Getting around Germany & Europe


Well, we don't want to brag, but Germany's transportation infrastructure is rather impressive. All cities, towns and even many villages are linked by train connections. Most major cities can boast an airport.
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Of course, Germans simply love their cars, and driving can be convenient as distances are anything but intimidating. As a rule, it is easy for Canadian citizens to rent a car (assuming you meet the age requirements and have a driver's licence valid in Germany) – but it will be significantly more expensive than in Canada. And don't think gas stations managers are kidding when they attach astronomical numbers to their fuel price signs. They're not. Frankly, you can do without a car. You simply can.Berlin_high_speed_rail_dpa_250.jpg

Trains in Germany are run by the formerly state-owned Deutsche Bahn (DB), as well as by several smaller, regional companies. All train connections can be booked online (www.bahn.de) – but do pay close attention to the train connections as travel time and therefore prices can vary depending on the type of train you're choosing. You might think you snagged a good deal and then realize that your connections take twice as long as they normally would – that you have to change trains three or more times. If you want to travel on the faster trains and still save money, book ahead: you generally get a substantial discount if you book at least three days in advance. If you plan to stay in Germany for several months and want to travel extensively by train, check if it is worthwile to invest in a BahnCard. With a BahnCard 25, you get 25% off the regular fare (while still being able to take advantage of a three-day advance purchase discount); with a BahnCard 50, you get 50% off the regular fare (usually without any further discounts).

Train_seat_cbx.jpgTrain tickets only entitle you to the trip itself and not a confirmed seat on the train. If you insists on the "luxury" of an actual seat – as opposed to being crouched up for hours in an aisle (admittedly, this luxury might be considered a fundamental human right, especially on crowded trains on Friday evenings), you should pay for a Reservierung when booking the ticket. A reservation, which is only about €2.50, will give you a train car and seat number (reserved seats are marked by a sign above the seat, naming the two stops between which the seat will be occupied). On non-reserved seats, anyone can sit (just be quick!).Eurolines_dpa.jpg

Long distance bus travel is not as common in Germany as it is in Canada, as the German national train company had for a long time an exclusive right to provide long distance travel. Only recently did bus companies break into the market. Still, there are an impressive number of bus connections to and from Berlin (a relic from the time of the Wall meant to give West Berliners the chance of travelling to Western Germany via the transit highways through communist East Germany) – check www.berlinlinienbus.de. There are also some connections to destinations outside Germany, which are normally slightly less expensive than those by train. The company Eurolines serves over 500 destinations across Europe and also offers 15 and 30 day passes: www.eurolines.com.

Mitfahrzentrale_dpa.jpgLooking for a real experience on the German Autobahn? Well, try a rideshare and get a lift from someone who is traveling the journey by car – in most cases for a contribution to the cost of gas far below the train or bus fare. There is a number of websites where rideshares can be offered or searched for, www.mitfahrzentrale.de being probably the most popular one. Sharing the journey can not only be fun and entertaining, it will be in most cases the cheapest way to get where you want to go. But, of course, it means climbing into the car of someone you don't know. As in any other situation in life (not just in Germany!), it may be a good idea to simply use common sense and to refrain from starting or continuing the journey if you feel uneasy about someone's car or his or her way of driving. Still, using rideshares while taking basic precautions is one of the best ways to travel around Germany and its neighbouring countries.

Night_train_cc_ccheviron.jpgPlanning to travel across Europe? In comparison to Canadian distances, most of Europe's major cities are located more or less next to each other. When starting your journey from Germany, you might want to check for long distance trains to a number of European capitals and other major places of interest. Many of them are night trains, allowing you to leave late at night, arrive early in the morning, and save one night of accommodation. They may not always be cheap, but check for bargains during promotion periods. The same applies to bus routes – at least to and from Berlin.

And then there are planes. Thanks to the impressive number of low-cost carriers in Europe, flights are comparatively cheap, especially if you're flexible and can build your trip around the least expensive connections. Check www.easyjet.com, www.ryanair.com. www.germanwings.com, www.airberlin.com, among other websites. Even the German national airline Lufthansa may sometimes offer bargains: www.lufthansa.com. Fares have become a little more expensive recently, but can still be significantly cheaper than the train.Germanwings_dpa.jpg

But we won't let you head for your flight without a few words of warning. First, always check for the actual cost of the ticket: most airlines charge taxes and fees separately, and the ticket price generally only includes limited carryon luggage (airlines might charge you quite heavily for additional hand or checkin baggage). And with low-cost carriers, of course, food and drink on board the plane aren't included in the ticket price. So make sure your bargain flight ticket doesn't turn out to be more expensive than you ever dreamt it would be.

Hitchhiker_250px.jpgStill the least expensive way to travel...

Secondly, beware of obscure airports that may be named after a city but that have little else to do with it... You better always check how to reach the airport from the city centre, and vice versa. Low-cost carriers very often fly to smaller airports that may be far from the place you thought you were really flying to. The most famous example in Germany is the airport Frankfurt-Hahn, which lies about 120 km west of the actual city of Frankfurt. Needless to say, it can be a bit of a letdown when travelling to and from the airport takes you longer than the actual flight time, and when the cost of extra transportation turns your "bargain" flight ticket into a raw deal.

But once again, make sure to do your research first – and then enjoy the luxury of flying to most major cities in Europe within about four hours – and most cities in Central and Western Europe within only one or two.

Need more advice from people who really experienced what it is like to travel in Germany? The following websites and blogs may be useful – and entertaining:

 

Deutsche Welle: Travel Guide – Getting around

• Young Germany: Brian Melican's blog

• Young Germany: Getting around Europe for less

• German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD): Travelling through Germany by bus and rail

 

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I first got interested in Germany when I was 16 (through a school trip) and wanted an opportunity to come back. So, I was thrilled to find a job in Germany that would allow me to experience the country and at the same time get some valuable and interesting work experience. My work has allowed me to be in touch with a younger generation and to realize how elevating it is.
Michel from New Brunswick – working as a teaching assistant.