The German national railway system operated by Deutsche Bahn is the most extensive in Europe and boasts of frequent modern trains. The prices are fair, with weekend, regional and other deals.
- Intercity-Express (ICE) trains travel at speed up to 300 km/hr. and offer most comfort, including a bistro.
- Intercity (IC) and international Eurocity (EC) trains go at 200 km/hr., and have electricity terminals and a buffet carriage.
- Local trains come such as swift InterRegio-Express (IRE), the steady Regional-Express (RE) trains, and the slowest local Regionalbahn (RB), that tend to stop at every station en route.
- Stadt-Express (SE) trains or the commuter S-Bahn trains operate in the cities.
Tickets are available at the travel centre (Reisezentrum) or from touch screen vending machines. You can also buy tickets on board for a nominal service charge.
Standard tickets are not restricted to any particular train and are priced according to the distance travelled. Reservations are recommended for popular long-distance trains, especially for the peak Friday late-afternoon trips.
Registered users can buy tickets online up to ten minutes before departure. You’ll need a print-out of the ticket and your credit card as proof of the purchase.
City Night Line operates trains to the Netherlands, Austria and Switzerland and destinations throughout Germany. Ticket prices range from € 4 for a reclining seat, through € 40 for a 4-berth couchette to € 100 for a single-occupancy sleeper.
German buses supplement its railway and serve mostly to get to the rural areas, where the rail network is scarce, such as the Thuringian Forest, the Black Forest or the Bavarian Alps.
Regional companies operate local buses that vary in frequency from every twenty minutes to daily. Mind, that buses are less frequent at weekends and rarely adhere strictly to schedules, leaving earlier than the time published.
Tickets can be bought either from kiosks or from the driver. It’s worth buying a day-card (Tageskarte) or week-card (Wochenkarte), if you intend to travel extensively during your stay in Germany.
To drive your own car in Germany, you are required to have your driving license, vehicle registration documents and a valid insurance certificate.
Though there might be some leniency for foreigners, mind Green Zone regulations, which imply that pre-’93 petrol models and pre-’97 diesels will not pass unless retro-fitted with a catalytic converter and that vehicles entering a Green Zone without Emission Badge will be fined. The badge can be bought for around € 10 from repair centres and MOT (Tüv) stations, or via websites tuev-nord.de for northern Germany, and tuev-sued.de for southern Germany.
Germany’s most famous roads are its three- or four-lane motorways – Autobahnen, indicated with blue signs and an “A” prefix. Though there are no overall speed limits – such sections are marked with a round white sign with three diagonal stripes – the speed of 130 km/hr. is often recommended. Some stretches near towns and cities do have speed limits imposed too.
Secondary B routes, Bundesstrassen, are usually dual carriageway, with three lanes on heavy sections, and have a speed limit of 100 km/hr. Speed limits in urban areas are 50 km/hr. All routes are toll free.
- Driving is on the right, overtaking is on the left. Anything approaching from the right commands respect, exclusive of city trams that have the right of way regardless of the direction.
- Seatbelts are compulsory for all, including those on the back seats.
- Some states request that headlights are always on when driving.
- The use of mobile phones while driving is forbidden unless with a hands-free set.
- The maximum alcohol limit in blood is 0.5 mg/l.
City transport in Germany is rather efficient and fairly priced. In major cities rail systems are usually supplemented by buses and trams. Tickets are available from the vending machines at the stations, on trams or from the bus drivers. Be sure to validate the ticket by punching it.
- U-Bahn, which is clean and rarely crowded, runs both under- and overground, covering much of the city centre. Trains run from 4 a.m. to 12.30 a.m., and all night on Friday and Saturday in the metropolises. Beyond these hours, their routes are usually covered by night buses marked by a number with the prefix “N”. In small and medium-sized towns, the U-Bahn is replaced by the tram or bus.
- S-Bahn is a network of suburban trains that run mostly overground and cover long distances fast, with larger distances between the stops.
Municipal transport networks are usually divided into zones – A, B, C or 1, 2, 3, etc. – and ticket prices vary accordingly.
Tickets for single rides are called Einzeltickets. You can buy a cheaper Kurzstrecke, a short-trip ticket that allows travelling for a limited number of stops (with no return journeys or transfers).
Buying a day-ticket (Tageskarte) or group tickets (Gruppenkarten) generally works out cheaper.
Short-term city visitors may benefit from the cards offered by city tourist offices that afford 48 or 72 hours’ unlimited travel with discounts for the admission to some city sights.
Taxi may be a well-priced option compared to public transport if you are travelling in a group. Fares are metered, priced per kilometre and rise slightly between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. and on Sunday.
You might as well consider a shared-car system Mitfahrzentralen that operates as a form of organized hitchhiking. Such agencies connect drivers with passengers, who usually split fuel costs. For details check the websites mitfahrzentrale.de, mitfahrgelegenheit.de, and mfz.de.
Germany is an extremely cyclist-friendly country. A network of cycle lanes follow major rivers, such as the Elbe, Danube or Rhine.
All trains except ICE services accommodate bikes, provided you have purchased an additional bicycle ticket (Fahrrad-Karte), while it’s free on local services and S-Bahn.
Bike rental is widely available in the cities in Germany, usually from the Central Station (Hauptbahnhof).
You can also try the highly convenient CallaBike service, which has been already introduced in Berlin, Frankfurt, Cologne, Munich, Stuttgart and Karlsruhe.
Hostels or many bike shops offer rental too, for around € 10–15 per day.