From Berlin to Brussels, the evening prepare renaissance gathers pace with the brand new European Sleeper | Rail journey


In the beer gardens of Berlin, evening trains are a dialog matter nearly as scorching as learn how to get the Berghain bouncers to allow you to into their nightclub. (“Be a single man, be ‘alright’-looking, don’t smile,” I’m instructed.)

I’m in Prater Biergarten – the German capital’s oldest beer backyard – reconnecting with a buddy over pilsner and pretzels with butter injected into them. Once I inform him I’m right here to take the primary European Sleeper to Brussels, maybe essentially the most hyped new route within the evening prepare resurgence, he says he’s driving the identical prepare subsequent month. He tells me he feels responsible about taking a great deal of flights just lately, so needs a much less climate-crippling choice. Plus, he says, “On an evening prepare you possibly can chill and simply begin consuming.”

Largely because of elevated environmental consciousness – in addition to the reframing of sluggish overland journeys as fulfilling somewhat than endurable – this sleeper prepare revival is chugging healthily. Austria’s Nightjet now serves 25 European cities, and subsequent 12 months France’s Midnight Trains will launch luxurious sleepers to 10 locations.

European Sleeper’s Brussels to Berlin route runs thrice per week every means and stops at Amsterdam and Rotterdam. The brand new line by the Dutch-Belgian startup is the primary direct in a single day prepare route between the Belgian and German capitals in additional than a decade.

It’s now doable to leap on a two-hour Eurostar from London’s St Pancras station to Brussels-Midi station on a Friday afternoon, then catch the night European Sleeper from the identical Brussels station, and be in Berlin for breakfast. Leaving Berlin on Sunday evening, you possibly can once more join with Eurostar in Brussels and arrive in London Monday lunchtime, after a full weekend of Berlin tradition/chaos.

Earlier than taking the inaugural prepare from Berlin, I embrace town’s hipster-capital standing by staying on the new Selina Mitte resort (dorm beds from €50; rooms from €98). Vinyl data and classic garments are offered within the foyer and tattoos are administered within the bar, however I spend my euros on mountainous cinnamon buns within the Zeit für Brot bakery, just a few doorways down. This can be the good metropolis on this planet: bakery workers look catwalk-ready as they bag €8 loafs.

Seating class in the European Sleeper
Seating class within the European Sleeper. {Photograph}: Jamie Fullerton

Nevertheless, my go to additionally coincides with the unveiling of a duplicate of the Pillar of Disgrace by Danish sculptor Jens Galschiøt (commemorating the 1989 Tiananmen Sq. bloodbath) and this highlights Berlin’s creative clout, in addition to its standing as a human rights centrepoint. I watch Uyghur and Tibetan activists paint faces pink on the statue, however the temper among the many paintbrush-wielding crowd is of hope somewhat than horror. The monument will stand by the Axel Springer constructing till 22 June.

After a pilgrimage to the block that David Bowie and Iggy Pop lived in throughout the late Nineteen Seventies, and their native cafe (now Neues Ufer: a homosexual bar with work of Bowie and graffiti tributes within the loos), I greet the European Sleeper previous to its scheduled 21.11 departure from Gesundbrunnen station. (In future the prepare will use Hauptbahnhof, however this summer time it should generally be utilizing Gesundbrunnen, because of observe upkeep.)

The European Sleeper’s electrical Lineas Class 186 engine is met on the platform prefer it’s arriving at a movie premiere. Practice obsessives, passengers, journalists, YouTubers and transport ministry officers whoop and clap. Members of Again on Observe, which promotes evening trains to deal with international heating, wave flags that learn TRAINS NOT PLANES! as carriages clunk to a halt.

Back on Track campaigners on a platform in Berlin.
Again on Observe campaigners on a platform in Berlin. {Photograph}: Jamie Fullerton

Additionally boarding are Chris Engelsman and Elmer van Buuren, European Sleeper’s founders. Engelsman’s love of evening trains was stoked when travelling throughout Russia in his youth. “It’s cosy, it’s an journey,” he says. “We count on to draw individuals who love prepare journey, love the journey, who wouldn’t need to be stressing at airports. Simply having fun with the trip.”

Engelsman says that the European Sleeper isn’t a luxurious service, and has a clean tackle the shortage of air con within the prepare’s mid-range couchette carriages: seemingly the most well-liked ticket choice. “You’ll be able to open the home windows,” he says. “It’s a greater method to journey. A bit extra romantic.”

With a return prepare journey from London to Berlin costing at the very least €250 – for European Sleeper couchette and Eurostar seats – for a lot of passengers rail romance will beat any price issues. You’ll be able to generally get a Ryanair flight from Stansted to Berlin for £50 return.

Co-founder of European Sleeper Chris Engelsman poses for a picture on board the first European Sleeper train to Berlin, at the Midi Station in Brussels, Belgium May 26, 2023
Chris Engelsman, co-founder of European Sleeper. {Photograph}: Bart Biesemans/Reuters

Because the prepare leaves Gesundbrunnen I meet passengers Lisa Marie and Stefanie, who booked a six-seat cabin when their flight to London was cancelled. “I just like the vibe,” says Lisa Marie, a pupil. “I’m eager about doing this extra. It’s higher for the local weather and it’s enjoyable. You simply get in, sit down, and it’s performed.”

I ask Stefanie, a instructor, if she would take into account taking an evening prepare even with out airplane cancellations. She laughs: “I’d nonetheless take the airplane. Quicker is best.”

I’m fortunate to have a three-berth cabin to myself. I get pleasure from evening prepare natters, however have had too many moments of 3am soul-searching when observing pungent ft hanging from berths. I retire to my room simply earlier than 10pm, window-watching the final of the day’s daylight forged pink pastel shimmers on Großer Zernsee lake.

Passengers Lisa Marie, left, and Stefanie on the European Sleeper train.
Passengers Lisa Marie, left, and Stefanie on the European Sleeper. {Photograph}: Jamie Fullerton

I get pleasure from one of the vital comfy nights I’ve had on the numerous evening trains I’ve ridden. I’m 1.85 metres (6ft 1in) tall, however don’t must lie with my knees barely bent: my typical evening prepare place. The cabin partitions are skinny, even by flimsy prepare requirements, so I hear my neighbours with a readability that might be awkward ought to they progress from small discuss to reality or dare. Fortunately, they zip it fairly early.

The trip is clean, particularly contemplating a lot of the carriages had been constructed within the Sixties. Simply a few witching-hour jolts wake me. As we’re travelling within the Schengen space there are not any passport checks or night-time loudspeaker bulletins: ruinous components of some evening trains.

At 08.30 I fortunately wash my hair in my cabin’s sink earlier than an excellent chilly breakfast, included with my ticket, is delivered (there’s no eating carriage but, simply drinks offered by workers). Regardless of scrubbing my armpits with wet-wipes minutes earlier, consuming Ardennes pâté on crackers earlier than arriving in Brussels at 10.10, about 40 minutes late, feels somewhat refined.

European Sleeper breakfast laid out on a plastic tray.
The breakfast tray that’s delivered to passengers. {Photograph}: Jamie Fullerton

I keep in a single day within the metropolis, admiring the large and massively controversial masturbation murals by the Brussels-Charleroi canal, assumed to be by the road artist Bonom. Then equally spectacular, much less specific, metropolis views from the Twenty second-floor bar of The Hoxton, Brussels. No tattoos are administered on this newly opened resort, but it surely serves glorious Peruvian-inspired meals.

Taking the Eurostar to London, I finish a visit I can see many different UK-based travellers taking. European Sleeper’s founders are equally assured – they’re extending the Brussels-Berlin service to Dresden and Prague in 2024. There are plans for a path to southern France and Barcelona, and shortly tickets will combine with Interrail passes.

All promising stuff. And if there’s no couchette air-conditioning on these new routes, both? Open the window: it’s romantic.

Berlin to Brussels prepare ticket was offered by European Sleeper, which has one-way tickets from €49 a seat, €79 a couchette and €119 for a sleeper berth. Practice ticket from Brussels to the UK was offered by Omio. Berlin lodging offered by Selina Mitte; Brussels lodging offered by The Hoxton, Brussels

This text was amended on 2 June 2023. The locomotive is a Lineas Class 186, not an NS Class 86, as an earlier model stated.



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