Avoiding Overpriced Train Station Services in Cologne

September 10, 2007

in Europe, Germany, Luggage, Rail, Travel

I’m on a convoluted trip with my mom that starts in Brussels (at the time she booked, the cheapest direct flight to Europe), takes off to Italy (on one-cent RyanAir tickets), and then comes back. The cheapest route to Brussels from Berlin was via Cologne, from whence Deutsche Bahn (German Rail) offers 19 euro one-ways to Brussels. I ended up using a ride share to Cologne and am taking the train all the way back at the end of the trip. Later this week I’ll post about both forms of travel and how to find the best price using one or the other. Today I want to write about the Cologne main train station and how to avoid its overpriced luggage storage and bathrooms.

The Cologne main train station has the most modern luggage storage I’ve met yet in my travels. There are three or four sets of kiosks just left of the main entrance in front of the ReiseZentrum. You put in your 4 euros (!!!) for 24 hours, a metal box is pulled from the ether and transported to the station in front of you. You place your belongings inside, push the OK button, the door closes, and the box returns to the ether (are you also picturing Monsters Inc. here?). You receive a magnetic strip card which is programmed for your box. When you wish to retrieve your box, you simply put the magnetic card back in any of the kiosks and it will be delivered to you. Kind of amazing and absolutely unnecessarily elaborate and expensive.

When I visited Hamburg for the interview for my study program, I scoffed at 2.50 euros for the smallest locker or for the manned luggage office offered in the main train station there. Take the train across the river to Hamburg-Harburg and the lockers are a much more reasonable 1 euro. They are obviously taking advantage of the tourist at the main station.

Most German train stations have multiple banks of lockers in a variety of sizes to accommodate both small and large luggage. The lockers are priced according to size, so if you need less storage, you pay less for your 24 hours and vice versa. The most expensive giant locker I’ve ever seen was something like 5 euros. Oversized luggage is usually stored in a manned luggage office, but these are far from available everywhere, so it pays to do a little research beforehand if you’re going to be traveling heavy. Also, don’t forget the change! Many of the luggage lockers only take coins. To be safe for luggage storage and transport, be sure to have at least 10 euros in coin.

There are two options for the Cologne tourist when it comes to storing luggage. If your journey will not wander much beyond the main train station, you are better stashing your luggage in the Ludwig Museum located behind the Cathedral immediately left of the main train station. This museum of modern and contemporary art (adults 7.50 euros, concession 5.50 euros) is worth a gander if you’re at all interested in that type of art; it houses the famous Marilyn Monroe series from Andy Warhol, a number of Alexander Calder sculptures and a fairly large and pretty weird Picasso section, among lots of other stars. For a mere 50 cents per large or small locker (the larger lockers are located in the hallway to the bathrooms), you can easily stash all your luggage — just be sure to return before closing hours that day!

Another option is a large bank of lockers in the underground passageway above Neumarkt U-Bahn station. I spotted these, but didn’t look at how much they cost. They appeared larger than those in the main train station. Neumarkt is a fairly easy walk (for the mobile) from the Cathedral and main train station through the heart of Cologne’s shopping area or a short two-stop hop on the U-Bahn.

Finally, if you’ve gotta go but refuse to pay outrageous train-station prices for the toilet (an unfair tax on women and children if ever there was one), head once again to the Ludwig Museum where the toilets are free and plentiful, located just beyond the gift shop on the right side.

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