The night train from Berlin arrives at Gare de l'Est train station in Paris / AP

German rail network says the sleeper service was incurring debts of over €20 million a year

Pulled by a grimy red diesel engine, “City Night Line 450 Perseus” snaked and screeched its way into Berlin’s futuristic glass roofed Hauptbahnhof railway station just after 8.30am on Saturday to end an overnight run from Paris lasting some 13 hours. Few in the station realised it was the end of an era.

Overnight sleeper trains have linked Paris and Berlin since before the Second World War. In the early thirties they carried French Bohemians to wild and wicked Berlin overnight. In the 1940s they took Hitler’s troops from the Third Reich capital to the Nazi occupied city of light.

But Saturday marked the end of the line for the Paris-Berlin sleeper. In recent years has served chiefly as an attraction for backpacking tourists, hard up artists and romantically inclined train enthusiasts. Over the past week a “Save the night train” protest group has campaigned to save the rail link, but in vain.

Deutsche Bahn, the German rail network which operates the sleeper said the service was incurring debts over €20 million a year and losing out to cheap bus connections and easyJet which offers a regular service between the two capitals. Along with the Paris-Berlin sleeper, overnight train services linking Berlin with Copenhagen and Amsterdam are also being axed.

Inevitably the last travellers on the Paris-Berlin night train were saddened by its sudden demise. Meinhard Gartner, from Berlin said he had always wanted to take the overnight service but only realised that it was being axed a fortnight ago. “I have had to take a holiday to make the round trip. I spent only a day in Paris. It is such a shame that it’s going,” he said.

Mr Gartner and his partner were paying €140 each way for a first class sleeper ticket which entitled them to their own cabin and breakfast in bed. A bed in a six bunk compartment without food costs about a third.

Laure, a 33-year-old French artist who lives in Berlin said she used the service as a budget way to travel to Paris. “Lots of artists live in Berlin where its cheap but travel to Paris to exhibit. The night train was not only good for tourists, it was good for work,” she said. 

Deutsche Bahn claims it has not buried the Paris-Berlin night rain for good. It says it is working on new concepts which will make sleepers more attractive, with more  single cabins and differing comfort standards. The new night trains are intended to come on line “step by step” from 2015 onwards. In the meantime Berlin-Paris rail passengers who want to travel overnight, will have to change trains in Cologne.