Exploring cultures and communities – the slow way

hidden europe Notes

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by hidden europe

A few days ago I travelled by train from the Berlin suburb of Lichterfelde to Ewell in England, just south of London. In total I paid 55 euros for the entire 15-hour train journey of 1393 km. Looking at the different fare components, I see that I travelled across Germany for less than one cent per kilometre.

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A few days ago I travelled by train from the Berlin suburb of Lichterfelde to Ewell in England, just south of London. In total I paid €55 for the entire 15-hour train journey of 1393 km (which involved seven changes, so eight trains in all). True, I could have trimmed two or three hours off the journey time by taking a more direct route across Germany, but I was in no hurry and wanted to see something of the hill country of Thuringia along the way. And I purposefully travelled down the Rhine valley for the entire route from Mainz to Cologne, a really classic journey that takes in the Rhine gorge scenery so celebrated by nineteenth-century travellers and artists. Mermaids there were none as we passed the Lorelei, but it was still fun.

For journeys from anywhere in Germany to London, the lead-in rail fare is €49 one way booked on www.bahn.de. As I booked well in advance, I had no problem getting that fare. The Berlin to London ticket conveniently breaks down the fare into two components, that applicable for the journey within Germany (which includes an element of VAT) and the portion for the journey beyond the German-Belgian border at Aachen (which is VAT-free). The onward ticket from London to Ewell, purchased at St Pancras, was five pounds. That’s about €6. You can see a scan of the tickets above (click on the thumbnails to get the full view).

A few statistics (yes, yes, we descend into nerddom here) are very revealing:

distance in km



fare fare per km
Berlin to Aachen 830 9 hrs 92 kph €5 €0.006
Aachen to London 536 5 hrs* 107 kph €44 €0.082
London to Ewell 28 1 hr 28 kph €6 €0.214
* Including an eighty-minute stop in Brussels. If that stop is discounted the average speed from Aachen to London increases from 107 kph to 146 kph

I leave readers to draw their own conclusions from the above table. Of course that ridiculously low fare for travel within Germany (just €5 for a 9 hour journey) could not have been purchased separately. It was only available as an integral component of the €49 through fare from Berlin to London. If purchased well in advance, the budget-conscious traveller could have travelled my outward route from Berlin to Aachen (via Thuringia and the Rhine valley) for €29.

My return journey? Well, that’s another story. 2086 km from London to Berlin via Paris, Strasbourg and Augsburg. No €49 fare on that circuitous itinerary, I am afraid. But by purchasing two tickets, one from London to Strasbourg and a second for the onward journey from Strasbourg to Berlin (with a stopover in Augsburg), it is perfectly possible to make that journey for just €105 – just five cents per kilometre. If you make an overnight stop in Paris rather than Strasbourg, and still pause for a day or two in Augsburg, then the fare falls to €81.50 – less than four cents per kilometre.

Nicky Gardner
(hidden europe)

This article was published in hidden europe notes.

About the authors

hidden europe

and manage hidden europe, a Berlin-based editorial bureau that supplies text and images to media across Europe. Together they edit hidden europe magazine. Nicky and Susanne are dedicated slow travellers. They delight in discovering the exotic in the everyday.

Comments (6)| write a comment

  1. Jools Stone
    12 November 2010

    Germany to London is 49 Euros? Why is it so much more expensive for us to make the same trip in the opp direction? The cheapest Eurostar fares are over 70E and thats' just to Belgium.
    I need to emigrate to the mainland! Prices for travel within the UK are shocking as well. If train companies want to rival the easyjets and ryanairs of this world they are going to have to buck their ideas up a little.

  2. hidden europe
    12 November 2010

    Interesting point, Jools, but we might beg to differ. You can buy a ticket from London to Germany for €49 too. Of course, that is the lead-in fare that goes on sale about 90 days pre-departure, and it may quickly hike up in the days or weeks thereafter. That said, we have sometimes managed to get the €49 fare even just one month before departure. The equivalent first class fare is €99.

    The fare is very flexible as to route and even allows stopovers. Thus the journey we describe in our note today was not the direct Berlin to London route but a rather circuitous journey via Leipzig, Erfurt and Mainz.

    Examples of similar €49 deals from London that we have used include:

    London - Köln - Berlin (2 night stop) - Dresden (2 night stop) - Salzburg


    London - Frankfurt - Heidelberg (2 night stop) - Stuttgart - Schaffhausen

    so the fare can be used to certain points beyond Germany such as Salzburg (Austria), Schaffhausen (Switzerland) and Wissembourg (France).

    You can book these tickets on http://www.bahn.co.uk, always taking care to choose connections which offer a ICE rather than an Thalys train from Bruxelles to Köln, for DB's London-Spezial fare is limited to ICE services and is not valid on Thalys. If you prefer to book by phone, Deutsche Bahn has an English-language call centre in Surbiton (England), which you can call (within the UK) on 08718 80 80 66.

    Similarly, your point that Eurostar has nothing less than €70 one way from London is not quite right. Plenty of cheaper fares, and you can book through tickets to many points beyond Paris and Bruxelles, often for less than €70 one way. Play around on http://www.eurostar.co.uk or on http://www.raileurope.co.uk. Thalys also offers cheap fares from London to Germany (though only to the two Thalys destinations: Aachen and Köln).

    You also mention, apopos rail fares in the UK, that "prices are shocking". Yes, the walk-on fares are high and the price per km is higher than many places elsewhere in Europe. Yet Brits prepared to book in advance really do benefit from some amazing deals. No other country in western Europe can match the nineteen pound one way bargain berth fare on the Caledonian Sleeper. Yes, it is hard to get, but for those with flexibility it is an amazing deal.

    Susanne and Nicky
    hidden europe

  3. Razvan
    12 November 2010

    thanks for the great tips....how do you buy your tickets ? do you use the national rail of the respective country site ?

    thanks again for sharing

  4. Jools Stone
    13 November 2010

    That's very useful info indeed thanks. Great that you can break a journey on these tickets too. I tried http://www.bahn.de for London-Berlin during the first 12 days of Feb. The cheapest available fare I could find was 73euros, the 53 ones were there just sold out. On many of the departures it simply said 'Unknown tariff abroad.' Do you know why this is?
    RailEurope did not bring any search results, do you need to break the journey up into its constituent legs?
    I'll look at Eurostar again and its through routes. I was just basing it on the offers listed on the homepage to be honest.
    Yes I got a very good deal on the Cally Sleeper earlier this year. Not quite as good as £19, but not too far off. The whole 90 day advance thing is an antiquated system though. Thanks again for sharing this useful info.

  5. hidden europe
    14 November 2010

    Hi Jools

    Thanks for your further comment. To us, the €49 fare looks perfectly available. We took Saturday 5 February (and that day only) to check and stuck with your preferred sample journey (viz. London to Berlin). For a screen shot of what we found (including availability at €49) see the right-hand of the three images which we have added to our original post above.

    You need to construct a journey that conforms to the Angebotskonditionen (fare rules) for the Deutsche Bahn’s London Spezial fare. You will find the fare rules online (in German) at http://www.bahn.de.

    Tucked away in those fare rules is the requirement that the part of the journey across the German border must be on an ICE train (so NOT using the Bruxelles-Köln Thalys train or the SNCB local services that link Liège with Aachen). Choosing an itinerary that includes an ICE on the Bruxelles-Liège-Aachen-Köln stretch will ‘unlock’ (as it were) the DB cheap fares (including that €49 one-way fare).

    A competent agent in the UK would be able to book this fare for you. To book it online yourself, you really need to understand the fare rules and know which of the many Bruxelles to Köln services are ICEs rather than Thalys. Agents you might look to for help are Deutsche Bahn UK in Surbiton, Surrey and Rail Canterbury in (predictably) Canterbury, Kent. Both take telephone bookings. The telephone numbers (for calls from within the UK) are 08718 80 80 66 and 01227 450088 respectively.

    On your other point, Jools, about Eurostar fares we find they have some very good deals indeed. The regular return fare from London to Nice, for example, bookable on Eurostar’s UK site, is 119 pounds. Not a bad price for more than 1800 miles of rail travel.

  6. Molly @Green Global Travel
    18 November 2014

    Train is by far my favorite way to travel in Europe. Buying tickets about three weeks out was the key for me for finding affordable fares :)

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