What’s a ‘platzkart’ on Russian trains?

Legion Media
Everyone who has ever traveled across Russia by night trains knows this word.

‘Platzkart’ is actually how Russians call the couchette car, a type of railway sleeping carriage.

Foreign tourists wittily refer it to a Soviet-era ‘kommunalka’ (communal apartment) on wheels. ‘Platzkart’ is a carriage where sleeping places are separated only by a tiny partition. And, in fact, you can walk across the car and see every passenger.

Usually, one car can accommodate up to 54 passengers in total. There are nine semi-private compartments with four places: two lower and two upper. And across each compartment, there are two more side places. While, in a corridor coach, each compartment for four people is closed off with a door and there is no extra side places.

The word itself appeared from the German ‘Platzkarte’, which was a seat reservation receipt for a particular place. It was an additional fee to the ticket price. And this means that if you booked a lower place in a compartment, it could cost more than a less comfortable upper place.

In the Russian language, this word was usually pronounced as ‘Platzkarta’ and the car began to be known as ‘Platzkartny wagon’ (literally ‘Platzkarte carriage’). But, as time passed, it shortened to just ‘Platzkart’ for referring not to the fee, but to the car. 

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