Train Travel Terms in German

Zurich, Switzerland's train station

Zurich, Switzerland’s train station

Learn what the conductor is saying, or what the sign above your head at the station means, and become a more savvy train traveler in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria.

If you’ve ever been on a train in Germany, Switzerland, or Austria, you may have noticed that conductors seem to say a whole lot more when making an announcement in German than when they switch to English. You may feel like you’re missing information. Guess what? You are, because the conductor is announcing the connection possibilities (Anschlussmöglichkeiten) at the next station. In English, the only information you get is, “Ladies and gentlemen, in a few moments we will arrive at Linz.” Learn how to recognize connection information, even if you don’t speak much German, and learn a few more terms associated with the rail systems that can help make traveling around Europe on a German-language train much easier.

The Basics: Names of the Rail Systems

Germany’s rail system is the Deutsche Bahn, or DB. On trains, the “DB” symbol is typically a square outlined in red with “DB” in red letters inside the square. Types of trains are InterCity Express (the ICE, which is one of the nicest trains in Europe), the EuroCity (EC), InterCity (IC), and the regional trains:
Interregional Express (IRE), RegionalExpress (RE) and Regionalbahn (RB). When traveling on any kind of group day pass, you typically have to take only regional trains. In German, “Regional” is pronounced “Ray-ghee-oh-naahl,” so listen for that at the station.

Austria’s system is much more difficult to say: the Österreichische Bundesbahn, so just call it ÖBB.” Those letters are usually painted in red on Austrian trains. Types of ÖBB trains are the InterCity and EuroCity, as well as the RegionalExpress (RE) and Regionalzug (R).

The full name for Switzerland’s rail system is also a mouthful: the Schweizerische Bundesbahn, or SBB, which is painted on the sides of trains. Many InterCity or EuroCity trains that travel through Austria, such as the Basel-Vienna train, are made up of both ÖBB and SBB cars. Swiss regional trains include the Interregio (IR), and the InterCity Neigezug (IRN).

At the Train Station

Here is some basic German terminology important for any train traveler passing through Germany, Switzerland, or Austria:

  • platform: Gleis (“glyse”), Bahnsteig (“baahn-styg”)
  • train: Zug (“tsook”)
  • train station: Bahnhof (“baahn-hoaf”)
  • main train station: Hauptbahnhof (“haupt-baahn-hoaf”). NOTE: some stations are called “Westbahnhof” (west train station) as in Vienna. Some are called Südbahnhof (“South train station”). Make sure you’ve got the right one, and that you know how many stations are in a city.
  • to: nach (“nahk”)
  • from: von (“fon”)
  • arriving at (a certain time): an (“ahn”)
  • departing at (a certain time): ab (“ahp”)

Know Times and Numbers in German

Recognizing platform numbers when the conductor is rambling on and on about connections in German, or when listening for announcements while making a close connection, is important. Knowing how to tell time in German wouldn’t hurt you, either.

Platform numbers typically don’t go up very high (mid-twenties at the highest), but here are German numbers one through one hundred anyway, so that you can tell time and recognize any other important numbers, such as the number of a train:

  • 0-10: null, eins, em>zwei, drei, vier, fünf, sechs, sieben, acht, neun, zehn
  • 11-19: elf, zwölf, dreizehn, vierzehn, fünfzehn, sechszehn, siebzehn, achtzehn, neunzehn
  • 20-29: zwanzig, einundzwanzig, zweiundzwanzig, dreiundzwanzig, vierundzwanzig, fünfundzwanzig, sechsundzwanzig, siebenundzwanzig, achtundzwanzig, neunundzwanzig
  • 30: dreissig
  • 40: vierzig
  • 50: fünfzig
  • 60: sechszig
  • 70: siebzig
  • 80: achtzig
  • 90: neunzig
  • 100: (ein) hundert

German-speaking countries use the 24-hour time system, so take any any number and add “Uhr” (pronounced “oohr”) to get the time. When a train leaves at seven-thirty in the morning, the time in German is “halb acht” (halfway to eight ). Viertel nach is “quarter past” and Viertel vor means “quarter to” or literally “quarter before.” If a train leaves at 6:52 p.m., the time would be announced “achtzehn Uhr zweiundfünfzig.” Keep this information in mind when taking the train, and your journey will be less stressful (as long as you don’t stress out trying to
remember all of the terms).

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