with very little time left.

Still it is up to the Bahn to decide how to adjust to the situation as it plans to allow for time for people to adjust and get used to the new line. After a year or so, it will make some adjustments to better serve customers who are out of reach of the new line. By then, one will find out whether the billions spent on this project was worth its salt.

Video on the VDE8 Project- the ICE Line Berlin-Erfurt-Munich:

And a map of the new line:

2011 Christmas Market Tour: Dresden Part I General Information

Frauenkirche and the Christmas Tree

There is an old stereotype that many Americans go by when they hear of Germany, which is beer, bratwurst and Bavaria. Everything else is backwards and is not worth the time or money to visit. This was the stereotype I had encountered among my compadres during my days at my alma mater in Moorhead, Minnesota (Concordia College) and learned during a month long seminar on public policy when we visited Munich and Berchtesgaden. So it is no wonder why the Christmas markets in Nuremberg, Rothenburg ob der Tauber and Munich are so popular among the Americans passing through the region.  Little do they realize is the fact that even though these markets- and in particular the one in Nuremberg- may be the most marketed and beloved by so many people, there is one Christmas market in Germany that tops the one in the district capital of Franconia in terms of size, diversity and even popularity.

Go three hours to the northeast by train on the Franconia-Saxony Express and you will end up in Dresden. With a population of over 400,000 inhabitants and located on the Elbe River, Dresden is the capital and largest city in Saxony. While it may be the meeting point for multi-culture and technology- thanks to its proximity to Poland and the Czech Republic and two technical institutions (the Technical University of Dresden and the Dresden Institute of Science and Technology), it is Germany’s crown jewels with regards to history and architecture as they both go hand in hand.  But when the holiday season comes around, millions of people from all over the world flock to this city of crown jewels to visit the Christmas market.  From the columnist’s point of view after visiting the place, the Christmas markets in Frankfurt and Nuremberg (which I saw last year) may be big in the eyes of the residents living there, but in Dresden, the Christmas market is huge! And when one sees all the places connected to this historic and most popular Christmas market in Germany, one can only say it is awesome!

Dresden’s Christmas market is the oldest in the world with the first one dating as far back as the 900s. The Striezelmarkt, located in Dresden’s Altmarkt, is the oldest annual market in Germany with its origins dating as far back as 1434. There are eight different markets throughout all of Dresden’s immediate city limits and dozens more in the city’s suburban areas, making it one of the largest Christmas markets in Germany. And given the various themes and settings of each market, one does have the right to boast about it being perhaps the most multi-cultural of Germany’s Christmas markets, overshadowing the Nuremberg Christmas market by a long shot.

Given the size of the Christmas market in Dresden, there is really no choice but to cut them down to bite-size articles so that the reader can picture what the place looks like from the eye of both the columnist and the photographer. I will start with the Christmas market in general, which will feature the specialties that are offered in Dresden, using the smaller markets as examples- namely, the market at Dresden-Blasewitz, the corridor between Dresden Central Railway Station and the Striezelmarkt (but minus the latter as there is a separate article on that) and the one in front of the Residential Palace. The second article will feature the Medieval-style Christmas market, located in front of and along the Frauenkirche (Church of the Ladies) when facing the Elbe. The third article will deal with the Christmas market at Dresden-Neustadt, while the last article will explain about the Striezelmarkt, located in the Altmarkt.



Christmas market at Residential Palace


Walking towards the Elbe River and the promenade that runs alongside the river, if one wants to walk into or around the palace on the left side towards the Augustusbrücke, one will be greeted with a market similar to the one at Weimar’s Theaterplatz in terms of size, which features local specialties from Saxony. In particular, one can take advantage of the pastries from a bakery in Pulsnitz. Established in 1909, the Gräfe Pastries Company produces a wide array of pastries going beyond the beloved Dresdner Stollen, a fruit cake coated with powdered sugar, and Saxony’s only version of Lebkuchen (Gingerbread biscuits). It produces and sells a wide array of honey bars, Spitzen (small bars with filling in them) and Baumkuchen (a donut-shaped stacked cake with a chocolate covering). If one thinks that they taste the same as the ones at the Christmas market in Nuremberg, think again. Each Christmas pastry tastes different in each region and the one in Dresden is one that is unforgettable. That combined with a cup of Dresdner Glühwein (mulled wine) makes an afternoon lunch (Kaffeetrinken) a memorable one. The market at Residential Palace serves as a break spot for people touring the historic buildings or visiting the other markets in the city and is one that is a must-see if one wants to try the specialties from Saxony.


Schiller Garten Restaurant (right) and Blaues Wunder Bridge (left) at the Blasewitz Market Place


This is one of a dozen examples of suburban communities holding a Christmas market during one or two weekends, but during the rest of the holidays, is a farmer’s market offering local specialties that is typical for the suburb.  This includes goods from local meat butchers, bakeries and the local produce stands. What is so special about this market apart from the Christmas tree?  Simple.  Apart from the  surroundings consisting of historic buildings dating back to the 1800s with its ornamental appearance, the market is located next to one of Dresden’s beloved bridges, the Loschwitz Bridge (a.k.a Blaues Wunder or Blue Wonder/Miracle), an 1894 cantilever bridge spanning the Elbe River that is famous for two reasons: 1. Legend has it that when one painted the bridge green, it turned to blue when the sun shone on it, and 2. A last ditch effort to diffuse the explosives- set by the fleeing Nazis during the last month of World War II in an attempt to prevent the oncoming Russian soldiers from marching into the city- was successful and the bridge was spared from becoming a pile of twisted metal and rubble. One can see the bridge today either from the market or from the terrace of the Schiller Restaurant located on the southeast end of the structure.


Christmas Tree at Dresden Central Station: the starting point of the Christmas Market along the Corridor


When getting off the train at Dresden Central Station, one will be greeted by a gigantic Christmas tree that is in the station building. Yet it is not the only greeting you will receive when you leave the station enroute to the city center. Just outside the the entrance to the station and along Prager Strasse to the Striezelmarkt one will be greeted with a row of Christmas market huts located along the corridor. If one chooses not to take the tram to Pirnaischer Platz (which is the stop closest to the Christmas markets at Altmarkt and in front of the Frauenkirche), one can walk straight to the Altmarkt along the corridor where  one can see the huts lining up on each side, offering specialties and merchandise pertaining to the city of Dresden. This includes Radeberger Beer, merchandise pertaining to the professional soccer team Dynamo Dresden, or souvenirs from the city. In either case, one can easily try the local specialties before entering the city center or pick up something to remember on the way out of the city, as a way of showing the friends and family back home that they were at the Christmas market in Dresden.

Going to Part II, the market at Frauenkirche……

Christmas Market Tour 2011 Nr. 1: Rothenburg ob der Tauber


This is the first stop on the Flensburg Files’ Christmas Market Tour for 2011

The first stop on the Christmas market tour for 2011 is a small Bavarian town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber. Located southwest of Nuremberg in the district of Ansbach, Rothenburg may look like a typical small German town on the outside; especially when you get off the train. It takes only five minutes to travel from Steinach to this town. The town of 11,025 inhabitants does have a special place in the hearts of many tens of thousands of tourists from all over the world, when one walks about 5-10 minutes from the train station, which is its historic city center. This is perhaps one of only a handful of city centers left in Europe, which is fortified all around and whose wall and towers date as far back as the Medieval Ages.  Yet the town came so close from becoming rubble at the end of World War II that had Major Thömmes of the German not agreed to surrender to the Americans under John Devers, who surrounded the entire town, it would have ended up like Dresden and unfortunately the unique features of the town would have been lost forever. It would not have even been considered a place to stop during the holidays as it would have been rebuilt to a point of no recognition. That plan to escape being completely annihilated was the worst of the close calls the town had since its creation in 970. There were wars in 1167, 1408, 1520, 1552, 1631-48 and the earthquake of 1356 which inflicted damage on the city and its people.  But once the town was annexed into the state of Bavaria, the age of tourism and preservation of the city took shape.

Today’s town center resembles exactly that of the one that was bustling with activity in the 13-1500s. It has two sets of fortresses- the one that was  built in 1172 and passes through the White Tower, Markus Tower and Röder Arch- consisting of the oldest building in the city Zur Hölle (In Hell), created by the monastery in the 1100s- and an even larger one in 1204 to accommodate a larger population and passes through  gates of Kobolzellar, Würzburg and Klingen and the towers of Siebers and Röder. The churches dominate the inner city with the likes of St. Jacob’s, Franciscan, St. John’s, St. Wolfgang’s. There’s also one of the most gothic city halls one will see in Germany (which was built in the 1200s, and lastly the buildings that have existed since the 1300s and have been restored to make it look like the ones that contributed to the success of the city as an international point of trade during that time. One has to take into account that two of the major roads intersected in Rothenburg, making it the international place of commerce: the one from Munich and points to the south to the ports of Hamburg and beyond, and the east-west route connecting France and Frankfurt in the west and Dresden and Prague in the east. That meeting point has recently been shifted to present-day Nuremberg in the form of the Autobahn motorways connecting Prague and Frankfurt on the east-west axis, and Flensburg/Hamburg and places in Austria (west of Munich) on the north-south axis. The end result is the town that has since lost its importance as an international trading point but has embraced itself in tourism thanks in part by the attempts to preserve it and make it attractive for everyone.
Especially at Christmas time.

As a general rule for Christmas markets in a small German town, they usually take place on only one weekend and offer just the basic localities. They are not as representative as some of the ones that are common, like Nuremberg, Frankfurt, and Dresden, just to name a few. One would be lucky to attract just a handful of tourists from outside the district (Landkreis)- that is unless you live in the Rhein corridor between Frankfurt and Cologne and people spend a few hours at the markets in Bingen, Neuwied and Lahnstein, just to name a few. Rothenburg is the exception to the rule for the Christmas markets take place from the last week in November til right before Christmas Eve. However, if one chooses to pick a better time to visit the city and not deal with the overcrowding and the overbooked hotels during that time, then between Christmas and New Year is perhaps the best choice to visit the city for there is a lot to see and one still has the feeling of Christmas when exploring the historic city center.  This was what I felt, when my wife, daughter and a couple friends from the US visited the town a couple Christmases ago, while touring northern Bavaria.
This leads me to the question of what is there to see when one wants to forego visiting the city between Christmas and New Year. My answer is plenty. I decided to put together a nice program for you to tour the city and still enjoy a bit of Christmas. You have to be forewarned of the fact that it takes 2-3 days to tour the entire town and absorb the heritage that Rothenburg has to offer, let alone imagine yourself living in the town during the Medieval times.
Start off by having a nice breakfast at one of the fanciest old-time bed and breakfasts in the old town, like the Pension Birgit, where we stayed- a typical German breakfast consisting of meat and cheese slices on a roll along with real Nutella chocolate spread (made in Germany and not in New Jersey by Kraft Foods) and homemade jam.  Then take a nice tour around the two walls of the old town, passing through each tower and getting the feel of what it was like being the guard of one of the towers and enjoying the view from both the outside as well as the inside the city.  Some of the interesting sites worth seeing include the Wolfgang Gate and Church, once deemed as a place of refuge by those whose villages north of the city were threatened with attack by the invading armies.  Then there is the Röder Gate and Tower, which is the main entrance point from Ansbacher Strasse, the main road that connects it to the station and one that serves as an awesome overture for tourists before entering the old town.  When Kobozellar Tower and Gate and the wall connecting the Reichstadthalle provides a person with a view of the steep Tauber Valley and the gardens that line up along the hillside. One can see the Double-Bridge (a 1328 stone arch bridge) and the Kobozellar Castle and church from up above. The castle was a place of quarantine for those affected by the Plague that wiped out over half the population in the 1300s. And lastly, there is the  Spital Bastion, with its seven gates that made entering the old town from the southwest rather torturous for any visitor or invader.

After a couple hours of walking, stop at one of the finest cafés in town for a cup of coffee and a snowball. Snowballs are a signature of Rothenburg ob der Tauber, consisting of cookie dough rounded into a ball together with various chocolate fillings, and covered in sugar, chocolate or other toppings.  I was introduced to them in 2002 while at the Christmas market in Jena with my wife but neither of us had an idea where it originated until coming to Rothenburg, even though one can also find them at the market in Nuremberg. Having one of them will get a tourist full in a hurry- as they are way too luscious to pass up- but they give you enough energy needed for the next round of touring in the old town- the museums.

While one will learn a lot of Medieval Times and how Rothenburg played a role in it through the Crime Museum or the Imperial City Museum, at the heart of the Old Town; especially at Christmas Time are the Christmas Museum and the Doll and Toy Museum. The Christmas Museum is open every day of the year- even on Christmas Day- and has a gallery of decorated Christmas trees from all over the world as well as those resembling the trees that were decorated in the past, both in Germany and the US as well as elsewhere. It provides the tourist with a special holiday feeling regardless of when he/she visits the place. Furthermore it is a place where one can learn about Christmas and its origins.  These are even more so when walking through the Christmas Village, located right next to the museum and featuring the works of Käthe Wohlfahrt. Both of these places, located in the Herrengasse next to the town square represent a special point in the old town where Christmas runs year round, and after visiting the two places, tourists will have a lot of creative ideas of how they want to make their house more Christmassy- meaning away with the tacky stuff on the houses and embrace Christmas with a truer meaning.
Not far from Herrengasse is the Doll and Toy Museum, where 200 years worth of dolls from Germany, France and other places are on display for people to see and awe from. Many are handcrafted and appear to have their own life when looking at them, which is impressive from a tourist’s point of view.

After eating a traditional Franconian (or even a Medieval-style) dinner at one of the restaurants in the Old Town (and there are over two dozen to choose from), the day should be wrapped up with a tour of the town with a Night Watchman, who speaks many languages and has the voice of doom in him that makes the tourists think they are watching a Halloween thriller on TV, narrated by the guide.  But he provides the tourists with some interesting facts about the city that not many people knew about beforehand, like how salt was used as a commodity for transaction during the Medieval Age, how the town helped the poor lurking both inside and outside its gates, how outdoor plumbing during the 1300s would not be acceptable to today’s standards, and most shocking: where the children’s song “Ring Around the Rosie” originated from! Let’s just simply put it this way: it is ok to sing it when the child is small, but please do not tell him/her how the song was created unless he/she is old enough to swallow it! The guide who led the tour while we were there in 2009 has done this work for over 20 years, and judging by his experience in this profession and how he led this tour, one can tell that the longer he has been doing the guides, the more experienced he is with getting the tourists involved, and the more he has become part of the culture and heritage of Rothenburg ob der Tauber, that a tour guide with him is a must for anyone happening to pass through the town.
When finishing the tour of Rothenburg ob der Tauber, one will receive impressions of the town and its history that the experience will be shared with those who love history and want to visit the town. While Rothenburg is one of the hot spots to visit during the holiday season because of its Christmas market, it is a must-see place to visit year round for the tourists from all over the world because of the awesome architecture that the city has worked hard to preserve and the unique features that the city has to offer. One of those is Christmas, which can be found year round in the Herrengasse, for apart from its Medieval heritage, that is what Rothenburg ob der Tauber stands for; especially now as the holiday season takes hold on all aspects of life and people are preparing for holiday travel with family and friends, some choosing this town as the point of destination.

Useful links to Rothenburg ob der Tauber (including facts about Käthe Wohlfahrt):


More Trains and More Space, Please!

A busy and chaotic scene at Hamburg Central Station. Taken on 31 July on the busiest day of the summer season as many people took to the highways and tracks to head to their vacation destination.


Here is a sight that I hope that I will never see again: An ICE train departing Hamburg enroute to Copenhagen becomes overcrowded the second the doors open. You try and find a seat you had reserved at a train station in Jena three weeks before, only to find that it is occupied by a mother with two children. It is not a problem considering the fact that the announcer informed the people waiting at the platform that reservations made on the train were considered null and void. That would make a world of sense if learned that all schools in Germany were out for the summer and that  every family with their dog or cat would hit the road or track for their destinations to the Alps, Turkey, or parts of Scandanavia. However the situation becomes unbearable when people are standing side by side in the aisle and on the seats and too close together, resembling a typical ride on the Tokyo subway. To relieve the congestion, the conductor of the train forces the people to take the Regional Express train to Lübeck, which is also the stop on the ICE. It makes sense for only a short time, but does not alleviate the problem when you see a person who makes his spot in one of the closets next to the Bord Restaurant, sitting on top of his luggage. When asked whether he comfortable in that very narrow encasement, he replies with “At least I can sit.”
There are two pet peeves I have with the German Railways (Die Bahn). The first is its customer unfriendliness, especially when it comes to parents with children (please see my article on Single and Business Bahn). Others would disagree with me and say that trains arriving late would be their pet peeve. In a way I would agree if I was one of those commuters going to work at the university as an English lecturer and had an early morning class at 8:30 in the morning, meaning I have to be off to work at 7:00 in the morning in order to make it on time. However, a delay may work as a blessing if there is something very important to do for work before a certain deadline.
There is the other pet peeve which both the Germans and I would have a fun time talking about and that is overcrowded trains. No matter where you go, which train you use (ICE, InterCity or Regional Services), what time of year you travel by train, or what you have for luggage or people travelling with you, Die Bahn has a chronic problem with overcrowding trains. And no matter how hard they try to alleviate the problem, it seems that the problem has worsened within the last five to ten years because of the preference for trains over automobiles- and this goes beyond the increasing price for gas and compulsory automobile inspections taken annually.
If we look at the train demographics for a second, we can see two main north-south arteries (Munich to Berlin and Basel to Hamburg via Frankfurt (Main), three east-west arteries (Dresden to Frankfurt (Main), Berlin to Cologne via Magdeburg and Dusseldorf and Passau/Vienna to Basel via Munich, Ulm and Stuttgart), plus numerous important blood vessels going to key cities, like Cologne from Frankfurt, Copenhagen/Flensburg from Hamburg, Rostock from Berlin and Kaiserslautern/Saarbrücken from Frankfurt(Main).  If a major shortcoming was to take place, such as a storm shutting down the stretch, a train stalling due to a malfunctioning airconditioner, or even a delay of 20 minutes due to overcrowding because of people getting on or off the train (all of which have occurred countless times), then the situation is like a person having a massive heart attack with minutes away from keeling over and expiring if help is not sought in blitzschnell speed. When that happens, pretty much everyone suffers, regardless of whether a passenger misses a flight to Africa, or misses an important meeting with clients and his job is therefore on the line, or if he misses an exam for one of the subjects at the university and he fails the course.  If one lives in Germany as long as I have (twelve years come September 2011), then he/she will have been late at least twice a month- one of which would have consequences as far as meeting deadlines and making appointments are concerned.
The hardest hit areas are the stretches starting in Munich heading north: one heads to Hamburg via Nuremberg, Würzburg, Frankfurt (Main), Göttingen and Hannover; the other heads to Berlin via Nuremberg, Jena and Leipzig. Barring the landscape the two lines have to go through (in particular the latter stretch as it has to go through mountains between Nuremberg and Jena), when boarding the train- in particular the InterCity and ICE, it is always full and despite reservations head of time, there is no guarantee one can sit down in his reserved seat unless he is as aggressive as Happy Gilmore. And when the seat is reserved, then one has to deal with a lack of space as his passenger sitting next to him also needs space to breathe.  The worst is when having luggage and one has no choice but to place them either on the steps or in five different areas of the train. This has occurred with me many times when travelling along this stretch heading to Flensburg and recently to Copenhagen to catch my flight to the USA. If you count the other persons who are travelling with you and are really agitated at the overcrowding, then you can be sure of some potential fireworks going off right there….
Fortunately, measures are being taken to ensure that travelling by train is easier. First and foremost, new tracks are being laid so that one set is designated for ICE service and the other for regional train service. This was done with a stretch between Freiburg (Breisgau) and Karlsruhe and has alleviated the overcrowding a bit. On the Frankfurt-Hamburg route, some stretches are being built north of Göttingen as well as in the metro areas of Hannover and south of Hamburg even as this article is being written.  Another is constructing newer, faster stretches so that passengers can reach their destination quicker and more comfortably. While that has worked on the Hamburg-Frankfurt route between Göttingen and Würzburg, this is being done with the new route between Berlin and Munich, detouring through Ilmenau, Erfurt and Halle (Saale) enroute to Leipzig.  However one has to take into consideration such projects should not be done at the expense of sacrificing original routes, as is the plan by Die Bahn with the new route being constructed- after 2017 no ICEs will pass through Jena and its neighbor to the north, Naumburg (Saale).  Instead both routes should be open and the two types of services (InterCity and ICE) should take turns using the two routes, while respecting the other available services at the same time. This has been done in Hesse with the routes connecting Frankfurt and Cologne as well as the stretch between Mannheim and Karlsruhe. For the stretch between Frankfurt and Cologne, there are two routes one can take: the ICE route via Limburg and Montabaur  and the InterCity/ICE route via Coblence. For the other, one can go straight to Karlsruhe from Mannheim or take the route through Heidelberg and Heilbronn with ICE. Why should it not work for the two stretches going through the state of Thuringia? It would be a win-win situation for Die Bahn as well as the cities of Erfurt and Jena.
This brings me up to two suggestions that are worth considering to ensure more efficiency and less hassles for passengers. Apart from building new stretches and ensuring that the old ones maintain their services to the customers, one should consider utilizing stretches that are less travelled and used by regional services. There one could add some long-distance services to the routes to ensure that passengers have the same satisfaction in service as the ones travelling along the heavily travelled routes. The other is building more trains and reinventing/ reusing types of trains for use on the least travelled routes. While Die Bahn is working on building more InterCity trains to replace the ones that have serving passengers for 20-30 years, the success of the ICE-diesel trains connecting Hamburg and Denmark via Lübeck and Flensburg should force the German train concern to reconsider the idea after they discontinued the service between Dresden and Nuremberg via Bayreuth in 2003. While that stretch is rife for the reintroduction in the ICE-diesel, the stretches between Chemnitz and Göttingen via Gera, Jena, and Mühlhausen and between Cottbus and Berlin are examples of many where the ICE diesel trains could benefit the people in those areas.
The overcrowding of trains and the sometimes overutilization of the routes is a sign that more and more people are using the trains and leaving the cars at home. It is understandable because of the high gas prices combined with the taxes and annual compulsory inspections that have to be paid. Therefore Die Bahn has to react accordingly to accommodate the increasing numbers, even if it means having to put more trains on the existing routes and build new ones so that one will not have to deal with the pet peeve of overcrowding and being forced to stand for long stretches. More trains and better service is better, even if trains come more often and have to keep to a slower speed limit. Passengers will understand and plan accordingly. It is better than finding a place to sit for three hours  at any cost, which was the case with the passenger who sat on his suitcase in the small closet on the ICE to Copenhagen.

More Bike Space Needed, Please.

This Easter kicks off the start of the biking season over here in Germany (and parts of Europe). After months of having the bikes in the garages for many months due to a rather wintry season with more snow than what the continent is used to, cyclists, like yours truly are taking advantage of the warm and sunny weather by packing the bikes and whatever they can use for on the way and head hundreds of kilometers away from their homes to their destinations, so that they can see many new places and pedal many kilometers, whether it is a nice 20 km scenic tour or a marathon of over 110 km long. It all depends on preference mainly, although some people go to extremes only to pay the price physically in the end.

For many who are taking their bikes with to their destinations, it is not unusual to load them up on the trains and take off with them. It’s easier than having to load them up on top of their cars or in the back of their trucks, and one only needs to pay for train fare for himself and the bike. Sadly though, as you can see in the picture, the German Railways (Die Bahn) are trying to indirectly discourage that possibility, as there are too many bikes clogging up the train. Now why would railway services, like Die Bahn would want to do that?

Photo taken by the author enroute to Hamburg on the IC



The explanation is cause and effect. In Germany (and you can also include the rest of Europe as they have the same issue), it is too expensive to own a car. Apart from the very high gas prices (please refer to my last column on dictating our driving habits), one has to worry about paying taxes for the car- let alone car insurance which is twice as expensive as in the United States (in most cases). Furthermore, it is obligatory to have your car inspected annually to ensure that it functions properly. The so-called TÜV inspection ensures that cars that do not meet strict requirements, such as reducing carbon dioxide emissions and eliminating harmful gases produced by the exhaust system, the car engine making minimum noise while in operation, and the outer body looking like brand new, are taken off the roads unless the problems are corrected. In a way, it encourages more business on the part of the car dealers and law enforcement agencies and safety on the part of the drivers. But by the same token, it discourages many drivers from purchasing a car and use alternative forms of transportation instead, such as bus, streetcar, bike, and the train.

Problem with the alternative with train and bike is  not just the overcrowding of bikes, but the lack of availability of coaches to store the bikes. While one can take their bikes onto a regional service train at no cost (most of the time, that is), these trains stop at every single train station at every town, big or small, resulting in the travel time being three times as long as it would be, if one would use long-distance train services, which travels faster and stops at only the big and most popular stations, like in Frankfurt (Main), Dresden, Berlin and Hamburg, for example.  The fastest long-distance train service in Germany is the ICE, which travels up to 300 km/h. The second quickest is the Inter City, which can clock in a maximum speed of 250 km/h. Yet the IC is the only one that provides the cyclists with the possibility to take the bike on board, even though they have to reserve a spot at a small price.  The problem with this possibility is the fact that the bike reservations on the ICs are as limited as the number of these trains that are still running on the tracks. And it will only get worse in the next decade, as many changes by Die Bahn is forcing many to either adapt to the changes or consider alternatives. First and foremost, the ICs are retiring, as many of the coaches have been in operation for 30-40 years and despite consistent renovations, they are approaching the end of their useful lives. At the same time however, the newest version of the ICE, the ICx will make its debut as early as 2017, which will make the ICs and the first two generations of the ICE trains obsolete. There are currently four types in operation: The ICE I, which has been in service since 1990, the ICE II (since 1993), the ICE T (since 2000) and the ICE III (since 2004). All four of these types cannot accommodate the bikes and are therefore forbidden to take aboard unless one wants to face legal action.  Also disturbing is the possible elimination of ICE routes as they are either considered non-profitable or are being bypassed with more efficient routes. This includes the weaning of the route Stralsund- Berlin-Leipzig-Weimar-Erfurt-Kassel-Dortmund-Cologne off the ICs and replacing them with regional services, which has caused some massive protests from those who want a quick route to either the Cathedral in Cologne and points in the Ruhrgebiet (an industrial area where Dortmund and Cologne are located) or the Baltic Sea, in places like Stralsund, or the islands of Rügen and Usedom [Oooh-se-dome]. Another route, the Berlin-Leipzig-Erfurt-Nuremberg route is getting a new route, which would go through Suhl instead of Naumburg, Jena and Lichtenfels and with that, the treacherous mountains located between Saalfeld and Lichtenfels. While it may cut down the amount of time because the trains will go through a series of bridges and tunnels, there are concerns that Jena and Naumburg may end up without long-distance train services, a discussion that was brought up last year in Jena, as the city of 120,000 inhabitants is the center of its optical industry and has two renowned universities that are focused on the sciences.

Regional services do have three advantages. First it better serves the communities as the trains stop at all stations and towns, big or small. People are more connected as they meet and get to know each other, and one can load their bikes on the train and take them to their destinations, no matter where they go, for free. But this privilege will not last for long. Already in some places, like Hesse, the trains now have limitations for the number of bikes allowed on board. And in Bavaria, bike fees are being imposed on certain routes. One wonders whether these restrictions will actually do more harm to Die Bahn and its profits, let alone the customers; especially those who do not want to resort to the car to load their bikes and go to their destinations, if they can help it.

Inside a regional train service enroute to Flensburg. Photo taken by the author.



While the situation is still bearable, it will be a matter of time before the frustration between the customers with the bikes and Die Bahn come to a boil and that solutions offering flexibility will have to be found. This includes looking at neighboring countries for references, as their systems are more complex but more logical than what Die Bahn is offering. This includes the rail service in Switzerland (the SBB), where bikes are allowed on any train regardless of whether it is the regional services or the quickest service, the ICN, which runs services between Basel, Geneva, and Zurich. The reintroduction of InterRegio services, which was discontinued in 2006, would provide passengers with better connections to medium-sized communities and more space for the bikes. This is one service that the SBB still retains alongside its InterCity services. And lastly, to better serve the customers, having more train services running regularly- namely three per hour in the more populated areas- would provide the passengers with more opportunities to travel and trains with more space for the bikes. This is being practiced in Switzerland; especially in the corridor of Geneva-Montreaux-Bern as well as Montreaux-Sion-Lugano, for example.

Whether Die Bahn will look to other sources for references or find other creative ideas on their own depends on the costs, let alone the supply vs. demand- namely what the customers want and what the rail service can provide them in order for them to be satisfied. No matter what the case may be, many people are not going to let any train service put them down. They will do whatever it takes to travel by train; especially now because of the increasing oil prices, which shows no signs of slowing down at all. And on a beautiful weekend, like Easter, with temperatures between 20 and 30°C and mostly sunny skies, many people, like myself, are taking the bikes into the trains and travelling to their destinations, where they will hit the trails and see the places that they want to see, but without the use of a set of wheels that has guzzled one liter of gas too many.


LINK: (All the information on the trains of the German Railways Die Bahn can be found here). (Info on the SBB’s ICN train and it’s availability to bikers)