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I have reserved a train ticket with seat reservation from Hamburg Hbf to Aachen on IC 2403. However, I would like to board the train at the next stop (Hamburg - Harburg). Would my reservation still be valid even if I board at the next station or am I not allowed to board the train from the next station?

I have read this question, but unfortunately it is about a night train whereas mine is not.

  • 1
    interesting question! – Fattie Sep 8 '16 at 7:06
  • This is actually a useful question... I've taken lots of German intercity trains, and usually the ticket checker person only gets around to validating tickets once the train is relatively outside the city and passengers are more of less settled. So they might not even know or care to know when you boarded. But I think this can vary a lot. I've been on trains that had jobsworth ticket checkers with OCD who checked every time the train stopped. – unknownprotocol Sep 11 '16 at 1:19
46

Your ticket would still be valid for the whole journey. However if you have a seat reservation, officially you have to occupy your place within 15 minutes from departure, otherwise your seat reservation will be void (your ticket still is fine).

  • Please note that your seat reservation is only kept for up to 15 minutes after the train has departed.

    Source: Deutsche Bahn website, click the information tab (thanks to @Neusser for the link)

and

  • Verfall der Reservierung

    Beachten Sie, dass die Sitzplatzreservierung 15 Minuten nach Abfahrt des Zuges erlischt. Wenn Sie den Platz nicht rechtzeitig einnehmen, haben Sie später keinen Anspruch mehr auf den Sitzplatz.

    Source: Bahnreise-Wiki on German trains (in German)

They further advise you to mark your seat as occupied should you get up during the train journey, e.g. by leaving a jacket on your seat and advising your neighbors.

Wenn Sie während der Fahrt den Sitzplatz verlassen (beispielsweise für den Besuch im Speisewagen) sollten Sie den Platz durch eine Jacke oder eine Tasche als belegt kennzeichnen. Informieren Sie am besten auch die Mitreisenden, um zu verhindern, dass die zurückgelassenen Gegenstände als Fundsachen oder herrenlose und damit verdächtige Gepäckstücke behandelt werden.

Practically in your case this should not be a problem for two reasons:

  • as has been pointed out in a comment by @simbabque, very often (always on this train class?) the departure station of a reservation is only displayed as "city" and not "city-station", i.e. in your case you will find "Hamburg - Aachen" instead of "Hamburg-Hbf - Aachen-Hbf". (However I do not know when your reservation will disappear from the display - 15 mins after departure from Hamburg-Hbf, Hamburg-Harburg or upon a manual action by the train crew.)

  • but in any case departure from Hamburg-Harburg is 11 mins after the one from Hamburg-Hbf according to schedule and you would still have 4 mins in Hamburg-Harburg to get to your seat to be within time (and not even Germans would time you to the second on that).

Besides that, the advice in @o.m.'s answer (+1) holds true as well.

  • 1
    @Neusser it's 15mins actually, I updated my answer. – mts Sep 8 '16 at 8:34
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    The German Befoerderungsbedingungen talk about the 15 minutes reservation deadline in point 5.1. The reservation display also just says Hamburg. Inside of the train it's not clear if it's Harburg, Hauptbahnhof or Dammtor. Same in Berlin with Ostbahnhof, Hauptbahnhof, Spandau and so on. – simbabque Sep 8 '16 at 9:17
  • 1
    @mts that's a regional train (RE1) and seems to be an exception that it has reservations for commuters with yearly tickets. ICs and ICEs don't have that. They have bahn-comfort instead for commuter ticket holders, but you are not entitled to a reservation with a commuter ticket. ICs and ICEs just list the city for regular reservations. – simbabque Sep 8 '16 at 9:31
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    Since Harburg is the first stop after Hamburg, it is unlikely anyway that someone getting on the train in Hamburg without reservation immediately tries to occupy a seat with a reservation display over it. - However, it is quite common that the display is broken and you find some unsuspecting passenger in your seat. In that case, it is helpfu to have the 15 minute regulation on your side ... – Hagen von Eitzen Sep 8 '16 at 11:10
  • 1
    "very often (always on this train class?) the departure station of a reservation is only displayed as "city" and not "city-station"" - at least on ICE trains (or trains with electronic reservation displays in general), that may or may not be a helpful hint, as the display will automatically be cleared after those 15 minutes have passed. Whether those 15 minutes start counting after the exact station or the last station in the respective city, I don't know by heart. – O. R. Mapper Sep 8 '16 at 20:15
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Most German trains have a mix of reserved and non-reserved seats. Passengers without a reservation often take reserved seats when they are empty as the train leaves the station (if there are no free non-reserved seats nearby). If the train is very crowded and people cannot go to their reserved seats, it is also common to just take any unoccupied seat to clear the aisle, and to sort the seating out later when most other people have found a place.

If you have a reservation, you should politely inform the person in your seat that it is yours. That person should politely leave the seat and look for another one. Don't feel offended because someone sits on your seat. If the person on the seat doesn't understand you, ask a bystander to translate, and to verify that you are in the right carriage. If that doesn't work, talk to the conductor.

Last but not least, you are not required to sit on your reserved place if there are other free seats in the same class. If the train isn't full, that might be the least stressful option.

  • I can confirm all of this, +1 – mts Sep 8 '16 at 8:31
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    "verify that you are in the right carriage", good advice from experience :) – Carsten S Sep 8 '16 at 10:44
  • @CarstenS: To complement that with some practical instructions: The carriage numbers are indicated within the carriage. Once you trespass a slightly darker, flexible-seeming section, you are trespassing the boundary between carriages. I have met plenty of (German) travellers over the years who seemed to be unaware of that (or at least did not interpret the internal structure of the train correctly), so they assumed to be in carriage (w.l.o.g.) 9 after walking past the sign "carriage 9" ... at the end of the adjacent carriage. – O. R. Mapper Sep 8 '16 at 20:13
  • @mts I can confirm all but the most. If you deduct Hamburg–Copenhagen and night trains, all do ;) – Jan Sep 8 '16 at 23:03
5

I have one addition that might be useful and that is that you can always change your reservation for free once before you travel. You could therefore ask DB if they can change your reservation from your new boarding train station to Aachen.

Flexible change of the reservation:

• New flexible process for changing the reservation only

• It is possible to change the reservation once free of charge, even on the first day of validity

• This can be done for all tickets booked via the sales channel that was previously used as well as by visiting the DB travel centres and the DB agencies

Source here

  • 2
    +1 good point but I'm not sure whether "change of reservation" means only change of date/train or also change of boarding station. The linked document is not overly clear to me in that regard, but sure worth trying. – mts Sep 8 '16 at 9:05
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You seem to be most concerned about your reservation, but on German trains it is the ticket you should be most concerned about. Without a valid ticket, you may be charged a fine (and potentially prosecuted — commonly repeat offenders only) and may be removed from the train. Without a valid reservation, you can just sit anywhere else. If you can make convincing phaenotypical arguments that you need a seat (i.e. you have a medical condition or are a fragile-looking senior citizen), somebody will vacate one for you upon request. Reservations are also not checked by the train staff but tickets are.


For most cities in Germany that have multiple long-distance train stations, these are treated as if they were the same station. So while your itinerary may read Berlin central to Leipzig, you can also get on the train in either Berlin Gesundbrunnen or Berlin Südkreuz at no extra cost. Typically, for these kind of stations tickets are not checked until the final one is reached and the train staff perform other general tasks and show availability for questions during that time.[1]

However, unluckily the stations of Hamburg (central) and Hamburg-Harburg belong to two different clusters, treated differently by fare rules. This can be found in DB’s gigantic PDF file of stations treated equally.[2]

But then again, this will likely not matter much. Since there is so little time (by IC(E) standards) between Hamburg central and Hamburg-Harburg, the train staff will likely not bother performing any checks until they left Harburg. You may possibly even get away with buying a ticket to Harburg but boarding/alighting the train in Hamburg central. (Note however, that I am not recommending it. If I do it, I get caught by Murphy’s law every time.)

Since your ticket reads Hamburg (not HH-Harburg), both boarding and alighting in Harburg can easily be done without any risk: The train staff have no means of finding out whether you boarded at Hamburg central, Altona or Harburg, and if you left the train before your ticket’s final station, that’s your problem.


As mentioned, the staff don’t care about your reservation unless you approach them with an issue. As other answers have already stated:

  • reservations are typically displayed as city to city, not station to station
  • you can claim your reserved seat up to 15 minutes post-departure before you forfeit it.

The second bullet points has a number of caveats, though. For one, many people don’t know about the 15-minute rule and will vacate your seat if you approach them showing your reservation. For two, the 15 minutes should count from Hamburg central, since that is the Hamburg-cluster’s mother station. Reason: All reservation displays from a certain city typically disappear at the same time.

As a final note, I want to restate that often people will sit in your seat. After you have confirmed being on the correct train and in the correct car, simply approach them and ask to get your seat, saying it is reserved. They were probably sitting there because they were feeling lucky or because they didn’t check the display. Regularly, reserved seats remain unclaimed.


Notes:

[1]: There is a journey distance cutoff for this which is usually 100 km. Taking an ICE from (e.g.) Augsburg to Munich will have different fares depending on whether you alight at Pasing or Munich central.

[2]: Help for reading the German document: The first column tells you what your ticket (or reservation) will say. The third contains a list of stations that are deemed equivalent with the ‘mother station’ (the one determining price and distance) bolded. The fourth column is the distance cutoff, i.e. you need to travel at least that far to benefit. If there is a star in the second column, the information is not valid for regional commuting tickets.

[3]: This is true for every city that has multiple stops for long-distance trains: Hamburg, Berlin, Hannover (during fair times), Munich. Note the exception: Frankfurt airport is typically considered a separate station but only very few long-distance trains call at Frankfurt airport and the central station.

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