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Travelling in Germany

The Square in Frankfurt © Fraport AG

Tickets

It is possible to purchase tickets from any of the numerous machines at train stations, whether you are just travelling one way, or you require a day, week, month or year ticket. Tickets with a longer validity period are the best value. The day, week, month, and year tickets can usually only be purchased at the counter (opening times vary from station to station). However, it is also sometimes possible to buy them from certain machines or from one of the new kiosks. Day, week, month and year tickets are usually transferable, meaning you can pass them on to a friend or family member if you do not plan to use the ticket yourself.

Most councils operate some form of trust system when it comes to local public transport. This means that you buy a ticket or long-term pass before you get on the train. You usually don’t have to show your ticket when you commence your journey. Buses are an exception. Passengers are required to get on at the front of the bus and show their ticket to the driver after 8 pm.

With all of this in mind, please do not think that this system is an invitation to travel without a ticket. As mentioned above, this is a trust-based system: Anybody who abuses this trust by travelling without a ticket will be required to pay the appropriate penalty. Plain clothes ticket inspectors travel on the trains to catch passengers without tickets. They only begin their checks once the train has started moving, so there is no possibility of avoiding them. If you are caught travelling without a ticket, you will be required to pay an on-the-spot fine of €40. If you do not have enough money to pay, you will be given a notice, which tells you how and where to pay the fine. If you fail to pay the fine within the specified time period, another demand will be sent to your home address (this is why the inspectors will ask you to show them an official document) and the fine will be increased. The longer you avoid paying the fine, the greater the amount you will have to pay and not paying can in a court case.

Rail travel

Germany is renowned for its efficient and extensive railway network (Deutsche Bahn, DB).There are many passengers, travelling for either business or pleasure, who will vouch for rail travel as not only being cheaper, but also faster and more comfortable than travelling by plane, both within Germany and to neighbouring countries.
However, the fact that many people have reached this conclusion means that the main lines are often quite crowded. With this in mind, we recommend reserving a seat when travelling at peak times (reservations should be made at least 24 hours before the start of the journey and cost €3 per person per journey). Friday afternoons, Sunday evenings and the afternoons at the beginning and end of public holidays should also be considered peak travel times. If you do not reserve a seat, it is likely that you will have to stand in an aisle with other passengers. 
DB has an excellent website available in multiple languages
(http://www.bahn.de/i/view/GBR/en/index.shtml). Among other things, it contains information on travel times and ticket prices. Many Deutsche Bahn offers are only available on their homepage or from machines in the stations and not at the ticket counter.

BahnCard

The BahnCard system might seem complicated and confusing at first glance, but it is definitely worth spending some time looking at the possibilities on offer as there are considerable savings to be had, especially when making long journeys.
There are two saving systems. The first is the Plan&Spar-Tarif: If passengers select a particular day and train in advance, it is possible to get a reduction of 25 or 50 per cent on the standard ticket price. Tickets have to be purchased at least three days before the start of the journey and special conditions apply at weekends. A penalty will also be incurred if any change is made to the reservation once the booking has been completed.
The second saving system is the BahnCard. The BahnCard 25 costs €59 per year and provides users with a 25 per cent discount on all tickets. The BahnCard 50 costs €240 and gives users a 50 per cent discount. This system provides the most flexibility when it comes to discounts, but you should calculate your savings against the cost of the ticket before purchasing. Please note: The year ticket renews automatically unless you cancel it up to six weeks before the expiry date.

Taxis

Public transportation is not the only way to get from A to B in Germany. Taxis and private-hire cars are the most commonly used modes of private transport. Many new arrivals find taxi prices very expensive compared with their home country. But try to remember that you will mostly be chauffeured around in comfortable Mercedes vehicles. The standard basic charge for taxis is €2, with an additional cost of €1.60 per kilometre. You may also have to pay a fee for your luggage.
There are taxi ranks in front of all major train stations. Taxis do not usually stop in the middle of traffic in the road, although this may happen from time to time. The best way to book a taxi is via telephone. They usually get to your location within five minutes.

Driving in Germany

Many of the traffic rules you are used to at home are different in Germany. It is very important to become familiar with the rules of the road and learn what the road signs mean. One major difference is that vehicles driving on the right have right of way: Anybody approaching from the right has right of way, unless there is a sign that states otherwise. Another important point to remember is that the car has to stop as soon as a pedestrian steps onto a zebra crossing. Pay particular attention to cyclists riding on the cycle path, especially when they are turning right. 
You will notice that in Germany, like many other places, you cannot simply park anywhere. In fact, parking rules are much stricter than you might think. Parking is generally permitted on the side of the road unless there is a sign stating otherwise. Signs usually indicate whether long or short-term parking is permitted, whether you can park with two or four wheels on the pavement, or whether a parking disc has to be displayed in the windscreen. Parking discs can be obtained from petrol stations, for example, and should be used in marked zones where it is free to park, although you are only permitted to stay in these zones for a certain length of time.
Speed cameras are used extensively across Germany. There are fixed cameras in place to measure drivers’ speed in certain locations and residential areas, as well as speed traps that are set up in minibuses or at the side of the road. As always, if you are caught, you will receive a notification of your fine in the post within four to six weeks.

On the Autobahn

You have surely already heard a great deal about the legendary German Autobahn. Are you chomping at the bit to test of this stretch of race track out for yourself? Or are awaiting your first Autobahn journey with tense anticipation? Either way, here are a few words of warning about driving on the Autobahn. 
There are many stretches of the Autobahn that do not have a speed limit, but some do and it is against the law to exceed the mandatory speed limit. Remember, you can lose your driving licence for a month or more if you are caught driving more than 30 km/h over the mandatory speed limit. Authorities are particularly strict when it comes to road works. Temporary speed limits are often imposed on many stretches, especially during bad weather. Sometimes this might be just 60 km/h. 
If there is no sign stating the maximum speed limit, most vehicles travel between 120 km/h and 160 km/h, but there are always some who drive significantly faster. Traffic experts recommend a speed of 130 km/h (70 mph) as a safe driving speed.
It goes without saying that the Autobahn is extremely dangerous. It is particularly important to note that at such high speeds, the distances between a lorry in front or a slow-moving car can disappear much faster than in normal conditions, and cars can appear in your rear-view mirror from out of nowhere.
One fundamental rule is that you are allowed to overtake on the left. You should go back into the right-hand lane once you have overtaken a car. Many Germans follow these rules obediently in order to ensure that traffic travels smoothly and without problems, even at these high speeds. However, some drivers are very aggressive and fight for position at these high speeds.
Even though such behaviour is illegal, dipped headlights or a blinking left indicator usually suggest that the car behind wants to overtake. If such a situation arises, switch to the right-hand lane as soon as possible. As a general rule, you are advised to remain in the right-hand lane until you have gained sufficient experience driving on the German Autobahn.