There are a thousand and one reasons why it can be necessary to kill a couple of hours (between 12 p.m. and 5 a.m.) at a station anywhere in Germany. You might have missed a bus, locked yourself in the train bathroom, or spent Sunday in some far-off city with the obligation to be present in a seminar on Monday morning. However, the question remains how to not die of boredom or freeze to the stations metal benches.
First of all: Never travel alone! If it is hell to be stuck in the middle of nowhere, the devil will start the real torment if you don’t have a buddy. There is no possibility to take turns watching your bags, and it can be really scary to roam a park alone, both of which are negated if you have company.
If you, for example, travel to Rostock from the south and your travel plan tells you to spend five hours in Berlin Gesundbrunnen: Don’t! When changing trains in a larger city, in particular, it is possible in most cases to change at the main station or some other central station rather than a place in the middle of nowhere. There the number of options for action is much greater, and you’ll also feel safer.
One of the first things that comes to mind when thinking about passing hours at night is partying. Even though this seems to be a valid option at first glance, I never found it to be convenient. To be honest I’m not very fond of clubbing alone and prefer having a couple of beers with a couple of friends beforehand anyway, but getting to know somebody while on the go isn’t very easy in any case. Also, it might be difficult to put your large backpack somewhere save, and then in most cases you’re tired from travelling anyway. Additionally you don’t want to miss your train.
If you know you are staying beforehand, bring a sleeping bag. Even if uncomfortable or odd it is better than freezing or being ill afterwards. Obviously the easiest though a bit more expensive solution is booking a bed in a hostel and just staying there for the night. Another,which can serve as an equivalent is booking a first class pass and staying in the DB Lounge, where you can relax and sleep.
It used to be the case that many train stations in Germany had a heated lounge where one could stay during waiting times, but nowadays most of them are gone, and the rest are mostly locked at night. Very often you can find waiting areas that aren’t especially warm and equipped with benches that have armrests, so you cannot lie down without forming a sinus-curve, and with low backs, so you cannot lean against them without staring at the ceiling. Some people are able to sleep in them, but I can’t, and I’m not particularly keen on lying down on the floor. That’s cold and makes you feel shabby and the police or the station security will eventually check what you’re up to in an effort to prevent homeless people from staying there.
If you’ve brought a sleeping bag or incredibly warm clothing you can try to find a bench in some public space – if that space isn’t very populated, this can be decent enough. Here it is advisable to take turns sleeping. If one of you sits, the police won’t drive you away, and it also feels more secure. If you know your buddy quite well you can keep warmer by cuddling up or using each other as a headrest. In any case you shouldn’t lie on the floor sinc the cold has a habit of creeping up on you quite fast.
If you’re feeling cold, try to get up and move – otherwise it won’t get any better.
Actually there isn’t too much to do at a train station. One good possibility is to visit McDonald or a late night coffee shop (though they are often closed between 2 a.m. and 3 p.m.). Grab something small to eat or drink and you will be permitted to stay there for quite a long time. Also they sometimes offer WiFi and power sockets, so if you bring your cellphone, tablet or laptop that can provide for some pastime. If you want to watch a movie, be sure to bring headphones, but be aware that in most cases the WiFi is limited to a specific amount of time (and if there’s free train station WiFi it’s always limited to 30 minutes – logon to the ‘Telekom’ hotspot and open your internet browser). If you’re really desperate, you can buy a daily pass from the Telekom for €5.49.
For me, I often feel I cannot sit there for more than two or three hours, or I get thrown out at closing times and I need something to do. Something that is extraordinarily well suited for your stay is Geocaching. For those of you who haven’t yet had the pleasure to take part in this international treasure hunt, here’s how it works: You basically logon to a website, where you receive coordinates, clues or riddles for the locations of small containers with logbooks. The challenge is to find them and sign that you’ve been there. There are millions everywhere in the world. There are various types – multi stage ones, and such underwater or with difficult tasks that you have to solve, but I recommend the simple ones which are called ‘traditionals’ even when they are not marked as ‘recommended by night’. In large cities, in particular, it is mostly still possible to find them but will require a flashlight in most cases. This will get you going and lead you to interesting and sometimes scary places (there is one near an old graveyard really close to the main station in Berlin).