Quarter Life Crisis

The world according to Sven-S. Porst

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Railway to Köln

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When I lived in England, going by railway was a pain. It’s not that I suffered badly from delays or cancelled trains. It was more the buying of tickets. Apart from being mostly expensive, the act of finding out the possible itineraries and their respective prices even for the simplest journeys was ridiculously complicated. In part this was due to horrendously complicated and badly designed websites for buying tickets. But for an even larger part this was due to the ridiculous number of fares and their respective options and restrictions.

And as things go, German companies are keen on copying the bad ideas from English-speaking countries. So the whole railway system over here is on its way of being fucked up as well in the name of shiny profits or so. It’s not that trains have always been cheap. And it’s not like there haven’t been different prices depending on the speed of the train you’re using. It’s just that there start being too many differences now.

I’d like to illustrate this using a concrete example I suffered through this weekend. My plan was simple: A return journey to Köln (aka Cologne). Going there from Göttingen by car is a bit less than 300 kilometres and should take about three hours. Unfortunately the East-West connections are really underdeveloped (unless you’re going to Berlin) in the German railway system, so there’s no chance you’ll be quicker than a car on for this destination. Which isn’t a good point to start.

The first option you get when asking the Deutsche Bahn website, is an ICE (i.e. high speed) train connection via Frankfurt. At 3:16 it’s potentially the fastest and at €87 (for the single) the most expensive connection you can get. As there is no direct connection, you’ll have to change trains in Frankfurt with a 15 minute wait and the second train being extra fast or something, meaning that it’s a bit more expensive. Unfortunately those 15 minute waits sometimes are 45 minute waits making this not necessarily the fastest option.

Quite a bit. Explicitly ruling out that route will give you a connection via Hannover without the ‘special’ train but also using high speed trains only. It takes 3:30 and costs €68. Which makes it look like the more attractive deal to me. But it’s not particularly fast. And that is because you’re making quite a detour, as you can see in the crappy graphic below:

ICE routes from Göttingen to Köln

But this wasn’t my real problem for this journey. The prices were. I had a rail card for years which gives you 50% off the regular price. Using that made the prices more reasonable. Unfortunately I discovered that my card had expired the night before wanting to leave and I’m too old for the youth rail card now, meaning that buying a new one would cost €200 which I’m not sure I’d actually use it enough for. So I’m not inclined to get a new one. As I only discovered this just before I wanted to leave, I was already too late to get one of the early-booker fares (which are also quite annoying because they force to use you the exact train you made the booking for).

So I eventually settled for a trip with slow trains. Those will include between two to six changes of train, take between 5:09 and 6:26 and cost between €38,20 and €43,20 at the regular fare. Despite the trains being slow, their journey time isn’t that much longer than that of the fast trains because they go a shorter, more direct, route.

In addition I remembered that I can go on most (strangely not all) slow trains in Niedersachsen (Lower Saxony) with my university card and thus scrape some money off the total fare. That term ticket we have to pay for each term is really strange. Free train journeys for all the state aren’t bad. Particularly if the state is quite large. But they’re not too useful if you’re living in one of the corners of the state meaning that most journeys will take a long time and you can essentially only go in one direction. Which may or may be not illustrated by the next crappy drawing:

Where the term ticket gets you at which speeds

And with the correct choice of route this meant the term ticket would take me right into Nordrhein-Westfalen (North Rhine Westphalia), the same state that Köln is in. But there are special offers for slow trains within the same state… so I could get one of those for just €21 which wasn’t too bad, particularly as this included using the tram in Köln.

So while all this kind of sucked, I was quite lucky to find a itinerary that despite taking quite a bit longer than what I had planned for at least remained affordable. Giving me a much cheaper journey without a railcard in fact that I had expected. And… not-so-amusingly I wasn’t offered this fare on their website, where a higher price was stated.

So we’re approaching the British railway quality slowly but surely. At least the trains I went in had clean windows… one of my other pet peeves about British trains.

While being on the long journey across the country, I was quite surprised how many towns we passed and that it’s actually quite pretty in between. Not breath takingly pretty but enjoyable to look at.

Anyway, after all this worked rather smoothly with the connections being smooth and there being no delays, I went and looked at the cathedral in Köln. I had never done that before. Despite it being right next to the railway station. Ridiculously close. I’d even say that putting an ugly railway station a few metres from your famous cathedral may not be one of the wisest things to do. Anyway… just a week a go there were gazillions of christian kids and the pope around, but this week it was just normal tourist fare. The cathedral is quite impressive in terms of size. Huge. But decoration-wise I was a bit disappointed. Usually I expect the catholics to throw in more pomp and gold for their buildings.

Windows of the cathedral with shadow of the outer structure falling on them

After having been to the cathedral I randomly strolled down some downtown roads. I just dig large cities. So much more alive than small ones. Walking the streets seeing all the shops (not that I like shopping) and people (better looking, more fashionable than in Göttingen) was good and felt better than the quasi-dead small-town life.

August 26, 2005, 23:42

Tagged as travel.


Comment by bleu: User icon

Great info about the rail system. I am reversing the authors trip, will fly either into Cologne or Frankfurt and take the train to Goettingen.My original route would have been flying into Paris stay one full day and leave the next day for Cologen or Frankfurt, go on to Goettingen and Duderstadt. Bad plan so, I have only 8 days for this excursion. Can’t wait to get back to Goettingen so, missed that Liesel for many years.

August 3, 2007, 20:02

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