By train and ferry to Denmark

Forty-one times a day these Scandlines ferries make the crossing from Puttgarden, on the island of Fehmarn in northern Germany, to Rødbyhavn on the Danish island of Lolland. 

I made this crossing in 2009 as a train passenger on a EuroCity train going from Hamburg to Copenhagen, and then back the following week. Both times, the train and the ferry were right on time, and we had little or no waiting. The train is the last vehicle to be driven onto the ferry and the first to be driven off, so there were no delays for us.

This was a “free” train trip for me — free in the sense that it didn’t cost me any money but only three thousand “Bonus Points” that I had accumulated as a frequent traveler on the German Railroad System. Since these “Bonus Points” are usually more or less worthless, I was amazed to discover that a mere three thousand of them would get me a first class ticket from Frankfurt to Copenhagen and back.

On the way from Hamburg to Puttgarden the train crosses a long bridge over the Fehmarn Sound to get from the German mainland to the island of Fehmarn, which is where I snapped this photo from the train window.

I later looked up the Fehmarn Sound Bridge and found that it has a total length of 963 meters and was inaugurated in 1963. At some future date the German and Danish governments might also build a much longer bridge, nearly nineteen kilometers, over the Fehmarn Belt between Puttgarden and Rødbyhavn, which is where the ferry now goes.

Second class in a Danish EC3 train

There are currently six direct trains per day from Hamburg to Copenhagen via Lübeck and the Puttgarden-Rødby ferry. Three of these trains are German InterCityExpress trains (ICE) and three are Danish EuroCity trains of the EC3 variety.

Since this rail line is not entirely electrified, the trains have diesel engines, so they sound and feel rather clunky compared to most long distance trains in Europe. But after getting used to them I found the trains pleasant and comfortable.

The trip from Hamburg to Copenhagen takes roughly five hours, including 45 minutes on the ferry.  

One of the EC3 trains I went on was named after Kaj Munk (1898 – 1944), a Danish playwright and Lutheran pastor who was murdered by the Nazis during their occupation of Denmark during the Second World War. In the train there are text panels about Kaj Munk in both Danish and German . These texts point out quite correctly that Munk supported the Danish resistance movement against the Nazi occupation, but they neglect to mention that he actually favored dictatorship, not democracy, as his preferred form of government — just that he wished for a civilized Scandinavian dictator, not a brutal German or Italian one.

Train in the ferry

When the train arrives the ferry is already waiting and is already loaded with cars, trucks and other such obsolete vehicles, so when the train is rolled on the ferry can shut its doors and leave the dock almost immediately.

Passengers have to leave the train during the crossing, and the train is locked for about forty-five minutes. There is a narrow passageway to the staircase that leads to the upper decks. It helps to remember which level your train is on (2 or 3, usually) and which staircase you took (A, B, C or D) to get upstairs.

On the ferry

For those of us who don’t do it too often, riding on a ferry is a pleasant experience with lots of fresh air and views of the sea, or in this case the Fehmarn Belt. This route is called the Vogelfluglinie — German for “bird flight line” — to make clear that it is the shortest route from Hamburg to Copenhagen.

Danish and German flags on the ferry

We landlubbers rarely see tugboats in the normal course of events, but we often read about them to our children and grandchildren.

A spunky little tugboat

Tugboats in children’s stories are spunky, cheerful little creatures. The didactic intention of these stories is of course to encourage the children to be spunky, cheerful little creatures themselves, instead of just whining and moaning as they are prone to do if left to their own devices.

Tugboat pulling a barge

Rødbyhavn (Denmark) from the ferry

Rødbyhavn (“Rødby Harbor”) is the harbor on the northern shore of the Fehmarn Belt where the ferries arrive from Puttgarden.

There is also a town called Rødby, about five kilometers to the northeast, with a population of nearly 2300 people at last count.

View from the train window in Denmark

After rolling off the ferry at Rødbyhavn, the train continues on to Copenhagen (København in Danish), stopping four times along the way. 

My photos in this post are from 2009. I revised the text in 2017.

See more posts on train travel.

6 thoughts on “By train and ferry to Denmark”

  1. Sweet little red tug! That’s a little harbor guy. I also like ferries. Lord, I can blow an entire day in Seattle, or Maine, just hanging on the rail of a ferry.

    That looks like you had a great trip!

    1. Yes, the ferry in my photos will be replaced by a bridge (part bridge and part tunnel, actually) that will take most of the coming decade to build. This is very controversial in Germany, even though Denmark is paying the entire cost of the bridge-and-tunnel, and Germany only has to pay for the connecting tracks and roads on German territory.

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