A lot has been written about Germany’s summer spectacular the 9-Euro Ticket, so I can keep this brief. Conceived as a stop-gap meassure agains rising transport costs in the wake of the Russian attack on the Ukraine, this all-you-can-travel stub achieved instant popularity with commuters and tourists alike. For a symbolic cover of nine Euros, it entitles its holder to a month of unlimited travel on almost all regional and local trains in the entire republic, as well as all urban modes of transports. Unlike with the so-called Ländertickets there are no exclusion periods or other limitations.
9-Euro Tickets can be purchased throgh Deutsche Bahn’s app or website as well as their ticket machines. Also most local transport companies sell it. German-way.com has more useful information here.
But hurry: This unique offer which is quite unusual für car-fixated Germany will end in August 2022 and it is unlikely to be extended.
Trip Report Sonthofen to Leipzig (June 2022)
This trip is unusual in so far as it covers a long-distance train jorney of almost 600 KMs. Most trips on the 9-Euro Tickets are probably shorter, as it is extremly popular für shopping or weekend trips. On such a long journey you will feel the effect of slower trains much more. To give you an idea, travelling on ano rdinary ticket woud have meant a jourey time of just 5HRS 29 MINs as opposed to the 9HRS 09 MINs on the 9-Euro Ticket itinary. It woud have set me back between 84 and 104 Euros, so the financial benefit is considerable.
Taking regional trains obviously means a lot of changes, however, this particular trip required just three of them. In fact the route is a bit of a 9-Euro „travel hack“ as it avoids some very busy sections, such as those north of Nuremberg towards Berlin. It also cheats on train categories a bit, as the ALEX between Munich and Hof should in fairness count as a long-distance train, being similar to Deutsche Bahn’s Interregio trains from the 1990ies in terms of comfort and ameneties. A little warning though, there is one bottleneck, Hof, where onward travel to Leipzig or Dresden is on tiny railcars that fill up to capacity really quick.
But let’s start at the beginning which is in Sonthofen, Germany’s southernmost town and the place where I grew up. Its rather oversized station builing from the 1930s has long been decommissioned and is due to become a hostel in 2023. The fact that trains are still servicing it is a little miracle, as it is a an outrageously impractical single-track, non electrified branch line (Immenstadt-Oberstdorf), tacked to an underused, also diesel only, secondary throughfare (Munich-Lindau). Somehow it survied the railway closure fests of the 1970s and 80s, probably due to the relevance for alpine tourism.
To this day there are two InterCity pairs into Oberstdorf, connecting the upper Allgäu region with Hamburg and Bochum. They loose 20 minutes in Immenstadt where their engines have to be shunted from one end of the train to the other, which is outright anachronistic, but watching them pulled through the beautiful rural setting by one or two sturdy 218 diesel engines is quite a sight.
Today’s ride is a little more down to earth with one of Deutsche Bahn’s bread & butter series 612 diesel railcars. Introduced about 20 years ago, they do show their age a little and while the seats are reasonable comfortable for a regional train, I really dislike their air-con/heating system which keeps them hot and stuffy all year round. The low air quality in their cabins does not mix well with their tilting system and I always leave them a little dizzy.
On this particular day outside temperatures were pleaseant and the ride to Buchloe passed quickly. Against my expectations the train was full leaving the Bavarian alps with school groups taking a trip to Augsburg’s zoo, middle aged passengers with errands in the district capital, university students heading back after a weekend and a lot of pensioners wich seemed to be in just fpr the fun of it.
Unfortunaltely, my train from Sonthofen had to wait for a second train section out of Lindau, which was delayed by almost half an hour. So I had to modify my trip, cutting my changeover in Munich short. It worked pretty well, even so I had to rely on my mobile’s data plan as there was no WiFi available.
A little over an hour into the trip my affiliation with Deutsche Bahn for this day was already over. From Buchloe all the way to Leipzig the rest of this trip would take place on private operators. Really tells you a lot about how diversified regional trains operations have become in Germany.
While not all private operators are better that the „federal“ railway, Go Ahead Bayern definitively tries. Their rolling stock is modern, bright, well airconditioned and features WiFi. Some of their baggage racks, however, are placed weirdly in a high and in accessible position (only usable by professional basketball players).
Their staff is nice albeit a little overmotivated – their PA-anouncements make the procedure of combining two trains into one sound like an orbital docking manoeuvre. Again, the train was full to capacity.
As my transfer in München Hauptbahnhof was cut short by the earlier delay, I had to skip buying pretzels and Paulaner Spezi and proceeded straight to my next train, wich was the ALEX service to Hof.
This turned out to be the most comfortable ride of the day. The ALEX is composed of a motley assortment of cars offering either nostalgic compartments, open plan seating and even a doble-decker car. Each car offers some type of creature comfort – you just have to find out which you prefer. Compartment carriages offer a lot space and comfortable seats as well as power ports, the double-decker great views and modern aircon.
There also are bike racks and even a small café. The latter was closed and as the – btw rather grumpy, guard – never mentiond this fact, I presume that it has not been open in a while.
Almost every seat was taken on ths train but luckily yours truly managed to secure one of the best seats in the house, a single seat with a luggage rack next to it on the upper deck. Besides the comfortable cars this leg feels pleasant for another reason: its leisurly pace and relatively long sections between stations.
The train cruises north past Munich’s international airport and reaches Regensburg after some 90 minutes. Shortly after leaving Regensburg you cross the Danube river which is an important european watershed. It also marks the northern border of the alpine region as well as the frontier of the economic powerhouse of Munich/Upper Bavaria. Beyound Regensburg diesel fumes occasionaly fill the cars – the signature scent of Germany’s rural periphery.
The mix of fellow passengers changes as well and they become more mysteroius too. What kind of salad have those two seniour citizens brought along and why is does it have to be transported packed like a shipment of live organs? What does the American family have in those six massive suitcases? How does the elderly turkish lady travel with several canaries in two enormous birdcages?
By the time I had reached Hof after about six hours of travel, I crossed Bavaria almost to the maximum north/south expansion. The last leg was on a local train classified as a Regionalbahn (RB) which is the slowest train category doing frequent stops. Also, the tiny diesel railcar was bursting with travellers, as it was much smaller than the ALEX into Hof and most passengers continued to either Leipzig or Dresden (on an equally small train).
With some luck and a little bit of active queing,I secured a seat in which I was stuck for the coming hurs, as every bit of space in the aisles was full. Event thogh these chairs were the only ones with tray tables they are not meant for long legs and my back and knees started hurting pretty soon.
RBs tend to be bare bones an I felt really sorry for my seatmate who asked the guard for a place to charge his phone (and gladly borrowed him my power bank).
When the train entered Gera the mood got a little agressive, a even more passengers, some with bikes, pushed aboard. Fortunately, a second car with available space was coupled with ours. After another 2 1/2 Hours the RB pulled into Leipzig’s impressive central station.
Legs and Rolling stock:
Sonthofen – Buchloe
Deutsche Bahn: Bombardier BR 612 diesel railcar
Buchloe – Munich
Go Ahead: Stadler Flirt3 electric railcar
Munich – Regensburg – Hof
ALEX: Siemens Euro Sprinter electric engine / Euro Runner diesel-electric engine with miscellaneaous cars
Hof – Leipzig
Erfurter Bahn: Adtranz Regio Shuttle RS 1
In a Nutshell
So to my utter astonishment it i s possible to get people to use public transport and to put up with a few train changes and longer travel times. Too bad that this project requires too much sunsidies to be a permanent option. The trip itself was fun, yet a little drawn out – and it required a lot of planning before and even during the journey.
Even if the 9-Euro Ticket should come back in the summer of 2023, I would probably go for itinaries that are a little shorter.