“Want to travel” is not an adequate translation of Spirit of adventure. The splendid German word resonates with wandering and roaming (in the non-telephone sense) wherever your heart takes you. And this summer spirit of adventure is powered by the best deal in railroad history.
Thanks to the kindness of hard-working German taxpayers, you can take your moods and dreams through the heart of Europe for a flat rate of €9 – a single ticket covering each of June, July and august.
The “9-Euro-Ticket” (as the German railways call it) covers all but the fastest trains, as well as the U-Bahn and S-Bahn networks in cities, as well as trams, most buses and even ferry services on the Elbe. in Hamburg.
Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries, editors of Europe by trainsum up the opportunities precisely: “Roam Germany at your leisure, discover rural paths and explore distant cities.”
However, you are unlikely to wander alone like a cloud on the rails of the federal republic this summer. The ticket went on sale last month. I boarded a commuter train in Cologne shortly after midnight on June 1, the first day of the deal, along with 100 other people. In the first two days I saw the crowds grow as I progressed through Dusseldorf and Dortmund to Hamburg and then to beautiful Flensburg on the Danish border.
“He’s certainly been popular,” says Mark Smith, the international rail guru known as The Man In Seat 61 – adding: “There’s been some grumbling about overcrowding.”
Weekends have proven to be particularly busy, and German railways are now warning passengers: “If you are returning home from a journey, do not wait for the last train as it may be very busy.”
Five weeks later, however, things are looking up. Many people use the €9 ticket as an alternative to journeys they would otherwise have made by car – the basic purpose of the ticket.
A smaller number of purposeful, budget-conscious travelers are traveling long distances. All travel across the country is perfectly feasible using a series of “Regional Express” trains.
I realized early on, however, that investing in an express or two can improve your journey: €29 (£25) was perhaps more than three times the cost of the original ticket, but it was well spent for a 2h20 journey with private operator Flixtrain from Münster in Westfalia to Hamburg, while the alternative for the 175 mile journey was to change trains twice and double the journey time.
(Incidentally, in a complex corner of the €9 ticket rules, you learn that if the train you have chosen is more than 20 minutes late, you can buy a ticket on an express and submit it to the rights service center passengers for a full refund. )
Wonderfully, go-to European rail experts Nicky and Susanne even explained how you can travel to the nine countries bordering Germany without having to pay a penny more.
From the beautiful Swiss city of Basel, you can cross to Salzburg in Austria using Deutsche Rail trains; visit the Czech Republic and Poland through a few wavy borders; take a detour via Tønder in Denmark; delve into the Netherlands and Belgium by bus from Aachen; and the breeze in eastern France using trains to Sarrguemines or Wissembourg.
The nineth? Luxembourg, the nation that created its own public transport revolution in 2020 when train, bus and tram fares were scrapped. Germany is about 135 times bigger and completely free transport is surely several generations away.
The €9 ticket is very unlikely to be extended past 11.59pm on August 31 (when I fully intend to be on a train in Germany). After that I can go back to the Quer-durchs-Land-Ticket – the €42 (£36) day ticket which covers the same transport. But I hope the summer of spirit of adventure may trigger a permanent lower price option to continue our love affair with the Bahn.