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From the word "Ruhebereich" I would expect very quiet surroundings, but it has not been my experience. Passengers have no reservations about carrying on conversations, and families show up with small children.

So what should I expect from a quiet zone?

(Just for context; in Denmark the quiet zone on IC3 trains is silent - no talking, no children)

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  • The primary meaning for Ruhebereich - Englisch-Übersetzung – Linguee Wörterbuch is rest/relaxation area. You are mixing up Ruhe (rest) with ruhig (quite). Oct 19, 2022 at 8:54
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    @Mark Johnson "Ruhe bitte" = "be quiet please" (Ruhe being a noun here). According to google image search, the stickers in the ICE actually also have "quiet zone", "Area del silencio" and other captions.
    – Jan
    Oct 19, 2022 at 17:08
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    Re "in Denmark the quiet zone on IC3 trains is silent": Yes, usually, but not always (north bound in the middle of the day in Southern Denmark is particularly bad (mostly young people)) Oct 19, 2022 at 22:34
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    @MarkJohnson: Firstly, the explanation at bahn.de goes on "... oder sonstige lärmende Tätigkeiten nicht erwünscht." ("...or other noisy activities are not welcome"). Note also that they explicity request to not even hear loud music by headphone. Secondly, the "Psst"-icon with finger before the mouth very clearly depicts the German gesture for "stop talking [so loudly]/be silent". Both IMHO point very clearly to the meaning of this Ruhezohne including the low noise meaning of the word Ruhe. In any case, I'd argue that the German word Ruhe always has both connotations at the same time. Oct 20, 2022 at 16:43
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    On a more serious note, I have been reprimanded for conducting a loud conversation with my American partner for an extended period of time. I had not noticed we were in a Ruhezone. While quiet conversations can hardly be generally forbidden it is at least impolite to have lively conversations. What you can actually enforce is unclear but the gist of the designation is clear enough, and it boils down to being polite and considerate. Oct 21, 2022 at 7:46

2 Answers 2

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Here's what DB says about them:

Ruhebereich
Für Fahrgäste, die sich mehr Ruhe und Entspannung wünschen, haben wir unsere Ruhezonen optimiert. Sie befinden sich entweder in Abteilen, den ICE Lounges (Abteile hinter dem Fahrzeugführer) oder in kompletten Wagen. In diesem Bereich sind Handytelefonate, Klingeltöne, lautes Musikhören (auch via Kopfhörer) oder sonstige lärmende Tätigkeiten nicht erwünscht.

I couldn't find an equivalent page on the English site, so I'll do a rough translation myself:

Quiet zone
Our quiet zones are optimised for passengers who want more peace and quiet. They can be found in compartments, ICE lounges or in whole carriages. In these areas, phone calls, ringtones, loud music (including through headphones) and other loud activities are not welcome.

In principle, people shouldn't be making phone calls or having loud conversations in the Ruhebereich. It's not a silent zone and you shouldn't be surprised if passengers travelling together talk to each other, but it is a quiet zone and they should make an effort to keep their voices down while doing so.

If other passengers are being noisy (as opposed to just not being silent), you'd be well within your rights to point out where they are and ask them to adjust their volume/location. But I've not had to do this personally and couldn't tell you how it's likely to be received. I would note that I find the signage not especially clear (relatively small stickers in places you probably aren't paying attention to when trying to find seats, especially if doing so with small children in tow!). I can easily imagine that a lot of those not respecting the quiet zone simply don't realise they're in one at all.

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    The signs are now considerably larger than in the past (along the whole wall above the windows). And I repeatedly notice people asking other people to be more quiet / go outside for their phone call. In most of the cases this works fine and other passengers are actually grateful. Oct 19, 2022 at 16:24
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    The signs are quite visible, but not so visible that one cannot miss them anyway. My experience is that not all people will be grateful when you point out the quiet zone, but most will be quiet(er) anyway. Obviously if the train is full and children just cannot keep quiet pointing out the quiet zone might be relatively futile. But it can work well if the train is less than half-full or so.
    – Jan
    Oct 19, 2022 at 17:01
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    Sorry, but us Germans just will sternly look at the loud people until they realize their erronous ways instead of directly confronting them.
    – Erik
    Oct 20, 2022 at 11:43
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    @quarague That's not true. The Familienbereich is something extra and not present in all the trains i've been on. Some have special family compartments, some a designated area in the undivided areas, some have none of those. The two other zones are the Ruhezone and the "Telefonzone", a telephone zone.
    – arne
    Oct 20, 2022 at 13:59
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    The reservation system also sometimes allocates seat reservations for families with small children into the quiet zone, without the family having asked for that.
    – florian
    Oct 21, 2022 at 8:48
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Don't expect anything. It's sad but true; if I had time to think about it, I would probably come up with dozens of examples where Germans just ignore rules that are not enforced by anyone.

I'm not sure how many people are aware that there are "quiet zones" and "phone zones" on an ICE train. When you book a seat online, you get to choose which zone you want, I'm not sure about the machines at the station. But as you can board any ICE train without a reservation, I guess a large number of people never noticed the small stickers on the door. Most of them will be happy they found a seat no matter which zone.

Even if people were aware, I doubt it would make much of a difference. There will always be one person to ignore the quiet zone (knowingly or unknowingly), and instead of telling them to stop, a lot of Germans tend to let it go and instead start ignoring the quiet zone themselves. As a result, anyone coming in will not notice that they are in a quiet zone and also engage in conversations and stuff...

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    There is the option of speaking up. Saying "This is a quiet zone." and pointing at the sign is usually sufficient. Maybe they are just ignorant...Swedes! Selbstjustiz can work (may not be the right word). Alternatively, (discreetly) letting the conductor know about it (e.g., by hand signs, without saying anything), so they can enforce it. Oct 19, 2022 at 22:43
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    "Handy", just like "beamer" and "public viewing" are German words that seem to be English but aren't used or understood outside of Germany. Oct 20, 2022 at 11:23
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    @PeterMortensen In my experience, speaking up will work with about 20%. The other 80% will tell you to mind your own business in a more or less friendly way... Selbstjustiz has a way stronger meaning than just speaking up, but I currently fail to find a good german word for what you mean (maybe because it's not a typical german thing to do?!?).
    – Sabine
    Oct 21, 2022 at 14:49
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    @EricDuminil Thanks for the reminder. In theory, I know; in practice, I sometimes forget...
    – Sabine
    Oct 21, 2022 at 14:50

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