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Germany’s train strikes: What rights do you have as a passenger?

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With passenger trains being affected from Monday, millions of passengers will face train cancellations and delays in the first half of the week. This includes holidaying travellers as it’s still the school holiday period in ten of Germany’s 16 states.

According to information on German railway company Deutsche Bahn’s website, it’s still offering “a reliable basic service”.

However, the railway adds that “in this situation we cannot guarantee that all travellers will reach their destination”. 

And it recommends postponing, if possible, any planned long-distance journeys until after the strikes finish on Wednesday.

You can find the latest information on affected services here.

If Deutsche Bahn are recommending postponing your journey, does that mean you can use your ticket on another date or a different train?
Yes. They say on their website that anyone who has booked a journey on the long-distance rail network between 23rd and 25th August on a route that’s affected by the strike can use their ticket flexibly any time from August 20th until September 4th.

And for saver and super-saver short and long-distance fares, you can use a different connecting train to what’s specified on your ticket during that period. 

You can change your seat reservation for free, too.  

If you’re using the local rail network, they say that if you already have a ticket you can use it straight away or up to and including 4th September, and you can use a different route if you need to.

But it’s not quite that simple for local train journeys: if you take a more expensive long-distance train, such as the ICE instead of the RE regional train, to complete your journey, you’ll need to first buy a dearer ticket or pay a surcharge and then claim the costs back later. However, this doesn’t apply to heavily discounted tickets, such as ‘Länder’ tickets.

Can you get a refund on your ticket?
Yes, if trains are not cancelled but you decide not to travel during the strike period, you can apply for a refund here if you bought your ticket online or in the DB travel centre if you purchased it there or from a machine.

Your ticket price will also be completely reimbursed if the strike would make your planned train arrive at least 60 minutes late and you don’t have to actually take the train to get the refund.

Do you get compensation for delays if you travel?
You do. If the train is delayed at the destination station by 60 minutes, you’ll get 25 percent of the ticket price back for a single journey and 50 percent for a delay of 120 minutes or more. 

So if, for example, you’ve booked a return ticket for 80 euros, you’ll get 10 euros compensation if the train’s delayed by at least 60 minutes on one of the journeys.

And if you have to interrupt your journey because of the strike and return to the station you started at, they’ll refund the unused portion of the journey. 

How is the compensation paid?
You can choose whether you’d like a voucher or the money back. 

What about if you’ve got a monthly ticket?
If you have a monthly ticket or some other kind of season ticket, you’ll receive compensation for delays of more than 60 minutes. There’s a flat rate for this, though: five euros for long-distance second-class tickets and ten euros for Bahncard 100.

For ‘Länder’ and ‘Schönes-Wochenende’ tickets, it’s 1.50 euros.

However, they’ll only pay out for amounts above 4 euros, so you might need to stack up receipts from a few delays.

Will the Bahn pay for taxis or hotel rooms?
There are two situations where Deutsche Bahn have to provide an alternative form of transport, German news website Tageschau said: if the scheduled arrival time is between midnight and 5 am and the expected delay at the destination station is at least 60 minutes, or if the last scheduled connection of the day is cancelled and it’s no longer possible to reach the destination station by midnight without a taxi.

If the railway doesn’t do this — if it’s the middle of the night, for example — you can get a taxi yourself and then get the railway to reimburse the costs — up to a maximum of 80 euros.

If a train is cancelled or delays mean it’s no longer possible or reasonable to continue the journey that day, the railway has to provide customers with overnight accommodation or reimburse “reasonable accommodation costs” later.

If offered, passengers have to use the accommodation offered by the railway before looking for a hotel themselves, though.

Can you still take your bike with you on the strike days?
On its website, Deutsche Bahn asks passengers to not take their bikes with them on the strike days as long-distance services are expected to be very busy because of the reduced number of trains.

But if you’re travelling on the long-distance network and you’ve already bought a ticket with a bike ticket and reserved a bike spot in advance, you can get your bike shipped for free on the strike days by booking it online using ‘Fahrrad23’ as a code in the payment box.

However, this is only valid for ‘conventional’ bicycles, not for e-bikes, tandems and recumbent bicycles, etc.

Commuters stand in front of an information board reading “GDL strike! No rail traffic!” on a platform at Berlin’s Hauptbahnhof main railway station on August 11th, 2021, as train drivers staged a strike. (Photo by Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP)

Are Deutsche Bahn doing anything to avert further strikes?
Yes, they’ve offered a ‘Corona bonus’ which will be paid out this year, but the sum hasn’t been specified yet. Martin Seiler, Deutsche Bahn’s Chief Human Resources Officer said this meant there could “no longer be any reason [for GDL] to refuse to return the negotiating table,” Tagesschau reported.

READ ALSO: German train drivers call strike in escalating wage dispute

READ ALSO: Rail passengers in Germany face disruption as two-day strike announced

What are the union looking for?
GDL want a corona premium of 600 euros for their members, better working conditions and a wage increase of around 3.2 percent. 

What has Deutsche Bahn offered?
They’ve countered with a two-stage increase — 1.5 percent by January 1st, 2022 and 1.7 percent by March 1st, 2023, but GDL head Claus Weselsky has said this is not enough.



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How the cost of renting an apartment in Copenhagen compares to other cities in Denmark

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With the arguable exception of second city Aarhus, Copenhagen is significantly more expensive to rent housing than anywhere else in Denmark.

But the extra cost in the capital depends on where else in Denmark you compare with, as well as the type of housing you rent.

Private or general housing?

First, it is important to note the difference between the two main types of rental housing in Denmark: private rentals and almene boliger (literally, ‘general housing’), a form of subsidised housing.

For almene boliger, local municipalities put up 10 percent of building costs and in return have the right to decide who is allocated one in four available apartments, enabling them to provide housing to municipal residents who need it. The housing therefore plays a role in the social housing provision.

This type of housing is normally managed by a boligforening or housing association. Rent goes towards costs of running the housing and to pay off the housing association’s loans, which means property owners aren’t profiting from rents and prices are controlled.

Aside from housing assigned by the municipality, almene boliger are open for anyone. However, to get one, you must get to the top of a waiting list, which you join by signing up with associations which operate housing in the city where you live (or want to live).

In Copenhagen or Aarhus, it can take years to get to the top of these lists, while in smaller cities you might get an offer in weeks or even days.

As such, many newcomers to Denmark must turn to the private rental market if they are living in one of the main cities.

READ ALSO: Deposits, complaints and registration: Five key things to know about renting in Denmark

Private housing: Copenhagen clearly pricier 

A study conducted by housing research centre Bolius in November 2020 found the cost of a 56 square-metre apartment in Copenhagen’s Nørrebro district to be 8,536 kroner per month.

The study, which was based on data from 2019 and 2020 from rental platforms boliga.dk and boligportal.dk, shows the average monthly cost of non-limited private apartments on Nørrebro, compared with 16 other locations in Denmark.

The cost takes into account the cost of a deposit (normally three months’ rent) and adds it to the average cost of renting the housing for five years (thereby assuming none of the deposit is returned to the tenant).

In comparison to the price in Nørrebro, the study found rent in Hillerød north of Copenhagen to be slightly less (8,218 kroner) for a slightly larger apartment (65 square metres).

Moving further out from Copenhagen, costs begin to drop even more.

In Kalundborg on the west coast of Zealand, you can rent a 71-square-metre flat for 5,167 kroner per month. Næstved, a commuter town between Copenhagen and the Great Belt Bridge, comes in at 6,039 kroner for an apartment at 72 square metres.

The cheaper rents are consistent further to the west, exemplified in Jutland cities Aalborg (5,544 kroner for 62 square metres), Vejle (6.696 kroner for 84 square metres) and Esbjerg (4,399 kroner for 54 square metres).

Although Aarhus is not included in the study, third-largest city Odense is. Here, there is still a significant saving on Copenhagen, with 8,488 kroner, a similar rent to that in Nørrebro, getting you an apartment over 50 percent bigger at 82 square metres.

General (almene) housing: closer, but still higher in Greater Copenhagen

Rent prices for almene or subsidised housing were most recently analysed in a 2020 report by Landsbyggefonden (National Building Foundation), a support institution for the social housing sector.

According to that report, the rent for family housing (meaning housing not reserved for students or seniors) is “on average, approximately 100-200 kroner per square metre higher [per year, ed.] east of the Great Belt Bridge than west of it”.

Of the five administrative regions, average rent for family subsidised housing is highest in Greater Copenhagen at 906 kroner per square metre for a year’s rent.

The lowest rents can be found in South Denmark, where the yearly cost is 722 kroner per square metre.

Zealand is the region that comes closest to Copenhagen on the costs for this type of regular housing. Here, tenants can expect to pay 859 kroner per square metre in a year. The equivalent costs in Central Jutland and North Jutland and 778 kroner and 747 kroner respectively.

The study also places Greater Copenhagen as the most expensive region when rents are presented as the median monthly rent for family housing.

Here, the median values are split into five categories based on apartment size, with Copenhagen coming out as the most expensive region for each category.

For example, the median monthly rents for apartments between 50-60 square metres are as follows: 5,039 kroner (Greater Copenhagen); 4,913 kroner (Zealand); 4,541 kroner (Central Jutland); 4,388 kroner (North Jutland); 4,236 kroner (South Denmark). The national average is 4,667 kroner.

Sources: Domea, Bolius, Landsbyggefonden



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Officials pushed for State to buy direct provision centres from private firms

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The Government should buy a number of privately-owned direct provision centres as a “priority” as it would be more “cost effective” for the State to run the facilities for asylum seekers, international protection officials have said.

The savings arising from owning the accommodation centres rather than paying private contractors to do so “could be considerable”, departmental briefing documents provided to Minister for Children and Integration Roderic O’Gorman last year state.

The vast majority of direct provision centres are currently owned and run by private companies, with accommodation providers having received some €1.6 billion since 1999, including €183 million last year.

The latest figures show some 7,150 people are in the system of seven State-owned sites and 39 private centres. A further 24 commercially-owned premises are being used to provide emergency accommodation for asylum seekers.

The briefing document, released to The Irish Times under the Freedom of Information Act, says that housing people seeking asylum in State-owned centres would provide the “best protection from the vulnerability of present market reliance”.

“They are also much more cost efficient to run, and the State owns the asset,” it notes.

The document suggested that State centres should aim to accommodate 5,000 people, and “allowing the private sector to supply the rest is regarded as an achievable and reasonable target”.

The purchase of existing centres from private providers “to immediately boost the State’s footprint in this area should be considered as a priority,” the internal document said.

“Some service providers may be open to this and the market appears to be favourable at present,” it said.

The internal briefing suggested the department could then seek private companies or NGOs to run the centres, which would be a “competitive cost option”.

‘Badly needed’

Ongoing maintenance for centres owned by the State was also “badly needed,” as current pressures on the Office of Public Works (OPW) meant it was not possible “for immediate repairs to be done if required”.

“In exploring the model of more State centres, we need to agree and acquire a capital budget,” the briefing stated.

“State land does not require planning permission for new centres as the Minister has a power under the Acts, whereby the OPW can grant the planning permission and this is usually a three-month process. It is not subject to appeal.”

The document says that State centres “can also have a bigger footprint as it will be a permanent fixture in the locality”. In recent years a number of plans for private providers to open direct provision centres in regional towns have been met with protests from locals and anti-immigration activists.

Mr O’Gorman’s department has sought to reform the direct provision system and is seeking to replace the network of centres with a new system of accommodation and supports by the end of 2024.

New centres

A department spokesman confirmed the State has not bought any new centres since the briefing note was written. The spokesman said under the planned overhaul of direct provision, asylum-seekers who arrived into the country would initially be housed in a number of reception and integration centres.

Asylum-seekers will spend a maximum of four months in the reception centres before moving into housing secured through Approved Housing Bodies.

“These centres will be State-owned and purpose built to provide suitable accommodation for approximately 2,000 people at any one time, to cater for the flow-through of the 3,500 applicants over a 12-month period,” he said.


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IN PICTURES: French daredevil takes hair-raising Seine tightrope walk

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Attached by a strap to a safety lanyard, 27-year-old Nathan Paulin slowly progressed barefoot on a line stretched across the river between the Eiffel Tower and the Chaillot Theatre.

He stopped for a few breaks, sitting or lying on the rope.

Paulin holds an umbrella as he performs, for the second time, on a 70-metre-high slackline spanning 670 metres between the Eiffel Tower and the Theatre National de Chaillot. (Photo by Sameer Al-DOUMY / AFP)

“It wasn’t easy walking 600 metres, concentrating, with everything around, the pressure … but it was still beautiful,” he said after the performance on Saturday.

He said obtaining the necessary authorisations had been a difficulty for him, plus “the stress linked to the audience, the fact that there are a lot of people”.

Photo: (Photo by THOMAS COEX / AFP)

Paulin, holder of several world records, performed the feat to celebrate France’s annual Heritage Day – when people are invited to visit historic buildings and monuments that are usually closed to the public.

He said his motivation was “mainly to do something beautiful and to share it and also to bring a new perspective on heritage, it is to make heritage come alive”.

He had already crossed the River Seine on a tightrope, on Heritage Day in 2017.



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