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How to travel to Berlin from the UK

Tuesday, January 26th, 2010

The website of Deutsche Bahn, the German rail company, is advertising new through tickets for visitors from the UK to travel to Berlin from London by train. This is an attempt to claw some of the market for weekend trips back from the low-cost airlines and is billed as ‘a comfortable and time-saving alternative to flying.’ With environmental issues still pressing for us all but economic concerns becoming ever more immediate, it would seem that there is indeed a market for this product family.

The logistics of the journeys are simple. The Eurostar departs St Pancras at seven each evening and arrives in Brussels two hours later. Passengers then switch onto the Deutche Bahn overnight train from Brussels to Berlin, arriving at eight the next morning feeling refreshed, relaxed, and ready for a full day of fun in the German capital. Or at least, this is the idea, but I have my suspicions.

The advertised cost of this is from seventy pounds for a seat and seventy five for a ‘couchette,’  either of which compares favourably with low-cost airline prices, especially if you are travelling at the weekend. But the whole crux of the train argument relies upon the mysterious ‘couchette.’

The pictures on the webpage detailing travel on the night train show a couple in very comfortable looking bunk beds. With the carriages ‘cushioned axels’ it would seem that the good night’s sleep promise will be fulfilled. However, the picture is of the sleeping compartments and does not show a ‘couchette.’  These are beds in communal sleeping compartments that are relatively hard and not particularly comfortable. They allow sleep, but they do not suggest it.

A further concern with the train option here is that it claims to be ‘time saving.’ Even adding considerable padding to the time of a London to Berlin flight to allow for journey’s to the airport, security and waiting time, the plane doesn’t come anywhere near the twelve hour journey of the train.

I presume what Deutche Bahn mean is that after their good night’s sleep passengers are ready to leap off the train and into a full day of activity. Flying visitors, however, will have arrived at their hotel late the night before and presumably still be in bed having a lie-in.

Despite the concerns outlined above, I do believe that there is considerable merit in taking the train on short breaks to Berlin. If you have concerns about sleeping comfortably on the train think about flying in one direction and taking the train in the other. I see the train journey as being more romantic, environmentally friendly and cheaper. In contrast the plane is quicker. Travellers must base their decision on whether the destination itself is the most important thing, or if the journey is going to be part of the fun.

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Photo of a train in Hautbahnhof, Berlin, by LHOON.

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About the author

Venere Travel Blog writer will joce

Will Joce is a recent graduate from the London School of Economics who has a morbid fear of working in an office. As well as travelling and writing he has worked in the UK Parliament and as a press monitor. Refusing to follow advice and get a real job he will soon be beginning a Masters degree at St Petersburg State University

3 responses to “How to travel to Berlin from the UK”

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  1. Dave O'Neill says:
    January 26th, 2010 at 16:16

    Having done this journey two weeks ago I disagree with parts of your post.

    Firstly it appears the Brussels train has been discontinued, the only overnight train is now through Paris on Fri, Sat, Sun and Mon nights. This is a great shame for all of us trying to be Green as in the last 3 years I have done this trip, the night train has always been busy.

    I sleep fine, and by the same principle I sleep when I’m on a boat. If you enjoyed being rocked as a child you will soon get to sleep with the rhythm of the train. I have only ever come to when the train has stopped.

    If you add up the time hour for hour you won’t beat the plane. But how you are using that time is a much more useful comparison.

    To fly you will spend 2 hours at the airport before, you trudge through check-in, say goodbye to your luggage, queue to go through security dispose of all liquids. At the other end spend more time waiting at border control and then waiting for your luggage to hopefully come back to you. During the flight you can’t move, you eat when it suits the airline (If food is even offered). If you wish to work you don’t have power points or room to sit a laptop open in front of you as you are crammed into a seat where the person in front has invariably pushed their seat back.

    Two weeks ago we arrived at St Pancras and passed Check-in, Security and Passport control in under 10 mins (Literally). Going through passport control at the London End means you step off the train in Paris and you are stood in Central Paris 60 seconds after the train arrived. And it’s worth mentioning CENTRAL Paris and CENTRAL Berlin, not an airport miles away from the City of which any transfer cost should be factored in to your final price.

    And then an overnight trip direct to Berlin means you have the potential to gain an extra day on your holiday and / or save on a nights accommodation (Another thing to factor in to price comparison). As you suggest in your post, we arrive in the morning refreshed and ready to go and in the middle of Berlin.

    The journey for me is a no brainer, it’s a balance of enviroment and good travel vs Price and the train journey for me is as exciting as when I caught a flight with mum and dad in the good fun days of air travel.

    Before I finish, we missed our Eurostar train on the way home, we approached the ticket desk at 11:55 and we were travelling on the 12:13 with no extra cost. Tell me how you’d get on at the Ryannair / Easyjet check-in desk trying the same thing.

  2. Will says:
    January 26th, 2010 at 22:28

    Hi Dave, thanks for the comments.

    With regards to the Brussels train I should point out that I wrote this piece several months ago when all this info was fresh from the Deutsche Bahn website. It may well be slightly out of date by now.

    I otherwise completely agree with you about the use of time when flying against the train. If only more people thought a bit more before logging on to and consigning their mental well-being to the dustbin and damaging the environment at the same time.


  3. Hans says:
    February 4th, 2010 at 13:47

    Personally I also find train travel more comfortable (for many of the reasons already mentioned by Dave).

    Besides taking a night train (currently indeed via Paris), you can also travel during daytime. London – Berlin can be done in just over 9 hours, if you don’t mind changing trains in Brussels and Cologne.

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