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STRIKES

Germany’s train strikes: What rights do you have as a passenger?

After an initial strike in mid-August, members of Germany's GDL train drivers' union are striking again. So what exactly is happening and what are your rights as a passenger?

Germany's train strikes: What rights do you have as a passenger?
Commuters queue at a helpdesk of German rail operator Deutsche Bahn at Berlin's Hauptbahnhof main railway station on August 11th, 2021, as train drivers stage a strike. German train drivers went on strike over wages, dealing a blow to summer holidaymakers and adding to logistics and supply problems already plaguing the industry. Only one in four long-distance trains will be in service on August 11th and 12th. Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP

Members of Germany’s GDL train drivers’ union went on strike again on the afternoon of Saturday 21st August. Only freight trains were affected over the weekend, but with passenger trains being affected from Monday, millions of passengers will face train cancellations and delays in the first half of the week. This includes holidaying travellers as it’s still the school holiday period in ten of Germany’s 16 states.

According to information on German railway company Deutsche Bahn’s website, it’s still offering “a reliable basic service”.

However, the railway adds that “in this situation we cannot guarantee that all travellers will reach their destination”. 

READ ALSO: Rail passengers in Germany face disruption as two-day strike announced

And it recommends postponing, if possible, any planned long-distance journeys until after the strikes finish on Wednesday.

You can find the latest information on affected services here.

If Deutsche Bahn are recommending postponing your journey, does that mean you can use your ticket on another date or a different train?

Yes. They say on their website that anyone who has booked a journey on the long-distance rail network between 23rd and 25th August on a route that’s affected by the strike can use their ticket flexibly any time from August 20th until September 4th.

And for saver and super-saver short and long-distance fares, you can use a different connecting train to what’s specified on your ticket during that period. 

You can change your seat reservation for free, too.  

If you’re using the local rail network, they say that if you already have a ticket you can use it straight away or up to and including 4th September, and you can use a different route if you need to.

But it’s not quite that simple for local train journeys: if you take a more expensive long-distance train, such as the ICE instead of the RE regional train, to complete your journey, you’ll need to first buy a dearer ticket or pay a surcharge and then claim the costs back later. However, this doesn’t apply to heavily discounted tickets, such as ‘Länder’ tickets.

Can you get a refund on your ticket?

Yes, if trains are not cancelled but you decide not to travel during the strike period, you can apply for a refund here if you bought your ticket online or in the DB travel centre if you purchased it there or from a machine.

Your ticket price will also be completely reimbursed if the strike would make your planned train arrive at least 60 minutes late and you don’t have to actually take the train to get the refund.

Do you get compensation for delays if you travel?

You do. If the train is delayed at the destination station by 60 minutes, you’ll get 25 percent of the ticket price back for a single journey and 50 percent for a delay of 120 minutes or more. 

So if, for example, you’ve booked a return ticket for 80 euros, you’ll get 10 euros compensation if the train’s delayed by at least 60 minutes on one of the journeys.

And if you have to interrupt your journey because of the strike and return to the station you started at, they’ll refund the unused portion of the journey. 

How is the compensation paid?

You can choose whether you’d like a voucher or the money back. 

What about if you’ve got a monthly ticket?

If you have a monthly ticket or some other kind of season ticket, you’ll receive compensation for delays of more than 60 minutes. There’s a flat rate for this, though: five euros for long-distance second-class tickets and ten euros for Bahncard 100.

For ‘Länder’ and ‘Schönes-Wochenende’ tickets, it’s 1.50 euros.

However, they’ll only pay out for amounts above 4 euros, so you might need to stack up receipts from a few delays.

Will the Bahn pay for taxis or hotel rooms?

There are two situations where Deutsche Bahn have to provide an alternative form of transport, German news website Tagesschau said: if the scheduled arrival time is between midnight and 5 am and the expected delay at the destination station is at least 60 minutes, or if the last scheduled connection of the day is cancelled and it’s no longer possible to reach the destination station by midnight without a taxi.

If the railway doesn’t do this — if it’s the middle of the night, for example — you can get a taxi yourself and then get the railway to reimburse the costs — up to a maximum of 80 euros.

If a train is cancelled or delays mean it’s no longer possible or reasonable to continue the journey that day, the railway has to provide customers with overnight accommodation or reimburse “reasonable accommodation costs” later.

If offered, passengers have to use the accommodation offered by the railway before looking for a hotel themselves, though.

Can you still take your bike with you on the strike days?
On its website, Deutsche Bahn asks passengers to not take their bikes with them on the strike days as long-distance services are expected to be very busy because of the reduced number of trains.

But if you’re travelling on the long-distance network and you’ve already bought a ticket with a bike ticket and reserved a bike spot in advance, you can get your bike shipped for free on the strike days by booking it online using ‘Fahrrad23’ as a code in the payment box.

However, this is only valid for ‘conventional’ bicycles, not for e-bikes, tandems and recumbent bicycles, etc.

Commuters stand in front of an information board reading “GDL strike! No rail traffic!” on a platform at Berlin’s Hauptbahnhof main railway station on August 11th, 2021, as train drivers staged a strike. (Photo by Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP)

Are Deutsche Bahn doing anything to avert further strikes?

Yes, they’ve offered a ‘Corona bonus’ which will be paid out this year, but the sum hasn’t been specified yet. Martin Seiler, Deutsche Bahn’s Chief Human Resources Officer said this meant there could “no longer be any reason [for GDL] to refuse to return the negotiating table,” Tagesschau reported.

READ ALSO: German train drivers call strike in escalating wage dispute

What are the union looking for?

GDL want a corona premium of 600 euros for their members, better working conditions and a wage increase of around 3.2 percent. 

What has Deutsche Bahn offered?

They’ve countered with a two-stage increase — 1.5 percent by January 1st, 2022 and 1.7 percent by March 1st, 2023, but GDL head Claus Weselsky has said this is not enough.

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LIVING IN GERMANY

Living in Germany: Battles over Bürgergeld, rolling the ‘die’ and carnival lingo

From the push to reform long-term unemployment benefits to the lingo you need to know as Carnival season kicks off, we look at the highlights of life in Germany.

Living in Germany: Battles over Bürgergeld, rolling the 'die' and carnival lingo

Deadlock looms as debates over Bürgergeld heat up 

Following a vote in the Bundestag on Thursday, the government’s planned reforms to long-term unemployment benefits are one step closer to becoming reality. Replacing the controversial Hartz IV system, Bürgergeld (or Citizens’ Allowance) is intended to be a fair bit easier on claimants.

Not only will the monthly payment be raised from €449 to €502, but jobseekers will also be given a grace period of two years before checks are carried out on the size of their apartment or savings of up to €60,000. The system will also move away from sanctions with a so-called “trust period” of six months, during which benefits won’t be docked at all – except in very extreme circumstances. 

Speaking in parliament, Labour Minister Hubertus Heil (SPD) said the spirit of the new system was “solidarity, trust and encouragement” and praised the fact that Bürgergeld would help people get back into the job market with funding for training and education. But not everyone is happy about the changes. In particular, politicians from the opposition CDU/CSU parties have responded with outrage at the move away from sanctions.

CDU leader Friedrich Merz has even branded the system a step towards “unconditional Basic Income” and argued that nobody will be incentivised to return to work. 

The CDU and CSU are now threatening to block the Bürgergeld legislation when it’s put to a vote in the Bundesrat on Monday. With the conservatives controlling most of the federal states – and thus most of the seats in the upper house – things could get interesting. Be sure to keep an eye out for our coverage in the coming weeks to see how the saga unfolds. 

Tweet of the week

When you first start learning German, picking the right article to use can truly be a roll of the “die” – so we’re entirely on board with this slightly unconventional way to decide whether you’re in a “der”, “die”, or “das” situation. (Warning: this may not improve your German.) 

Where is this?

Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Boris Roessler

Residents of Frankfurt am Main and the surrounding area will no doubt recognise this as the charming town of Kronberg, which is nestled at the foot of the Taunus mountains.

This atmospheric scene was snapped on Friday morning, when a drop in temperatures saw Kronberg and surrounding forests shrouded in autumnal fog.

After a decidedly warm start to November, the mercury is expected to drop into single digits over the weekend. 

Did you know?

November 11th marked the start of carnival season in Germany. But did you know that there’s a whole set of lingo to go along with the tradition? And it all depends on where you are. First of all, the celebration isn’t called the same thing everywhere. In the Rhineland, it’s usually called Karneval, while people in Bavaria or Saxony tend to call it Fasching. Those in Hesse and Saarland usually call it Fastnacht. 

And depending on where you are, there are different things to shout. The ‘fools call’ you’ll hear in Cologne is “Alaaf!” If you move away from Cologne, you’ll hear “Helau!” This is the traditional cry in the carnival strongholds of Düsseldorf and Mainz, as well as in some other German cities.

In the Swabian-Alemannic language region in the southwest of the country, people yell “Narri-Narro”, which means “I’m a fool, you’re a fool”. In Saarland at the French border, they shout “Alleh hopp!”, which is said to originate from the French language. 

Lastly, if someone offers you a Fastnachtskrapfe, say yes because it’s a jelly-filled carnival donut. And if you’re offered a Bützchen? It’s your call, but know that it’s a little kiss given to strangers!

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