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I'm soon taking the ICE train from Hamburg to Copenhagen on an Interrail pass.

During July and August, seat reservation is compulsory on this train if crossing the German–Danish border. I'm taking the 15:28 train on Sunday 17 July.

My questions are:

  1. Can I buy the reservation on the train, or would I have to do it at the desk in Hamburg?
  2. Is it likely all seats will sell out, and if so, how early?
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    If you already know which train you want to take, you should buy your reservation as soon as possible. I believe you can buy them from the German rail site, bahn.de/p_en/view/index.shtml Fill out the stations, adjust the date and time, check the seat reservation only. I have done so and it says 'reservation impossible. I have changed the date to one further ahead and get a button 'reservation'. I fear for your chosen date and time all seats are sold already. Which will likely mean that you can not get any reservations, certainly not on the train. – Willeke Jul 1 '16 at 17:07
  • On this Train you cannot reserve online – Crazydre Jul 1 '16 at 17:36
  • Are you sure? I have found the option to reserve later in the year, in August. The German planner site is not as helpful as it used to be in the past, but I am pretty sure you can reserve all available trains online. I double checked and on 18th September you can make a seat reservation for this train as well as on others for the day. – Willeke Jul 1 '16 at 17:46
  • I chcked now and you're right. Very very weird, because I called the Hotline and they said there are still 69 seats left on my date – Crazydre Jul 1 '16 at 17:50
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    Maybe they keep a few for those passengers booking on stations or via the hotline. Anyhow, I would book that reservation as soon as possible, via hotline if possible. Otherwise through a main station wherever you are. – Willeke Jul 1 '16 at 17:51
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During that time of year, the connection Hamburg–Copenhagen is very busy. Before they introduced compulsory reservation in the summer months, I had a train that was so full, I had to almost physically fight my way to my resered seat, and this almost happened. (They did leave in the end — with a delay — but still very packed.)

Thus, you should reserve a seat at the earliest possible moment (i.e. once you have decided on a connection). This is easiest via bahn.de, which has an option in the buy tickets dialogue to only buy a reservation. It is very likely all the seats will sell out at one point (especially for the trains that are not the first or last on a given date) but I can’t predict when that will be.

The next time when I travelled on it (summer 2014), DB security service appeared on the platform in Hamburg before the train entered. Once the train came to a stop, each door was guarded by one or two of these security officials, whose job it was to make sure nobody boarded the train without a valid reservation. Thus, I very much assume that the answer is no — they won’t even let you board without a reservation. (That year, the travel was much more comfortable — you could actually walk through the corridors.)

You could attempt to circumvent this by taking a regional train to Lübeck and boarding the ICE to Copenhagen there. I can’t remember whether DB security service was on that station, too. (Since the next stops — Oldenburg (Holst) and Puttgarden — are very inconvenient to get to, that is even less an option.)

Note that once you crossed over into Denmark, a second unit is typically added to the train (in Nykøbing Falster, iirc). Since many people prefer to stay on their reserved seats and not move their luggage (in spite of many announcements by the train crew that an almost empty unit has been added), you should find lots of free space from then onwards. The Danish leg has no compulsory reservation, since space is no longer a concern. (Danish single tickets come with free reservation afaik, though.)


Note that this answer is written concerning the ICE trains Hamburg–Copenhagen. The situation will be different on other trains with compulsory reservation such as night trains (CNL and EN until December, only EN after that) or other high-speed trains (e.g. Thalys).

  • I would say ‘I’m going to take one of them this year, I’ll tell you when I did and amend to the answer’ but it turns out that that won’t be until you’ve travelled. (I’ll miss it by a week or so.) – Jan Jul 2 '16 at 18:01
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    Feel free to update your answer nonetheless, all Q&A stay here for interested readers, the idea is not only to help one person but also to build a resource that can be useful to many. In the meantime, you have a +1 from me! – Relaxed Jul 2 '16 at 18:13
  • @Relaxed Yeah, I was going to, but trying to be as helpful to OP as possible etc. etc. you know the game ;) Thanks for the upvote, I’ll treasure it ;) – Jan Jul 2 '16 at 18:18
  • @Jan Also you cannot book a seat on my Chosen date on bahn.de even though the phone customer Service told me there are 18 seats left. I decided to order it online through SBB (where it costs CHF 5, same as EUR 4.5 which it costs through DB) – Crazydre Jul 3 '16 at 12:53
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    @Jan TGV trains don't have a compulsory reservation within Germany. As soon as you cross the border you need a reservation (same with the Alleo ICE to France). – neo Jul 3 '16 at 16:32

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