hidden europe: Changing Trains

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It is always worth pondering quite where is the best place to change trains. Many journeys across Europe offer multiple options. No sane Brit ever chooses to change trains at Birmingham New Street—a sort of subterranean Hades somewhere in the English Midlands—and few are ever really forced to do so. For many rail itineraries across England give a plethora of possible points for an hour’s leisure time, to enjoy a coffee and a bit of fresh air while waiting for the next train connection.

This is the case in many other European countries as well. Surely no rational human being ever decided that Warsaw’s eastern station (Warszawa Wschodnia) was the ideal place to mull over the affairs of the world for an hour or two between trains. Generous-hearted souls we may be, but it is difficult to find a good word for Wschodnia – unless you want to catch the pulse of what life was like in much of eastern and central Europe two decades ago. Take a look at this architectural gem and the surrounding cityscape.

And then there are the railway stations where it is an absolute delight to linger between trains, the sort of places where changing trains is a blessing. Dresden Hauptbahnhof is emerging from a protracted reconstruction to become one of those. Cologne’s Hauptbahnhof already is. Ignore the frenzied bustle of its shopping mall (a tribute to poor taste and greasy food) and head instead for the cathedral, a mere thirty-second walk from the station’s main entrance.

It doesn’t take a lot to transform an enforced layover into a memorable travel moment. Brussels Midi is the largest of the rail stations in the Belgian capital, and the area of town in which it is located is nothing to write home about. But we change trains there often and La Table du Midi, an unpretentious café just a stone’s throw from the railway platforms, makes it all worthwhile.

There are some stations which are just fabulous places to arrive and linger, unquestionably good spots to change trains. Among our favourites are Zürich Hauptbahnhof (so well placed for the city centre) and Berlin’s new Hauptbahnhof (a crystal cathedral for transport.)

So check those schedules carefully. You simply don’t want to change trains at Warszawa Wschodnia or Birmingham New Street.

About the author

hiddeneurope

About the authors: Nicky and Susanne manage a Berlin-based editorial bureau that supplies text and images to media across Europe. Together they edit hidden europe magazine.

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2 thoughts on “hidden europe: Changing Trains”

  1. ‘poetloverebelspy’ – thanks for your really thoughtful comment on our post. Well in a way we agree – if the question is speed and functionality that Berlin’s Ostbahnhof is a good spot to change trains. Indeed, on many routings, we’d say Südkreuz is even better. But our argument was not about speed – rather we were looking for spots that appeal to the spirit. And we rather feel that, as a place to linger, Hauptbahnhof knocks spots off the opposition. By the way, we live in Berlin.
    Nicky and Susanne

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  2. poetloverrebelspy Hilary Bown

    I love the idea of this post, but must respectfully disagree with your inclusion of Berlin’s new Hauptbahnhof. With a couple hours, I’d rather be stuck at Ostbahnhof. Here’s why:

    + Hauptbahnhof is difficult to navigate. They didn’t line up any of the escalators, so you’re stuck walking halfway around the station just to get down to the next level. If you were in a hurry to get from the S-Bahn (top level) your long-distance train (lowest level), you couldn’t make it in less than 5 minutes (the elevators are even slower). Ostbahhof is your typical down the stairs from the platform, down the hallway, up the stairs to your next platform station — much easier to run through in a hurry.

    + Hauptbahnhof isn’t always easy to get to. Since it was a late addition, it isn’t completely integrated into local transport. They’re working on it, but it’s still not connected to the U-Bahn. You’re stuck transferring to the S-Bahn from another station. There are some buses, but they’re not well-known either (beyond the 100 and 200, I think it’s hard for tourists to navigate bus routes in the city anyway).

    + Hauptbahnhof has fairly limited shopping and eating given its size. You would expect more. No, you’re not going to starve. But you’re going to pay higher prices with less selection than Ostbahnhof, which has a lot of quick dining options AND two grocery stores (one of the discount variety).

    + From Hauptbahnhof, it’s still a bit of a trek to nearby sites (Hamburger Bahnhof — Museum of Modern Art, or the Reichstag); from Ostbahnhof, you walk out the front entrance and you’re 100 feet from the East Side Gallery, the longest remaining section of Berlin Wall within the city.

    + If you end up having to stay the night, there are hostels within walking distance of Ostbahnhof. I know of nothing near Hauptbahnhof.

    That and, you know, pieces of Ostbahnhof have never fallen off in high winds . . .

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