If we take these two groups of three countries, they all have different railway companies, but do they illustrate a problem in the relations between various EU countries.
I know my experience of travelling between these six countries is mainly on the trains, but to travel between England, Scotland and Wales by train, is a lot easier than travelling between Belgium and The Netherlands and the Netherlands and Germany is full of little difficulties.
Strangely if you add France into the mix, that is generally as easy as the three home nations.
Judging by my experience in Europe, there are many ways that the Scots and Welsh could make the English unwelcome. But they don’t, except for the Seniors Bus Pass, although the same Senior Railcard is valid everywhere in the UK.
I know we’re all part of the same country, but I think where something has to be agreed across a border, we generally find a solution that is acceptable enough!
In the important area of rail ticketing, there seems little agreement on common standards between Belgium, The Netherlands and Germany.
Imagine how difficult it would be if ScotRail had different ticketing rules to say Virgin.
Surely, if Europe can’t get its act together in something like rail ticketing, how can it get something important like dealing with migrants working?
There has been a YouTube video entitled Für Laura, which shows a German getting his own back on his wife, by cutting everything they own in half.
It now turns out that it was all a hoax by the German Bar Association in their on-line magazine .
Who said lawyers don’t have a sense of humour?
And who said Germans don’t have a sense of hunour?
The title of this post comes from Noel Coward’s wartime comic song – Don’t Let’s Be Beastly to the Germans.
Generally, the Germany has got more visitor-friendly and on this trip their restaurant menus have improved beyond recognition for coeliacs and other allergy sufferers.
But there is one thing, where the reality does not live up to the German reputation for good design, reliability and efficiency.
Deutsche Bann, their trains and some stations just doesn’t cut the mustard. Or whatever they say in Germany.
In a related area, the local trams, metros and buses I’ve used are much better, even if in some cities, the maps and information aren’t up to the standard of the better cities like Munich or Leipzig!
On the train from Brunswick to Osnabruck, I was talking with a commuter and he was saying his commute was often late.
One thing you notice in Germany, as that on important main-line routes, trains are not as frequent, as you’d find in say France, Italy or the UK, which seems to have the most frequent trains in Europe.
Comparing Berlin-Hamburg with the London-Liverpool route I know well, shows that for direct trains, the cost is about the same and there is one train an hour on both routes. But Liverpool also has two extra trains each hour, which are only a few minutes slower with a change at Crewe.
But the journeys on this trip, where I was doing an hour or so journey on a main line, I usually had the choice of just one train every two hours.
So when planning a train trip in Germany, make sure you plan well and never rely on if you miss a train, they’ll be another one along soon!
I have found that it is often better to take the slower regional trains, as I did several times on this trip, as although they are slower, many are double-deck and you can hide yourself upstairs and watch the countryside go by.
But I think German regional trains are more under control of the individual state or area, rather than Deutsche Bahn.
If this is the case and coupled with the often excellent interchanges at stations to trams and buses, this must be a good argument for local control of train services. But then as a Londonder could I believe anything else?
The German automatic ticketing machines work well, but be prepared to wear out your fingers.
I counted that to buy a simple ticket from Liepzig to Braunschweig took a dozen menu choices and that didn’t count typing in the names.
Increasingly, in the UK, our trains are a level step from train to platform and vice-versa. Look at this wide easy-entry door on a Class 378 train.
Regularly you see wheelchair-users push themselves across. This is a typical entrance to a Deutsche Bahn IC train.
With my eye-sight, I sometimes miss my footing and in Germany, I worry about putting my foot in the often big gap between train and platform, which is never level.
As to wheelchair users in Germany they must despair. I thought that EU disability regulations meant trains had to be disabled-friendly.
Nearly all the trains had displays for traffic announcement, but the information was a bit thin. As the Belgians were more comprehensive, I suspect it’s just the way they’ve programmed the system.
When you are a tourist in an area you don’t know well, you really do need adequate warning of your station. With Deutsche Bahn you don’t get it every time!
I shall finish this rant later!
Cologne station is one of those stations, which is an ideal place to break a journey.
This Google Map image shows the closeness of the station, the cathedral and the river.
As Cologne from 2018 or so, a service will run direct from London, Cologne will become more important for those travelling to and from London.
Leipzig Airport station is unusual.
I have just read this story on the BBC web site entitled The Blind Breast Cancer Detectors. Here’s the first paragraph.
Women being screened for breast cancer in Germany may find themselves in the hands of a blind examiner. The idea has been around for a few years, and unpublished research suggests that it really works – that blind people can in fact detect tumours earlier than their sighted counterparts.
Now I’ve never had cancer, but C had breast cancer and she found the lump herself, which the GP discounted. It was later confirmed by a specialist.
But in Penang in Malaysia, we were staying at the Mutiara hotel. My back was giving me trouble, so C suggested I had a massage.It was probably the most successful massage I’ve ever had.
And the masseur was blind! They explained that the Malaysian government was training them to work in the luxury hotels of the country.
I thought at the time, it was a good idea. I still think it is and after reading the BBC article, I think that the sensitive fingers of the blind may go a lot further than relieving tension in my spine.
The train arrived in Basel on time, but due to a misunderstanding with the public address, I got out at the German station rather than the Swiss one.
So I lost about half-an-hour on my way to Mulhouse. I then had to go to virtually a separate station to get my French train.
Surely for reasons of efficiency, the three stations should be more integrated.
Deutche Bahn is not the most difficult railway system to use, but from the German part of my trip, it is worthwhile following a few rules.
1. Learn to use the ticket machines
The standard DB ticket machines work well, and as well as issuing tickets are a good way of finding the train to do a later or next day journey.
2. Don’t expect the same frequency you get in the UK
I’ve just looked up Kassel to Frankfurt and compared to say Norwich to London, which is a similar journey, there are perhaps half the trains.
Because of this always make sure you plan the train you are going to use for the next leg of the journey before say you explore something you’ve come to see.
Turn up and go often means a two-hour wait for even the simplest journey.
As an example, at Darmstadt I checked and found the next-but-one direct train to Karlsruhe left in three hours, which was good for my break and explore in the city. So I bought the ticket there and then.
There were other trains, but they meant going back to Frankfurt to get an ICE. These tickets were more expensive.
3. Use the regional trains
As I did between Kassel and Frankfurt, don’t ignore the regional trains, as often they are cheaper and usually pretty comfortable, and often with a panoramic view from a top deck. They may be a bit slower, but often they are less crowded.
4. Take as little luggage as you can
Often German trains are not the level access we see so often in the UK, like on the Overground, so cut your luggage to a minimum, unless you want to lug cases up and down steps.
5. Be prepared for lots of steps
Some stations have lifts and escalators, but most just have steps and some are exceedingly long.
6.Plan your route in detail before you leave
7. Investigate the Bahn cards
If you do a lot of travel on German trains, a Bahn card may be a good idea.
8. Don’t expect to see helpful staff
You do occasionally, but usually you’re left to your own devices and the excellent ticket machines. And if things go really wrong, like they did for me last year at Osnabruck, you won’t get a hotel.
9. A warning about on-line ticketing
When you buy on-line there is no problem and I think it can sometimes be cheaper than a machine. But as in some UK machines for shorter journeys the machines now give a best price, if you discount a specific advanced purchase.
I bought my ticket for Brussels to Kassel on-line before I left and as Deutsche Bahn don’t accept Amex, which is my usual travel card, on-line, I used another credit card.
The ticket inspector needed to see this, as of course I didn’t have an identity card. I don’t think passports are acceptable, as your identity card must be entered in the on-line purchase.
These sort of rules, are perhaps a good reason to use the ticket machines for all shorter journeys.
Work out your methods and at least plan your route before you leave. But don’t bother to buy lads of individual tickets, as German trains do seem to drop me in it, more than say Virgin, East Midlands or First Great Western.