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Zürich to Berlin on the CNL

October 11, 2009

It had been 19 days since we left Munich and all her Oktoberfest glory and yet here we were staring at an Oktoberfest tent surrounded by sausage stands, gingerbread hearts, Lederhosen-clad men swishing their Steins of beer, kiddie rides, and the all-too-familiar zestful trilling of “Ein Prosit, ein Prosit!”… but we’re indoors! And in Switzerland!? We were inside Zurich’s Hauptbahnhof (central station), for crying out loud?! God, I love this country… Only a few months ago there was a beach volleyball ‘stadium’ set up on that very spot. Awesome.

….Zürich Oktoberfest..Big Blue Oktoberfest Momma

One Stein and a plateful of ‘Zürcher Geschnetzeltes mit Rösti’ later, we headed towards our platform. Berlin, here we come! By the way, if you’re wondering what ‘Zürcher Geschnetzeltes’ is… you are missing out! It is my favourite Swiss dish and I LOVE the food here. It’s basically finely sliced veal (and Switzerland has amazing veal) in a white wine, mushroom and cream sauce. I realise that that may not sound very exciting or novel, but somehow… it’s just beautiful and comforting and… I need to stop veering off topic.

We’d left the booking of the tickets pretty late (like, a-couple-days-prior-to-departure kinda late), so we managed to miss out on the 2-for-the-price-of-1 tickets as well as the discounted fares. D’oh. In any case, we were still able to buy tickets for the Zürich-Berlin CNL train (City Night Line), which was great as it’s the only overnight train that doesn’t require any changes.

…..At Zürich Hauptbahnhof........the CNL

Our Sitzwagen seats were far more comfortable than I had expected and I was impressed by the non-economy-like recline of the seats. Even my 5″11 (180 cm) travelling companion was relatively comfortable and managed to sleep 6 or so of the eleven and a half hours we were on the train… I, on the other hand, enjoyed next to no sleep. What actually kept me up was the cold and the constant embarkation noises (that’s my polite way of saying: the hourly ruckus that the squealing teens and chatty older folk would make when stomping aboard the train prior to bashing their luggage into every hard surface on the way to their seat on the opposite end of the carriage). I hadn’t had much sleep the night before, so perhaps I was just overtired. Who knows? All-in-all, I was okay with the trip. I do think that on the way out of Berlin (assuming we take the train), we’ll either book a schlafwagen in advance (depending on fares/specials at the time) or we’ll do the trip during the day. What with the number of interesting cities this train goes through, it might make quite a nice trip. We’ll see….

Below is some information and some of my recommendations. Hope it helps!


1. If you can book early, do so. There are often cheap tickets and special deals and when you book your ticket last minute, like we did, there are generally no specials left. Shocker. We did, however, manage to get tickets for a journey that required zero changes, so that was most definitely a good thing! Also, make sure to have a look out for specials. At the time of our booking, for example, they had a ‘buy 1, get 1’ free special for the schlafwagen (couchette) and liegewagen (sleeper).

2. Your options are as follows:

Sitzwagen (seats) – either a seat in a spacious normal carriage or in a 6-seater compartment. As I mentioned earlier, our reclining seats were quite impressive, but not all seats recline (according to their website).
Liegewagen (couchette) – a shared cabin with either two, four or six berths/beds.
Schlafwagen (sleeper) – private air-conditioned cabins available as single, double or triple berth/bed. The schlafwagen has its own sink, so that you can brush your teeth/wash your face, etc and on selected routes, even has its own toilet and shower. Breakfast in your cabin is also included in the price.

From what I’ve been told, the berths in a 6 person Liegewagen provide you with about as much room as a coffin (speaking of which… check out the spooky room 31 in this hotel!); so while you might sleep alright, if you want to sit up at all… it won’t be happening… apparently.

3. Here is the Deutsche Bahn’s (German rail company) website from which you can book tickets. You’ll notice that there is a flag at the top of the page. Next to that there is a drop down menu which gives you a choice of 9 languages to choose from (should some cheeky link send you back to the original German version). From there its pretty self-explanatory, I think. For more information, here is the CNL section of the website… more? You want more?! Okay, fine, here.

If you don’t want to book online, head over to the closest train station and buy a ticket there. I would recommend looking at options and availabilities online first though – just so you know exactly what you want!

Also, if your trip from Switzerland requires any local travel before crossing the border and you have a halbtax card (Swiss local travel discount card), make sure to book the local section of the trip separately (from the SBB website or from a local station) as the Deutsche Bahn website doesn’t offer discounts for halbtax holders. Of course, if you book the whole thing at a local station, you can do it all in one go.


1. Ear plugs… just in case. Who knows, maybe you’ll get lucky and there won’t be any crying babies or audibly enthusiastic tourists, but why chance it?
2. Whilst your packing the earplugs, throw in an eye/sleep mask as well. I’ve never been the type to use these, but I will next time. The lights stay on until about 2 in the morning and if you’re arriving at 6 or 7am… that makes for one grumpy, sleep deprived traveller.

3. Make sure you’re ready to disembark! If, like us, your stop is not the last one, make sure you set an alarm and give yourself enough time to do whatever you need to do prior to reaching your destination.

• If you’re in a sitzwagen seat or in a liegewagen, please set your mobile/cell phone’s alarm to ‘vibrate’, so that you don’t wake everyone else up as well!
• If you’re in a liegewagen (sleeper), you may have a shower that you want to take advantage of.
• If you have breakfast included, don’t forget to leave yourself enough time for that as well.

Apparently, CNL offers a wake up service. In the cabins/compartments, you can ask the attendant (if he/she doesn’t ask you him/herself), but for those in the Sitzwagen… how one goes about arranging this… I don’t know!


1. I’m not sure what its like in warmer months, but it got quite cold in the carriage a number of times. There were free blankets on one of the luggage racks. If you see them, grab yourself one – better safe than sorry!

2. There is a dining car on some trains. Click here for an overview of those that do have them.


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