Munich Philharmonic lashes out at hopeless German Rail

Munich Philharmonic lashes out at hopeless German Rail


norman lebrecht

September 15, 2023

An open letter from the orchestra, written in dismay to Europe’s worst railway:

Dear Deutsche Bahn,

We are still speechless, even three days later: what is wrong with you?

For us there is nothing more beautiful: to delight people with music, whether in Munich or on tour. And sustainability is important for us, we want to make our travels as climate-friendly as possible.

A tour from the 9th to 13th September should have taken us by train to Lucerne, Cologne and Berlin. Should have..! For Mahler 2 we took over 200 people. Three locations, three train rides, and none of them went as planned. We forgive you for the first two, but with the last trip from Cologne to Berlin on Tuesday you scored a massive own goal.

We should have started in the morning at 9.30 am at the Cologne main station. After three failed ICE and no information on how, when and if we would move on at all, we finally started three hours late. Thanks to further delays we arrived in Berlin 4.5 hours late and completely exhausted after 10 hours on the go. The concert was 25 minutes late, a radio broadcast from the Berlin Philharmonic had to be cancelled – the Berlin audience responded wonderfully, we gave everything, they thanked us.

Dear Deutsche Bahn Personenverkehr: we absolutely want to protect our climate! We were happy to rely on you, trusting you. Despite repeated negative experiences, we have defended and protected you, time and again. Yet you stab us in the back, you fail us. We can’t count on you. We can’t take it any more.

When are you going to wake up?

The Munich Philharmonic Orchestra


  • Ich bin Ereignis says:

    The German railway system, DB, is nowadays extremely unreliable and quite often a disaster. I had a similar experience between Cologne and Berlin where my train was cancelled, not once but twice in a row, and was lucky to be re-routed on that day by taking a regional train and then connecting to a faster train, although having to stand most of the time in a car that was fully packed, with barely enough time to make my connection. Travelers should assume that there will be a delay, and therefore tight connections are probably not a great idea. Another specialty of DB’s is the switching of platforms just a few minutes before the train’s arrival, which results in large groups of people — bottlenecks really — struggling to make it in time to the new platform. Some trains with low rates are often overcrowded, with many people standing for the entire trip. It’s a mess, most of the time. Apparently this is due to a poor infrastructure that needs to be redone — repairs are being done all of the time. Travelers should be warned that it is a very unreliable system which frankly should be avoided if possible — at the very least make sure you have travel insurance and avoid late trains so that you are not stranded overnight. Also, make sure to keep track during your trip of which station was last — another frequent glitch is the display inside the train often being wrong, showing the next station as one already reached a few stops ago, then correcting itself, then switching back to being wrong. Very disappointing.

  • RW2013 says:

    At least they would have had a good part of their ticket prices refunded.
    The DB has to do it every day.

  • Secret exsinger says:

    Anyone who thinks DBahn is the worst in Europe has clearly never travelled on the trains in the UK!

  • Clem says:

    I share their feelings. I really would feel a lot better traveling by train in Germany, but I just can’t risk it. I don’t have the money to go a day early in case Deutsche Bahn screws up. Which they do, again and again and again.

    On the other hand German highways are just as screwed up, with their innumerable and interminable roadworks where nobody ever works. Germany is screwed up.

    Except for their innumerable wonderful orchestras and opera houses of course.

  • mk says:

    Nothing will change at DBAG as long as the Koch-funded liberal democrats (FDP) continue to block any expenditures of public funds on improvements of the rail transport network.

  • william osborne says:

    Between 2005 and 2008, a sizeable portion of the Deutsche Bahn was privatized. The result has been the same as for the privatization of public works all over the world. A massive loss of standards. Money was siphoned off for the investors, maintenance standards fell and have created constant breakdowns, schedules reduced, reliability lost, and many local stations eliminated. This is part of an economic paradigm called neoliberalism that has been pushed onto Europe by the USA.

    The disastrous effect on DB is detailed here:

    The people at the Munich Phil should consider the true causes since the USA is pushing for the same “liberalization” of public arts funding.

    • Anthony Sayer says:

      Very true. Currently working in Germany for a while after a sizeable break, the Deutsche Bundesbahn (as it was known, when it actually worked well, pre-1989) is now a parody of a national rail network. Profits before customers (thanks, America), the elimination of the German language – ‘Bordmannschaft’ has become ‘Service-Team’, for example – and the calculation that reimbursing disappointed customers is economically preferable to actually providing the service for which customers pay (and now heftily) has led to a rail system which has has more in common with the historically dreadful UK than the rest of what we now call Europe, currently being shafted by the EU.

      BTW: Thanks for not implicating Celibidache in DB’s demise.

      • william osborne says:

        A fool who knows nothing of C.s abuses of musicians and would glibly condone them if he did. Of course no relation to DB, but a similar abnegation of governmental responsibilities and oversight.

  • Rodom says:

    Mahler symphonies may no longer be environmentally (or financially) sustainable propositions.

  • Tony Sanderson says:

    And Macron and other EU worthies want us to travel by train rather than plane. The backlash is growing.

    • Anthony Sayer says:

      And put even more power into the hands of the SNCF, a company which has struck at least once every year since its inception (and always during school holidays). Back to the airport, friends…

  • Gustavo says:

    Train bashing can only come from Bavaria.

    As if travelling by car was more efficient – with all the life-time effort wasted on traffic jams and the search for parking space. Not to mention the financial costs.

    Why plan Mahler 2 in Berlin in the first place? Berlin has its own orchestras.

  • Una says:

    And we thought our British trains were awful. This takes the biscuit!

  • MMcGrath says:

    This frustrating German Rail experience is shared by your average business frequent traveller in Germany almost every week of the year on almost every stretch. Last-minute dashes to the airport or car rental office are routine even for the Frankfurt-Munich journey.

    This has been going on for years.

    German perfection, punctuality, technology, focused infrastructure investment and sense of duty? Baloney. For these virtues, look to Switzerland, or, better yet, Japan.

    And the fact that the orchestra had to wrap its very real customer complaint and outrage in fluffy politically correct BS about rail being better for the environment… just pitiful and Orwellian.

    • Anthony Sayer says:

      Spot on. Germany worships the USA and swallows every piece of cr*p that benighted nation inflicts on the rest of the world.

      I’ve been variously a long-term resident, guest worker, observer and lover of this country since 1987. I do not recognise what I am currently experiencing at the moment. The country has lost its way, it has colluded with the WEF, its new and fast-growing population only partially respects it, social behaviour which would have had you slapped down before is now tolerated in the name of ‘diversity’ and fear of being branded: Today, I cycled through a riverside forest to deposit a book at an open BookBox. On the way back, I had to share the cycle path with a pair of motorcyclists – who had no right to be in the woods anyway – who accelerated and raced through the place, forcing three-year-old children to jump to one side as they passed, beneath the impotent glare of their parents who – I’m guessing – probably wished that 2015 had never happened, judging by their expressions. And still no-one says anything. Their only voice is that of the ballot box, so don’t be surprised if AfD continues to rise in the polls.

      Having said that, I work with a Syrian lady, mother of three children (21, 18, 11) who loves the country, rejoices in the fact she doesn’t have to wear a headscarf, works full-time in the local Stadttheater and proudly tells me her eldest daughter is studying to become a nurse, her son wants to join the police force and loves the peace of her small-town existence.

      Germany has changed considerably since reunification, but I’m not sure it’s kept up with its ambition to be all things to all men. It still feels at government level that it needs to atone. It doesn’t. It needs to be proud of itself. It’ll also get more fans among its recent arrivals if it did.

  • Doc Martin says:

    Why did you not just hire a couple of buses? My brother in Cavan owns a bus firm in Munich.

  • Richard Ely says:

    Well, this is in complete accord with my last experience of German trains, back in December 2019. Never again! You’d get there quicker on a Flixbus!

  • V.Lind says:

    Oh, dear, has it happened in Germany too? British trains used to be the envy of the world, and the model for so many internationally. Now it is a straight crapshoot as to whether they will be running when you need to use them, and if they are, will they be anywhere near on time. Gee: I don’t get the impression that privatisation has worked.

    • Anthony Sayer says:

      I’m sorry, but British trains have never been the envy of the world, at least since the creation of British Rail. I took the train in the UK regularly from 1962 – 1987 and, sadly, every time I’ve returned since, and it’s always been dreadful. Overpriced and unreliable, it has always been – such as DB now – a parody of a national railway service. North Americans may recognise this, so I cannot claim they’ve infected us this time. We can point the finger at you for many things, but not for this.

    • Tim Walton says:

      Most of the current problems on the UK railways are being caused by the extreme left-wing unions, not the actual rail companies. The train drivers’ average annual salary is £60,000 and they have been offered 12% more. The union leaders won’t even put it to a membership vote!!

  • V.Lind says:

    Oh, dear, has it happened in Germany too? British trains used to be the envy of the world, and the model for so many internationally. Now it is a straight crapshoot as to whether they will be running when you need to use them, and if they are, will they be anywhere near on time. Gee: I don’t get the impression that privatisation has worked.

  • Anthony Sayer says:

    Memo to Munich Phil: Don’t bother. Fly next time. DB has become a parody of a once-decent railway network. BTW: Travelling by train is not as planet-hugging as you think. There’s a lot of PC BS groupthink in there.

  • Bulgakov says:

    I reckon about 90% of my journeys on DB have been subject to severe delays, missed connections and cancellations, not to mention unexpected cancellations of catering services. On two occasions, the carriage in which my seat was reserved was not actually part of the train. It’s astonishing that Europe’s largest economy can’t provide first-rate rail service. It’s far from the worst in Europe, however. That honour apparently goes to Albania.

  • UK Arts Administrator says:

    Years of under-investment in what was once upon a time a fine railway system, now all too frequently creaking and groaning (as anyone who has attempted to tour Germany in a more eco-friendly way will attest). Where else, maybe a little closer to home, might we find a railway system also in a condition not so dissimilar, not aided very much by being privatised into umpteen different companies?

  • Bartok says:

    It’s crucial because of global warming for Europe and especially Germany to sort out its railways. And it should as cheap to travel by rail as it is to fly.

    • Anthony Sayer says:

      Balls. Trains are not particularly eco-friendly. Track maintenance leaves a huge carbon footprint. Planes account for 3% of annual greenhouse gas emissions. Next.

    • SVM says:

      Indeed. Time to reform/abolish the Chicago Convention, which provides aviation with an egregiously unfair tax advantage.

  • FrauGeigerin says:

    Good luck getting a reply from DB! DB has the worst customer service in Europe.

    • Anthony Sayer says:

      I try to time my trips with an open Reisezentrum. All pricing problems disappear as if by magic when I actually talk to someone qualified to answer my question. If I know I have to travel when they’re closed, I ask relevant questions when I’m there for something else. The counter staff are as frustrated as we are, believe me.

  • SlippedChat says:

    Unless, post-Brexit, the term “Europe” is no longer meant to include the UK, anyone who describes Deutsche Bahn as “Europe’s worst railway” hasn’t spent enough time on Britain’s minor branch lines.

  • NorCalMichael says:

    I spent the last two weeks in Germany and can confirm: Deutsche Bahn is a mess. My German friends are a combination of angry, frustrated, and incredulous.

  • Martijn says:

    As a foreigner, I know that if I have to do something urgent in Germany, especially a meeting or a concert, I can’t rely on the train. I have to fly or drive, which are the most reliable transportation options.

    As a orchestra, it’s naive and risky to take the train for climate reasons, knowing that delays are common. And after the fact, they didn’t dare to criticize the train much, but issued a statement saying that they are climate-friendly.

    Germany’s railways are in a state of disrepair and underfunded. I think this is due to the confusion of German policies. Either it’s a completely conservative policy, with public spending cuts, tax cuts, and people taking care of their own transportation. Or it’s a completely left-wing policy, with environmental protection as a priority and strong subsidies for rail transport, but with sufficient funding.

    It’s not possible to promote environmental protection on the one hand and require the railways to comply with strict financial discipline, be self-sufficient, and not raise ticket prices. This will only lead to a disaster in transportation.

    • Anthony Sayer says:

      You’ve hit the nail on the head. It just shows up how this lobotomised, net-zero virtue-signalling and grandstanding is utterly incompatible with real life. To hell with this idiocy, and fast.

  • Monty Earleman says:

    Why should orchestras tour? Stay home, invest more in your own community, and let people travel to hear you.

  • ewmeyerhoffer says:

    Bravo, Munich Philharmonic! I was at that concert and loved it. None of the musicians showed what must have been incredible travel stress. They played beautifully!

  • Anthony Sayer says:

    Got home two hours late last night due to my train being delayed for ‘repairs’. The conductor on the conveyance which mercifully returned me to base camp told me the problem was that the Nahverkehr (local trains, S-Bahn etc) always had to give way to long-distance traffic which, in turn, was often delayed. The one loo was out of order as it’s another company completely that deals with facility maintenance on board. What he described sounded suspiciously like the situation in Britain post-BR.

    Two more days of grappling with Die Bahn, then it’s off to the airport and home. Seeing how a once-excellent transport service has declined saddens me immensely.

  • Harpist says:

    Once a pride of German infrastructure is these days only an embarrassment after years of mismanagement and cost-cutting. Same as Lufthansa. Both are to be avoided if you want to make it (stress-free) to your destination.