This striking modern art installation on the banks of the Danube in Vukovar recalls the turbulent recent history of eastern Croatia (photo © hidden europe).
We note that Deutsche Bahn now runs an overnight bus service from Stuttgart and Munich to Zagreb. The new bus service continues beyond Zagreb to the farthest corner of eastern Slavonia — that’s the part of Croatia between the River Sava and the River Danube which abuts onto Serbia. Presumably, this new route is a good budget option if you want to travel from Vukovar to Munich or from Stuttgart to Vinkovci. Fares for these two journeys both start at €49 one way.
The eastern part of Slavonia was a significant source area for Gastarbeiter (guest workers) who came from Yugoslavia to Germany from 1968 onwards. But those workers have long since made good and they and their children are probably now all driving around in their Mercedes. But the trains survived and eastern Slavonia was an area which for many years enjoyed good rail links with southern Germany. There was a direct overnight link from Vinkovci to Munich as recently as three years ago. Zagreb to Munich continued to operate until a few weeks ago.
The bus is evidently pulling customers who want a cheap way to travel. And it is attracting others who would much prefer to take a comfortable overnight train, but simply cannot find one to book. For some weeks there have been no direct trains running from anywhere in Croatia to Germany, due to the rail line over the Austrian-German border at Salzburg being closed to long-distance trains. Passengers who might otherwise have opted for a train are being nudged onto buses instead.
A journey of 15 hrs 20 mins from Stuttgart to Vinkovci on an overnight bus is probably not a bundle of fun. Buses win out over rail for all the wrong reasons. In this case, there’s the border issue at Salzburg. But there are other factors. An overnight train from southern Germany to eastern Slavonia would require the cooperation of four different rail administrations, viz. DB (Germany), ÖBB (Austria), SZ (Slovenia) and HZ (Croatia). That would need careful planning and lots of paperwork. It is all too tempting for DB to just rent a bus, add a few DB stickers onto the vehicle to push the DB brand, and then set up an overnight bus service.
Presumably at some stage the German police will get their act together and direct overnight trains will again be permitted over the border at Salzburg. The reinstatement of the Zagreb to Munich train will be scope for some rejoicing. In recent weeks, it has run only between Zagreb and Salzburg. Munich-bound passengers are turfed off the train when it arrives at Salzburg just after four in the morning, and left to find a way across the nearby border into Germany.
Some might say that DB rather like the current arrangements. With a bus, DB can pocket all the revenue. With a train, revenue must be shared among the participating rail administrations. It would be a pity if the new bus link becomes the reason for not reinstating the Zagreb to Munich overnight train.
About The Authors
Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries
Nicky and Susanne manage hidden europe, a Berlin-based editorial bureau that supplies text and images to media across Europe. Together they edit hidden europe magazine. Nicky and Susanne are dedicated slow travellers and the authors of the book Europe by Rail: The Definitive Guide. The 17th edition of that book will be published in mid-April 2022. You'll find a list of outlets that sell the book on this website.