It is widely known but there might still be people who haven’t heard yet: There are EU passenger’s rights for railroad travellers as there are for air travel within Europe, which means:
25% ticket price return on 60-119 minutes delay at final destination*
50% return on 120 minutes or more*.
*Unless due to an Act-of-God or a third person’s unlawful interference.
On top of that, the travel agency has to make sure you arrive at your destination and is responsible for accommodation etc in the case of a major disruption/delay. But, this only works if you book the whole trip at once! VERY IMPORTANT! And that is why I recommend to book every train journey to and through Germany, and that will be most of them unless you stay in the Nordic countries, with Deutsche Bahn (DB; be it on the website or via the app).
I have been doing this on a monthly basis now for many years and overall is has been working fine. After Covid, though, there has been a notable increase in rail travel compared to before and a major – if not THE – bottleneck for leaving Scandinavia by train is the connection between Copenhagen and Hamburg, the latter acting as a gateway between Northern Europe and “the rest”. You will quickly get a feeling of affection when you see Hamburg’s iconic “Wandelhalle”, the central station hall. However, especially for the main travel times like summer or Christmas tickets will sell out quickly and there is nothing more frustrating than having to change your travel plans or even choose a flight instead. Option 3 is to not have a seat for about 6 hours, but, I promise, you won’t do this too many times 🙂 The second thing on booking early is that you can get quite a discount (SuperSparpreis/Sparpreis Europa) but, beware, there are quotas on these, i.e. once they’re gone, they’re gone.
Two modes of travel
There are a couple of things of interest when travelling with DB and I would like to introduce you to the two modes of travel that I normally choose between:
1. Play it safe.
2. Take a chance.
Obviously, option 1) is for when you really need to be at your destination in time, 2) is a gamble between fastest travel and some compensation for a missed connection.
But HOW do you choose? Well, the tricks lie between the lines. Once you entered your travel details and hit the search button you’ll see a list of possible connections. Click on the “Show details” link below one that seems reasonable and you will see another link reading “Adjust transfer time” for each station you have to change trains. Here you can either choose to arrive at that station earlier or leave on a later train plus how much of a lay-over you wish. Once you have adjusted these, you can find a new, tailored connection at the bottom of the list of offered connections.
I almost always go for option 2) when going south. First of all, it worked for me in about 90% of my trips from Malmö to Köln, including a changing time of 7 min in Hamburg (challenging but doable and trains might wait a little, see below; also, check Skånetrafiken ahead of travels for possible hick-ups in the Swedish system). Secondly, there are trains to every major German city from Hamburg at least every hour during daytime and you might get some compensation. If you’re going North, though, I’d recommend a little bit more of a buffer in Hamburg (at least 30 min) as your next train is probably going two hours later (if at all) and it might already be fully booked. It can be disappointing if you booked wisely and planned a trip with ample pauses for food and a leg-stretcher when in the end delays eat up all your buffers and you still have to run for your connections without being compensated. Remember though: At least you arrived and you had a seat! That is worth a lot 🙂
I only ever once had to spend a night in Hamburg because I missed the last train to CPH and it wasn’t as funny as it might seem. You’ll have to find and book a hotel for yourself and DB will only compensate you for 80€/person/night for accommodation. But: keep your dinner/lunch bills, I got them reimbursed (i.e. don’t book Hotel w/ breakfast as that might break your 80€ allowance; have it reimbursed separately!).
In case you anticipate a missing connection at your next location of change (because you are keeping track of real-time information on the bahn-app!), tell the train attendant ahead of time which connection you’re about to miss. Depending on the amount of travellers with the same destination, the connecting train might wait a couple of minutes. This has worked especially well in Hamburg when travelling North. The Copenhagen connection often waits for 10-15 minutes and usually catches up with the delay until Padborg. A final note on the purchase of online tickets: Every (!) ticket purchased online (app or website) can be cancelled at no cost within the first 12 hours, i.e. you get the full price back.