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Transportation: Getting around Germany

Germany has a very dense transportation network. There are many ways to travel from place to place in cities and throughout the country – be it by bicycle, bus, or rail. This makes it easy to take weekend trips to other cities, the countryside, the mountains or the sea, or even venture across the border and visit other countries in Europe.

by the Editors

Bicycles © DAAD
Bicycles . © DAAD

Bicycles

Cycling is a popular activity in Germany – especially among students. Not only is it good exercise and inexpensive, but it protects the environment and is extremely practical for getting around town. You’ll find that taking a bike is often the fastest way to reach your destination. And you don’t have to worry about finding a parking space, getting stuck in traffic or waiting for the next bus. In most cities there are specially marked paths reserved for cyclists and numerous bicycle stands where you can park and lock up your bike. For Germans, bicycles are not only a means of transportation. Many people enjoy taking weekend cycling tours together with family and friends into the countryside.

Busses and Local Trains

Residents in larger German cities use public transportation to get around town, which include busses and local railway lines, such as underground trains (U-Bahn), suburban railway (S-Bahn) and trams (Strassenbahn).

Underground station © Ziegert/DAAD
Underground station . © Ziegert/DAAD

Info sheets, listing bus stops and tram stops, are available at public utility and transport companies, the railway station and the tourist information office. Timetables are posted at all bus stops and railway stations. There you’ll find when the busses, trams and trains arrive, where they go and how long it takes to get there. Busses and trains usually come on time and run more frequently during the week than on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays.

Timetables and route maps are also available online from your public utility website. You can access their page via your city’s website or simply download the corresponding app.

You must purchase a ticket before boarding public transportation. There are various ways to purchase tickets, e.g. at ticket machines at the bus stop or platform, in the tram, or directly from the driver (in busses). Some ticket machines accept cash (and occasionally only coins). But there are many machines now which also accept debit or credit cards.

Fare evasion

Evading or dodging the fare (Schwarzfahren) means using public transport without a valid ticket. You can be fined 60 euros or more if you’re caught fare dodging in Germany.

You must purchase a ticket before boarding public transportation. There are various ways to purchase tickets, e.g. at ticket machines at the bus stop or platform, in the tram, or directly from the driver (in busses). Some ticket machines accept cash (and occasionally only coins). But there are many machines now which also accept debit or credit cards.

You often have to validate your ticket before commencing your journey. The procedure for doing this, however, differs from city to city. Sometimes your ticket is automatically validated when you purchase it. At other times you have to validate it yourself by inserting your ticket into the small ticket stamping machine located on the platform or near the doors of the bus or tram. Make sure your ticket is validated! If you travel with an unvalidated ticket, it’s like traveling without one!

If you have a semester ticket, you don’t have to buy tickets for public transportation. If a conductor asks to see your ticket, you have to present your semester ticket and occasionally a form of ID, such as your passport or personal identification card.

Railway

Railway travel in Germany is normally fast and comfortable. Tickets for fast trains (Intercity Express (ICE), Intercity (IC) and Eurocity (EC)) usually cost more than those for local railway lines like the Interregio-Express (IRE), Regional Express (RE), Regional Bahn (RB) trains, the underground (U-Bahn) and suburban railway (S-Bahn.

Travelling by rail is not exactly cheap, especially when you spontaneously decide to take a trip somewhere. You can save money by purchasing your ticket far in advance. You can buy tickets at the counter in the railway station, at ticket machines or via the website of the Deutsche Bahn. Tickets are often less expensive if you book them online.

If you travel by rail more frequently, it might be a good idea to purchase a “BahnCard 25” or “BahnCard 50”. This card automatically reduces the price of your ticket by either 25 or 50 percent. You can also take advantage of special offers, such as the “Schönes-Wochenende-Ticket” (Good Weekend Ticket) with which up to five people can travel by local public transport on either Saturday or Sunday. Another great offer is the “Quer-durchs-Land-Ticket” (Across the Country Ticket), with which you and four friends can travel anywhere in Germany on regional trains for a low price.

Coach © Noack/DAAD
Coach . © Noack/DAAD

Coaches

There are numerous bus lines which take passengers to German cities and destinations all over Europe. These coaches are an inexpensive alternative to railway travel. You can find connections and book tickets online.

Car-sharing

Car-sharing is very popular with students. The idea is very simple: a driver offers space in his or her car to other passengers who happen to be going the same way. All the passengers share the cost of petrol. Not only is car-sharing economical, it’s a great way to meet interesting people. You can find car-sharing offers online. Many universities have a special notice board called a “Mitfahrerbrett” where people can offer or look for car-shares.

Car-sharing © DAAD
Car-sharing . © DAAD

Cars

If you would like to drive a car in Germany, you require a valid driving licence. German authorities recognise all licences issued by EU member states. Additional conditions may apply to licenses from other countries. You can find out more from your local driving licence registration office or the website of the German Automobile Club (ADAC).

The legal blood alcohol content (BAC) limit in Germany is 0.5 mg / ml. Drivers under the age of 21 are not allowed to drink any alcohol. Your licence can be immediately revoked if your blood alcohol content exceeds the legal limit.

Taxis

Taxis are relatively expensive in Germany and prices vary depending on the city. Taxi companies charge between 1.50 and 3 euros per kilometre. They frequently charge a minimum fare of 2.50 to 3.50 euros, which you have to pay no matter how short the trip is. If you can split the fare between your friends, then a taxi might be an option – especially if you’ve missed the night bus or the last tram.

Taxis wait at taxi stands in cities. You can order one by phone or online to pick you up at a certain location. The telephone numbers of taxi companies are listed in the "Yellow Pages" (Gelbe Seiten).