I stumbled across this little gem on Facebook – posted by Peter Osten (one of my predecessors as President of JEF Europe) and reproduced here with his permission.

It is a rail ticket from April 1972 Mannheim Hbf – Bruxelles return, and it cost DM 95.20. Look at it closely and you can see the ticket was valid for a 2 month period, and – as far as I can tell – there is no seat reservation included.

So how does this compare to such a trip today?

Let’s turn DM 95.20 into Euro first – that is €48.67, at the rate when the Euro was introduced. But let’s then work out what €48.67 in 1972 prices would be in 2024 prices.

For that we can use this Inflation Calculator – that goes back that far. And it gives us an answer: €191.70

Now can you make a Mannheim Hbf – Bruxelles return trip today for €191.70? Well, it gets complicated.

A Flexpreis, 2nd class, which is the closest available ticket Deutsche Bahn sells is a hell of a lot more – it’s €147.30 single or €294.60 return.

However in 1972 there were no Bahncards. Add a BahnCard 50 to the booking and you end up with €190.80, pretty much exactly the price from back then.

But the major change has been the introduction of yield pricing – book ahead and get what Deutsche Bahn calls Sparpreis and you can manage to get amazingly cheap offers. Were we to travel to Bruxelles on 14.04.2024, 52 years to the day after Peter’s ticket were bought, booking it today, and returning a week later, without any Bahncard, we could manage it for €39.90 each way, or €79.80 in total – or just 42% of what Peter paid back then.

Is this better or worse than the situation in 1972? I don’t know. It is at least very different. You could make a case that the cheaper yield managed tickets open up rail travel to groups in society that could not have afforded it in 1972, or make the case that the lack of flexibility that these tickets necessitate mean rail travel has adopted some of the inflexibility of the airline business. But it’s a neat little example to show us what has changed.


  1. Florian Ziegenbalg

    What would be interesting: Was there a direct train from Mannheim to Brussels?

  2. Gregor Erbach

    Another difference on the Mannheim-Brussels route is the speed, as the high-speed lines between Mannheim and Cologne and between Cologne and Brussels did not yet exist in the 20th century, and trains had to take the scenic route through the Rhine and Vesdre valleys. Today, high-speed trains take you from Mannheim to Brussel-Noord in 3h22 (if the ICE trains run on time, or at all). I have lost the old timetables, but I guess it took around 5 hours in 1972.
    Cologne to Brussel-Noord today takes 1h44 , in 1994 it took 2h18 – 34 minutes longer (Auslandskursbuch Sommer 1994).
    On other routes, the difference is much smaller. Dortmund – Brussel-Noord takes 3h27 today, with changing trains in Cologne. In 1994 it took 3h44 (EC Memling without changing trains) – only 17 minutes longer.

  3. Max Wyss

    Also note that it is a printed ticket (or there was a printing device) for that route.

    Fares were pre-determined and (if needed) negociated between the railway companies. No yield management crap (which got introduced with the railways hiring phased-out airline managers)

  4. Joa Falken

    There have been huge state subsidies for rail in the meantime, which I am not sure if existant in 1972 already.
    Today’s trains run the fast new lines (construction state-funded), which could allow to operate them cheaper.

    Note that the 1972 international ticket could be used in any train (except TEE), irrespective of train operators, and that you could make interim stops for a couple of days without problems, and decide on them upon arrival at any station.

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