I was craving a brezel and bratwurst so I took a little weekend trip to Berlin.
I boarded my 109 euro (booked two months in advance) round trip train at Amsterdam Centraal. I knew it was a doozy of a 6.5-hour train ride so I loaded up on books and movies. Naturally, I did not pay the 6 euros to reserve a seat, despite the fact that it was a long weekend.
It suggests on my ticket that I arrive at least 1 minute before departure time, which seems a bit tight to me. So I arrived 20 minutes early. I went to the far end of the platform where there were fewer people but it turns out the last two carriages were first class so I ended up in a carriage next to the cafeteria cart. Most international trains will have a picture of the carriage numbers and where 1st or 2nd class are, I just didn’t look.
Once I took down a family of three and shoved my way past an elderly woman with a cane, I managed to snag a seat. Calm your tits, I am Canadian. I obviously waited and basically let everyone push in front of me, even though I was at the front of the line.
In general, when you haven’t reserved a seat on a train, look above the chairs and you may see the shortened name of two cities/ stops, which means the seat is reserved for that portion of the trip. On Deutsche Bahn trains, there is a weird Ggf freigeben above some seats- mostly in the carriage next to the cafeteria. I had to Google it since I was unsure if it was taken or not. Apparently, the carts next to the cafeteria are the last to be reserved. So they all will say this (loosely translated by me to ggf is free, but I don’t speak German). It is possible, that if someone reserved within the hour of the train leaving that they may steal your seat but your chances are good. You should be able to sit your caboose down for the entire journey like I did.
I travelled alone, so not reserving isn’t the worst idea. By my standards, it was a great idea. I saved 12 euros return. You may end up playing a bit of musical chairs but normally you won’t be sitting on the ground. From what I saw, groups of three or more really struggled to try to find a seat altogether. Some were spread out in the same carriage.
All trains give you the option to reserve a seat when booking but some will require a reservation such as when you travel to Paris. If you were always out first (as in dead last) when playing musical chairs, then it may be an idea to reserve your seats in advance or you may have a wild ride.