In April 2011, I took an InterCityExpress (ICE) train from Frankfurt to Nürnberg and changed there for an ALEX train to Prague, leaving Nürnberg at 14:05 and arriving Prague at 18:54. ALEX is a private railroad company that belongs to Netintera, which in turn is now (since December 2020) a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Italian state railway company Trenitalia.
Why does the Italian state railway run regional trains in Germany? For the same reason that the German state railway runs city busses in London. (Not a very helpful answer, I realize.)
The ALEX train — shown above at platform 9 of the main station in Nürnberg — consisted of old but comfortable coaches that used to belong to the Czech national railroad. It ran as a regional train in Germany but as an express after it crossed the border into the Czech Republic.
This particular ALEX connection has since been discontinued, but as of 2021 there are still ALEX trains that run several times a day between Munich and Prague.
Now it is still possible to travel from Nürnberg to Prague by train, for instance by taking a DB (Deutsche Bahn) Regional Express to Cheb, and then a Czech express train from Cheb to Prague.
For several years the Deutsche Bahn used to run a bus (aka coach) service called the “IC Bus” (InterCity Bus) between Nürnberg and Prague. I always found it perverse that a government-owned railroad company would run buses instead of trains (that’s not what railroad companies are for), and I was pleased to learn that the entire “IC Bus” network (after several years of decline) was finally discontinued at the end of 2020. This is one of the few positive results of the coronavirus pandemic.
The main railway station is called Praha hlavní nádraží in Czech. The front end of the station has been enlarged and completely re-built in recent years. After leaving your train you have a long way to walk, but when you finally reach the exit you come out into a strip of park called Vrchlického sady.
In the Czech Republic (as in France, for example) trains do not have set tracks that are listed in the timetable. Instead, the track numbers are allocated a few minutes before departure time, which is why in Czech and French railroad stations you always see people standing around and staring at the departure board until the track number of their train appears. If they are lucky, they might have ten- or fifteen-minutes time to reach their platform before the train leaves. This last-minute allocation of track numbers is supposed to increase the efficiency of the stations, but I’m not at all sure it really does. As a passenger, I prefer the Swiss and German system of allocating tracks in advance and listing them in the timetable, even though changes are sometimes necessary in case of delays.
An unusual feature of the Prague main station is that there is an old Art Nouveau station building on top of the current station concourse, and there is a pair of escalators for the sole purpose of taking people upstairs to see the old station, and then back down again.
As of 2011, the old Art Nouveau station was still more or less intact, but was standing empty and in need of renovation. It was built from 1901 to 1909 to replace an earlier Neo-Renaissance station that had only lasted three decades before being demolished.
The word Kavárna in one of the arches means café, and I have since learned from The Man in Seat 61 that this refers to what is now the Fantova Kavárna (Café Fanta), named after the station’s original architect, Josef Fanta (and not after a German soft drink, as I had mistakenly assumed).
The station itself was originally named after Franz Joseph I, Emperor of Austria, Hungary and Bohemia, known in Czech as Císař Frantisek Josef I. “The Old Danube Monarchy!”, as my uncle said in my story from many years ago. “And our dear old Franz Joseph! He was still on his throne then, you know. We were serving… under his command. So to speak.”
My photos in this post are from 2011. I revised the text in 2021.