Traveling in Germany

Unless you get all the right matching traincars, you won’t be going anywhere. (Ticket to Ride boardgame, Europe edition)
Unless you get all the right matching traincars, you won’t be going anywhere. (Ticket to Ride boardgame, Europe edition)

After a relaxing weekend in Marburg, I spent a good amount of time these past two days arranging my schedule (and tickets) for some upcoming planned trips. While the train network in Europe is comprehensive and (relatively) reliable, finding the most affordable tickets can become something of an artform. In fact, with enough planning, you can complete a very detailed tour of Germany without ever having to rent a car! Here are some quick pointers for booking travel in Germany.

The Deutsche Bahn is responsible for most railways in Germany and any German trains that venture beyond the border. Their website isn’t the handiest, but does feature “Sparpreise,” reduced rates, when booking far enough in advance. So long as you are able to plan ahead, you can get from just about any German city to another major one for 30 Euros or less. An important downside to these reduced tickets is that you are bound to a specific itinerary – if you miss your train, you cannot simply hop on the next one.

If you’re planning on staying in Germany longer, you can even try their BahnCard, a membership card bought with a fee (careful: it’s a subscription, so remember to cancel it when you return) which pays for itself fairly quickly by offering a 25% discount off the already reduced rates offered on the site. Be sure to check for a “Probe” (trial) card if you’re in Germany for less than a year. The current offering is for three months – and can even feature your favorite team in the Europa Meisterschaft! Incidentally, if you pick the winning team, you get some free rail time from Deutsche Bahn.

Since you might be flexible with your exact travel plans, something the DB site does not accommodate well, you should consider trying the popular Busliniensuche. Here you can sort results by departure, arrival, length of trip, or price. Not only does it include railway options, but also advertises rates by various bus companies and ride-sharing services. I haven’t used the latter two, but my housemates assure me that they’re often very reasonable options. In fact, long-distance buses have a better reputation than the trains for comfort, price, and the availability of WIFI. Since learning of this website, it has always been my first stop in trip planning.

For larger German cities (and sometimes even smaller regions!), you’ll want to search for specific local transportation rates. If you’re visiting for a weekend, there will often be an option to purchase a one-, two-, or three-day ticket that allows you to use all forms of transportation as needed (bus, tram, S-Bahn, U-Bahn – as applicable). In cities like Berlin or Munich, this is easily the most convenient way to get around, allowing you to skip the ticket counters each time you want to use public transit (and will certainly pay for itself over the course of the weekend). Both of these cities also feature options to purchase more expensive regional tickets, which expand your zone of travel into the surrounding region for a quick trip to Sanssouci or the Bavarian countryside. If you’re traveling with others, there is often an option to add travelers to a regional ticket at a handsomely reduced rate.

Unfortunately for me, the trip I spent hours planning today was not confined to Germany, rendering many of these sites and prior knowledge completely useless. I’m sure my colleagues in the Institute on Napoleon and the French Revolution have grown adept at booking French transit, but I still have a long way to go to familiarize myself. I hope this quick introduction to long-distance travel in Germany might help someone avoid some of these same frustrations!

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