Germany is a country in the center of Europe about 500 hundred miles from top to bottom and less than that wide. So not really that big of a place, but further than I can walk. So how do we get around here? Here is an overview of transport that I use on a regular basis.
Traveling inside Germany, the train system is the first choice. This is kind of the pinnacle of the German mindset. Knowing that a specific train will travel a specific route regularly at the same time every day. It is expected and safe. In the reality, there are delays. Don’t let a grumbling commuter sway you to think that a 7 minute delay means the downfall of the state. It is better than elsewhere.
When I need to go anywhere outside of Freiburg, I definitely take the train. I look forward to it in fact. Frankfurt airport even has a train station in the airport, so train to the plane is possible there. The downfall a bit for us here is that Freiburg is down in one corner, so to get pretty much anywhere is a long trip.
As for cost, if you book ahead of time a few weeks, there are often quite good deals. You wouldn’t go to an airport counter and expect a good deal as a last minute ticket. There certainly are other deals and ways to travel the rails for a reasonable price.
Strassenbahn “street cars” are the local public transport option in the center of Freiburg. There is a pretty good network that gets anywhere in town within 30 minutes or so. I use them in the winter and when it rains to get to work.
Efficient and timely, though they don’t run so late. Much past 12:30am and you end up walking home. A ride costs 2Euro10 but we have monthly tickets. Remember, expectations and planning are the German thing. If you plan ahead and know you are just going to ride the thing a lot, the monthly ticket is well worth it over individual tickets.
It is an amazing system for a town so small. In bigger places like Hamburg and Berlin, they have elevated trains and subways that criss cross the metropolis. Freiburg is a city of 220,000 and still has 4 lines that reach out from the center.
If you are coming to a larger city, check out the day passes and perhaps even week passes. They are usually cheaper and often much easier than individual tickets.
Bikes are the prime mode of transport in Freiburg. We are a green city of mostly students who don’t want to spend on the trams. So the center of town is often just packed with bikes.
This isn’t just the students though. I see parents towing children in trailers or in bike-seats on the way to school or wherever. The commuting public here is split between the trams and the bike paths. Most of my work colleagues ride their bikes and from further away and in much colder weather than I would. Coming home after work at specific times can feel just as crowded on the bike path as the beltline at home. Though nearly no accidents.
Do feet even count as transportation? Because really I walk far more than nearly any other form of transport. I even walked to work this morning. Bikes get locked in specific places and the tram only stops in specific places too. So around the center where I spend most of my time outside of work I use my feet. Grocery store, same. So be prepared to walk. And unless it is raining or you need to catch a train, it is actually pretty pleasant.
Note that the one thing I have not yet mentioned much is cars. Despite the idea that Germany is a great engineering country of designing and building cars, you don’t need one here. Unless you live in a tiny village off the public transport grid, 99% of your daily activities can be done without a car. So in stark contrast to the US, having a car here is a luxury not a necessity. Especially given the density of historic city centers, finding a parking place could make driving far more annoying than helpful.
Going to Ikea is about the only time I wish i had a car in daily life. And there are enough little castles and sites away from easy transport to make having one on the off days kind of nice. That all said, a large part of the reason I was having panic attacks in the US was the stress of driving. So a part of the reason I came here and left the US was to avoid having to be behind the wheel again.
And there you have it.
Transport is one of those things that is nearly polar opposite between the US and Germany. Here you can get by without a car, travel long distances with the trains and enjoy a decent public transport system in any decent sized city. In the US, well except for the biggest cities it is automobiles the whole way. Trains are an interesting curiosity that, except for a few routes, take twice as long. Your car is an extension of yourself and the controller of your life there. I like the freedom here, even if it ironically means I am on someone else’s schedule.
This is a part of the monthly German Expat Blogger’s Stammtisch. Check out below for more transportation related posts.