I’ve been to Munich quite a few times now and have a bunch of friends there. Probably the biggest festival that goes on there is the Oktoberfest, which takes place at the end of September. Hotels sell out, flights get booked up, as soon as 364 days ahead of time.
Oktoberfest has for a number of years hosted LGBT+ friendly days – the biggest known informally as gay Sunday, which takes place on the first Sunday of the festival.
I’d known about it for a while, but flights and hotels were always crazy expensive, so had passed. Well on the Thursday before this year’s event, I said sod it, and looked for the best way to get there.
Flights were roughly £500 one-way unless I wanted a 6am departure (no thank you). So I looked at alternatives. For those that haven’t travelled by train in Europe *the* site to go to with all the information you could possibly want about rail travel in Europe is seat61.com.
There are a number of different sites with which you can book rail travel in Europe and I’ve always found surprisingly variable results. Given I was heading to Munich, I headed over to the Deutsche Bahn website and had a look at what was available.
Surprisingly, for Saturday, in two days, there seemed a pretty reasonable journey offered. For €259 in first class, they had their “Super Sparpreis” ticket.
I’d be on the 10.58 Eurostar departure from St. Pancras, arriving in Bruxelles Midi at 14.05. I then had just twenty minutes to get to the DB ICE service to Frankfurt Airport, where I’d arrive at 17.26. I had just ten minutes there to connect to the 17.36 service to Munich Hauptbahnhof, where I’d get in around 21.10. From start to finish a little over a nine hour journey time.
The connection times did seem rather ambitious to me, however I figured I’d give it a shot as it was all on one ticket and worst case I’d end up either getting in very late or having a night in a German city somewhere. So I booked.
Saturday morning came around and I got to St. Pancras International for about 10.15 to be greeted by a massive snaking queue and the sign saying “gate closing soon”. Shit. So I joined the back of the queue, which took about fifteen minutes to get to the barriers to enter security.
The barcode on my PDF ticket didn’t work on the gates. I waved over a member of staff who looked at it and said I needed to join another queue as it was a DB ticket. That only took a few moments and the Eurostar staff member typed in my reservation code and printed me a “boarding pass” for the train. Shame that their systems aren’t more integrated.
Next came security, and then immigration. That took another fifteen minutes, despite using the eGates with the seeming delays on the UK side as opposed to the PAF. Finally after all of that I made it into the departure area. It wasn’t a pleasant experience – the British Airways First Wing, or even the regular departures process at Heathrow Terminal 2 was far superior. The key exception being no restrictions on liquids.
There were a few shops in the area, but with all the passengers for the Brussels service and the Paris train half an hour later, it was pretty busy.
By this point, it was was coming up to ten minutes to departure and the platform hadn’t yet been announced. At around five minutes before the scheduled departure, the gates to the platforms were finally opened and pretty much everyone surged up.
The train was one of the newer Siemens e320 trains which were had been delivered in the last year or so. I was in coach 1, and had the famous Seat 61 which even on these newer trains was still a pretty decent, single seat.
We eventually pulled out of St. Pancras around ten minutes late and accelerated in the tunnel. After less than fifteen minutes we’d arrived on the outskirts of the M25 at Ebbsfleet for a brief stop to pick up a few more passengers. We accelerated again and before long were zooming through the Kent countryside at 300km/h.
Buying a first class ticket with DB entitled me to ‘Standard Premier’ on the Eurostar, as opposed to ‘Premier Select’. The crew came around with this breakfast offering. For a train that arrived at 14.05 in Brussels, I would have expected lunch.
May I have a glass of wine with that? Sorry, sir, this is a breakfast service, we don’t serve any. Perhaps a cup of coffee? Sorry, sir, the machine is broken so you’ll have to walk through eight carriages to get to the buffet. Oh.
It wasn’t long before we were decelerating for the Channel Tunnel and twenty minutes later we were zooming through the French countryside. The train stopped again at Lille Europe and then around seven minutes late we finally arrived into Bruxelles Midi.
I had about 12 minutes to make my connection so didn’t rush, but did make sure I got off the carriage first to try and avoid the masses.
It took perhaps three minutes from getting off the Eurostar to finding the right platform for the ICE service. The train was already waiting on the platform so found the first class section and my seat. The train and seating layout was very similar to the Eurostar I’d just got off as essentially it was the same train.
I decided to get in to the spirit of Oktoberfest and wandered up to the buffet car and ordered myself a Weißen and a ham and cheese toastie. All for about €12. It wasn’t until we got past Cologne that the train sped up to proper 300km/h line speed which it did until we reached Frankfurt airport.
The connection was ludicrously easy – my train had arrived about three minutes late and the connecting was was on the adjoining platform all of 4m away. No stairs, nothing.
Again, it was an ICE train that would take four hours on to Munich. I was struck how little of the line from Frankfurt to Munich was high speed – in fact I’m not sure at any point on the journey it got above 200km/h. Clearly the French have invested heavily in their rail infrastructure with an extensive LGV infrastructure – it appears the Germans less so.
The final train was scheduled to take four hours so decided to both get some dinner in the restaurant car, and another beer. The journey was pretty, but a bit slow. I decided to take a bit of a nap and when I woke up we were only around half an hour away from Munich. We arrived exactly on time into the Hauptbahnhof.
The Eurostar part of the experience was pretty rubbish. It wasn’t premium in the slightest. The food was rubbish as was the service. For two hours, Standard Premium isn’t really worth it.
The rest of the journey was actually quite pleasant. The train were on time. I was surprised at how little of the infrastructure was actually high speed though. I arrived into the centre of Munich fairly refreshed and with the ability to stay connected the entire journey. If I was not in a rush, then I’d definitely consider taking the train again.