Why clubbers are raving about Germany’s cross-country Techno Train

<span>Dancing in the moonlight … the Techno Train in full swing.</span><span>Photograph: Jamie Fullerton</span>
Dancing in the moonlight … the Techno Train in full swing.Photograph: Jamie Fullerton

‘Do you ever get seasick?” Timm Schirmer, a 27-year-old DJ with a fabulous blond moustache, asks me shortly before we board the Techno Train. “When you’re dancing on the train it can feel like you’re at sea, because you can’t always see that you’re moving.” Worryingly, I have indeed spent many a past holiday retching on boats. But Timm’s question comes after I’ve paid €100 for a non-refundable ticket for what social media suggests is the most intense train ride in Europe. I knew it wouldn’t be plain sailing.

Launched in 2019 by the Nuremberg nightclub Haus 33, for whom Tim DJs, the Techno Train runs twice a year and has only two official stops: the start and the finish. We depart Nuremberg’s Frankenstadion station at 4pm and travel about 100km west towards the city of Würzburg, then loop back and pull into Nuremberg Central Station at 11pm.

The train has 12 carriages, three of which become dance rooms with DJ decks, speakers and bars. About 25 DJs perform on our trundle through the Bavarian countryside.

About 700 tickets are available for each journey, selling out in seconds despite the train having no marketing beyond social media. But even so, Tim says, “You can’t get rich from this. Permission to go on the tracks is expensive. We’re lucky to have hype on Instagram and TikTok … when you don’t have this, you’re going bankrupt.”

As I join the queue outside Frankenstadion station, a woman with a pram scrabbles for her phone to film the mainly black-clad, frequently half-naked ticket-holders. Before I’m allowed on board, a stocky bouncer rummages through my backpack – luckily, he has no problem with me being the only passenger who’s brought a book.

The music is gospel-tinged and euphoric, far less abrasive than I’d expected

Transport rules dictate that there be at least one seat per passenger, and I find a spot in the chill-out area. It’s one of the few carriages that doesn’t have speakers strapped to its ceiling, and that you can’t smoke in. I chat with Vincent, a smiley 22-year-old with a shaved head and mirrored sunglasses, who says he’s part of Nuremberg’s techno scene. I ask for advice as a 40-year-old Techno Train virgin. “Don’t stay in one place – travel up and down the train,” Vincent says. His friend Benedict, deep-voiced and lightly bearded, adds: “Use the toilets early. They get … unpleasant.”

By 4.30pm, DJ Es.Ka has started his set in the dance carriage nearest me. Panels are pulled over windows and a fog machine fills the room with red mist and school disco scent. Shirtless gents with six packs dance on ledges, and a skinny man who looks like Bad Education actor Layton Williams wafts a huge black hand fan around. The oversized fan isn’t an affectation: it’s a hot afternoon even before you dance in a jam-packed carriage.

The music is gospel-tinged and euphoric, far less abrasive than I’d expected. Some 90 minutes after the DJs begin, the train starts moving, prompting cheers.

Most of the crowd are German but I notice Irish, American, English and French accents, too. Timm says that when the Techno Train launched, it was mainly for Haus 33 regulars, but after it got big online, people from further afield started to come. In the queue for the bar I hear a loud Glaswegian accent: “Any luck with the disco biscuits?”

“Awareness staff” in red vests keep watch for bad behaviour and rolled-up banknotes. “If we see two people go in a toilet and stay for half an hour, we know something’s up,” one says.

In March this year, Germany’s culture ministry and Unesco commission added Berlin’s techno scene to the country’s list of intangible cultural heritage. I ask Timm if the Techno Train’s success is a sign of an “officially” positive attitude to techno and hedonism being felt beyond the capital city.

He shakes his head. “Bavaria is actually really conservative. It’s the opposite of Berlin.” Timm mentions Markus Söder, Bavaria’s minister-president and leader of the Christian Social Union in Bavaria party. “They hate techno and parties. It’s really hard to get permission, and I don’t actually know why we get it. Maybe because this is so unique. But if you do something like an illegal party in the woods here and the police come, you’re fucked.”

I squeeze past a man in a gold V for Vendetta Guy Fawkes mask, then another dressed in a Jesus robe, and shimmy to the largest DJ carriage. The windows are open and uncovered, giving a “club lights on at 5am” feel on this sunny afternoon. A breeze rushes in sporadically, offering a respite to sweat-steamed cheeks.

The train parks in stations along the route, where people on platforms take videos of the carriages rocking under hundreds of heavy dance-stomps. As we move through a village, children on garden swings wave manically. An elderly gent tending his vegetable patch drops his trowel to salute us.

With one hour to go, hundreds of passengers are still dancing, shirts discarded

Flitting between the dance carriages, I don’t feel seasick, but I hit a wall during a hardcore remix of Sean Paul’s Get Busy. Louis Harshman, a Berlin-based DJ, plays a set of suitably harsh nosebleed techno as I retreat to the chill-out area. With one hour to go, hundreds of passengers are still dancing, shirts discarded and pupils dilated.

We turf out back in Nuremberg, where police are waiting on the station platform to observe the crowd stagger out of the station. Timm is stuffing DJ equipment into his backpack and smiling proudly. He asks if I’m coming to the Haus 33 after-party.

The club is a short walk away, but my Premier Inn is closer. I check my health app, and see I’ve taken 20,000 steps on the train. I check my wallet, and see I’ve spent €50 on cold fizzy pop. The Techno Train was as enjoyably intense as I’d hoped, but that’s enough exercise and sugar for one day.

Check the Techno Train’s Instagram (@technotrain_) for future trips. Train travel from London to Brussels was provided by Eurostar (from £51 one-way). Travel from Brussels to Berlin provided by European Sleeper (couchettes from €79 one-way). Travel from Berlin to Nuremberg provided by Omio, whose app allows travellers to compare different transport methods simultaneously. Accommodation in Nuremberg provided by Premier Inn Nuremberg City Opernhaus (doubles from 106).