My beloved Hamburg and – as the local people call it – Minga don’t seem to have much in common at first glance. But there is one thing, that definitely connects the two state capitals, which is the longest, continuous railway line in Germany. The 785 km long route is being conquered in 6 hours and 35 minutes – faster, than any car driver could manage. And since it’s almost untenable to fly “short-distance” in times of climate change, I would like to tell you more about the trip between the city of “fishheads” and the birthplace of the Oktoberfest. Everything you need to know about the train, timetables and my experiences during this trip, you can read in the following lines. Have fun :)
Hamburg is not only the home of my choice, but also always worth a trip. At this point, I want to apologize for my slightly biased opinion ;) . You can be sure, Hamburg is more than just the Reeperbahn with its famous red light district, the pretty harbour-view from the “Michel” and an Aperol Spritz at the Alster. Anyone, who likes to have a stiff breeze blowing around their nose, enjoys Frisian beer or simply wants to visit the gateway to the world will be in good hands here. Here, you can stroll along the Elbe beach in summer (if possible during the week, in the morning), try out the small bars and pubs in Ottensen (the best Gin Basil Smash is available in the “Familieneck”) and cycle to the apple orchards in the “Altes Land”.
If you’re looking for a halfway cheap place to stay, you will find shelter in the Meininger Hotel (http://www.booking.com/Share-J6LtCo0) near the train station Altona (just like me).
I booked a bed in the dormitory for 34,40 €/night. The room is small and the bed is exceptionally narrow, but very clean and functional. With many cute details and small Hamburg references, like the seagulls on the ceiling and the harbour cranes on the bed, the design was definitely convincing. In addition, there are free towels and the staff also welcomed me warmly. The room also has lockers (but you should bring your own lock), a small desk for working, a TV and a bathroom. Beside each bed, there are individual reading lights, a small bedside table and sockets incl. USB connection. With your room card, you can enter the hotel at any time of day or night and the reception is open 24 hours a day.
Not only for cost reasons, but above all because of the location, I had decided to go to the Meininger in Altona, since the station is only 5 minutes by foot and I could thus save myself a taxi or a long journey to the station with public transport (since my train was to leave at 05.05 o'clock, I tried to save some extra minutes to sleep a bit longer).
Tickets, timetables and prices
ICE's between Hamburg and Munich are highly frequented on a daily basis, with slightly fewer journeys on weekends. Direct ICE's run almost every hour. The prices are strongly dependent on the booking time and day/time of the trip. With the SuperSparpreis you get your ticket for an unbeatable €19,90. But you have to be extremely early and sometimes you’ll have to accept a trip that starts at 5 o'clock in the morning (like me). Moreover, one is bound to one's train with these tickets. Generally applicable: The more spontaneous someone books, the more expensive it becomes. A Flexi-Ticket, where you can choose whichever train you please, costs €153. Quite expensive if you don't have a BahnCard.
Tips for travelling by train without a reservation
If you are not travelling for Christmas (even then), you can definitely save the money for the seat reservation (€5). After 3 years of more or less regular commuting on this route, I have acquired some tricks that have always helped me to get a pleasant seat, which I would like to share with you now:
1. Whenever possible, depart from Hamburg-Altona, not from Hauptbahnhof, because: The Hamburg-Altona terminus is often the starting point for trains to Munich. Experience shows, that most passengers board the train at the main station. So from Altona (or Dammtor) you have a time advantage to look for a free seat in peace. But first, make sure that your ICE really departs from Altona and not exclusively from the main station.
2. Be a few minutes early. Usually the ICE towards Munich is waiting at the station several minutes before departure. I always try to be at the track a quarter of an hour before departure, as one can also allow oneself more time to look for a place.
3. Personally, I always make sure to look for a seat in the quiet compartments. Compartments are generally a bit more relaxed than the large-capacity cars - especially in the quiet compartment there is rather "silence".
4. I also like to take a seat where 5 out of 6 seats are already reserved (preferably at a very late stage of the journey). People, who spend a little more money to reserve a seat, are usually a little more relaxed and less strenuous altogether ;) If they board the train late, you often have the compartment for most of the journey to your own.
Departure in Hamburg
It's 04:50 am on a Thursday morning. It's still pitch-black outside, only in Altona station lights are already on. This morning, the ugly, block-like, grey building looks even greyer than usual (getting up early is just not for me). A few individuals are already roaming around. The only shop that's already open at this godforsaken hour is the overpriced bakery "Le Crobag". I give in to my tiredness and buy myself a coffee.
My ICE with scheduled departure at 05:05 am is already waiting on track 8. The blue display panels on the track show me the order of the cars, including intermediate stops.
Half asleep I check my train number on the train app for the fifth time. ICE 783 to Munich main station. Okay. The app also gives me some more information. On my trip today a high number of passengers is anticipated. I wonder why. It's Thursday; way too early in the morning. Who does this to themselves? Except for me, of course, because I wanted to snap up the super savings price of €19,90. Getting to Munich cheaper than that is impossible. I leisurely trot along the abandoned track until I find an already opened door. The train is still empty, but yet again, I am a quarter of an hour early. Undisturbed I walk through the train looking for my perfect seat. Many seats are already reserved, but with a little patience I find what I'm looking for. A 6er compartment without reservations in the quiet area.
A middle-aged woman has already taken a seat in it. She helps me to lift my rather heavy backpack onto the luggage rack and I sit down at the window in the direction of travel. Nobody will keep us company during the whole trip. As long as the train is still standing, I seize the opportunity to take a look around the still deserted train and take a few photos.
Compartment, large-capacity car and First Class
The compartment: Six classic Deutsche Bahn seats covered in blue fabric, are waiting for me. Each seat has its own socket, a reading light and you can also adjust it a little bit. The two window seats are separated by a fixed wooden table with integrated waste bin. There is a luggage rack on both sides above the seats, as well as coat hooks, a small glass shelf with mirror, as well as a temperature control unit and a light switch above the sliding door. The aisle seats and the middle seats are separated by a small wooden shelf with cup holders. The compartment is quite spacious, although the luggage racks can only fit 2 large and 2 small suitcases at most. But as there are only two of us, this is no problem.
The large-capacity car: In the Second Class, the seats are arranged 2x2, occasionally there are also 4-seater seats, which are separated by a large table. Otherwise, all seats have a power socket, small plastic folding tables and a small net for storing magazines, etc. - the in-house magazine "mobil" already clamps to each seat and contains not only entertainment, but also the menu of the on-board restaurant. In the aisle, there are also larger luggage racks than those above the seats, in case large suitcases or travel backpacks have to be stowed. Toilets and larger trash cans can be found at the ends of the corridor.
First Class: There is noticeably more space in First Class. The dark blue seats, covered with imitation leather make a much more comfortable impression. They are arranged 2x1. Here, there are tables, shelves, sockets and everything what the Second Class has to offer as well, only a bit more stylish. Unfortunately, I could only take a quick look inside and therefore don't have much more information at hand.
The train leaves on time. I am surprised how few people get on at the main station. Promptly, after leaving the station, there is an announcement welcoming all passengers on board of the train. Followed, by a reference to the on-board restaurant, which is waiting for customers with breakfast and coffee, also mentioning the new Comfort Check-in, which is available via Deutsche Bahn App. A fantastic new feature! You can make yourself comfortable with a sleeping mask and neck pillow without being afraid of getting disturbed by the conductor. All you have to do, is click on Comfort Check-in in the app, enter your car and seat number and send it off. The conductor will be informed and won't have to bother you. But of course, I didn't memorize my car number and I'm too lazy to get up and check. Next time then.
Soon, the mentioned conductor walks through the corridors. I hold my mobile ticket under his nose. After his reading device has produced a satisfactory beep, the nice gentleman escapes a bewildered "huh?!" He wants to see my ID and I already know what it's about. I hand him my passport and the popular discussion about my name - Ninja - breaks out. He tells me, that he had seen many names in his career, but none like that. I make a flippant remark, that one had to be creative in the 90's and the man disappears with a smile. The employees of the Deutsche Bahn sure have some strange qualities.
After the ticket control is finished, it's time for my sleeping mask and a three-hour nap (but only after I try to capture dawn on a photo).
Around 8 am, I'm a little more rested. We are already in Kassel. Time for the second coffee of the day. Just when I decide to walk to the on-board restaurant, a man with a trolley approaches me. In it, there is coffee, snacks and cold drinks. But since I don't want to miss out on the advertised on-board restaurant, I pass and start my little hike from car 2 to car 8. On the way there, I come across some curiosities. In the large compartment, a group of men has made themselves comfortable at the table and smears cheerfully liver sausage bread, which one can smell from afar. The first beer is already open, too; I am happy to sit in my compartment. The doors between the wagons seem to be particularly difficult today. Often, I impatiently pull at the "automatic" door, which simply doesn't want to open. You have to be patient.
Finally, at the end of the corridor, another world opens up for me. I feel, as if I am entering Narnia. The red leatherette couches are greeting me, some of my fellow passengers are already sitting at the tables. I take a quick look at the menu, even though I already know exactly what I want. I order a large filter coffee.
Behind the bar, the on-board restaurant continues; it borders the first class. I order my coffee to go because I left all my things in the compartment. The coffee is a bit thin, but should still do its job. For the rest of my trip, I work on my laptop. The internet connection is stable and unusually fast. The Deutsche Bahn App has yet another treat to offer, besides the Comfort Check-in. Recently, an entertainment portal has been added, which is available to passengers during the journey. Movies, series, audio books and all kinds of other entertainment can be accessed on demand. Not bad!
Little by little, the landscape becomes more and more hilly. When we reach Würzburg, we are in the middle of Franconian wine country and the sun welcomes all arriving passengers.
The next two hours pass - like the rest of my journey - like in flight. When I arrive, the weather has unfortunately changed and I am greeted by rain.
Arrival in Munich
Munich Central Station is not necessarily an architectural gem. Grey and massive, it sits enthroned above the tracks and reveals little about the city, rich in tradition and history in which one now finds oneself. After all, there are more than enough fast food restaurants and shopping possibilities for eager, arriving passengers.
So the first pretzel is secured. I make my way to the relatively badly signposted subway (construction works are in progress and it's a bit chaotic) and drive towards Feldmoching, where a friend welcomes me. Due to my good experience with the Meininger Hotel Hamburg, I would probably also tend to the same hotel chain in Munich. The Meininger München Central is - as the name suggests - very centrally located. If you don't necessarily book during the Oktoberfest, you can get a bed in the dormitory for just €18 (who is to say, that Munich rents are so much higher than in Hamburg!).
All in all, I found my trip very pleasant. Especially the continuous functioning internet convinced me. I will also use the Comfort Check-in in the future, as it is especially attractive for trips where you would like to take a nap undisturbed. In only 6.5 hours from Hamburg to Munich; no easy task, but the ICE did it. I would take this trip again, any time.
Sänk you for travelling wiff Deutsche Bahn, take care, and goodbye!