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Transportation in Germany

15 August, 2012

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.

Trains

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.

Trams

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.

Human Power

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.

…and Cars.

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.

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Category: Life In Germany

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17 Responses to Transportation in Germany

  1. Pingback: Sightseeing around Bavaria - Grounded Traveler

  2. Pingback: Freiburg: a perfect day trip city - Grounded Traveler

  3. You’re right about booking train tickets in advance–it can make a huge difference. And it doesn’t even have to be that far in advance if you do it online, I think (I believe the DB website even has an English section). I recently got a ticket from Frankfurt to Berlin for 44 Euros online and it seems that is the standard online price for that particular train. The normal price is well over 100.

    • Andrew says:

      It isn’t really online versus in person as far as I can see. What I understood is that 3 day advanced purchase gives a decent price. There are also specials, but only so many seats on teh train are sold at that price. For those you often need to go in weeks ahead.
      Yes, the DB site has English and is a really great travel site for trains anywhere in Europe. Not tickets, but definitely schedules.

  4. Erik says:

    Andy, Incredibly informative as always.

    I’m going to forward this post to a couple friend of mine who are planning on being in Germany this fall. The efficiency there is what always impressed me the most.

    • Andrew says:

      Thanks for the compliment and the shares. I hope it helps. If any of your friends have more detailed questions, send them my way and I will see what I can do to answer them.

  5. maq203 says:

    Good to know there are so many options for getting around Germany! Are some towns better than others for biking?

    • Andrew says:

      I assume some towns are better than others. Yet I have friends that bike around Munich, so it isn’t just the small towns that are good.

  6. Sabrina says:

    Great summary! I’m from s smqller town in Germany, maybe 25000 people with all the really small town around it together. As a kid I walked pretty much everywhere. Turning 16 was huge, because like many of my friends I got a scooter and out of a sudden we were mobile :)

    • Andrew says:

      Ha ha.. I remember turning 16 and getting a driver’s license at home. It did open up a new world. It took a us several years to realize there still wasn’t much to do aorund.

  7. Hogga says:

    Kinda like Japan… so many car companies but you don’t really need one when living there!

    • Andrew says:

      Right. The car is a luxury item, though a very common one. And yet it is quite nice to have friends with them.

  8. Scott says:

    I take great pride in having made fun of this post even before you wrote it! :-) (PS We live in a tiny village off the public transport grid, so we’re pretty much dependent on our cars.)

    • Andrew says:

      Haha.. great rebuttal. Yeah, out in the doerfer it doesn’t really work like this. But then again I would never live out there for that exact reason. I like being in the middle of things as quick and painless as possible. That said Freiburg isn’t really the biggest place in Germany, so it sometimes still feels like a Dorf. Especially at 12:31 am when you end up having to walk home.

      • Scott says:

        My wife’s car is electric, though. :-) (Our businesses are all about 10 km apart, so we can live well with the limited 130 km range of the E-Smart.)

  9. Whenever I think of Germany, efficiency is the one thing that is at the forefront. To many Germans a 7 minute delay does mean things are falling apart! :)

    In general, Europe has an awesome transportation system. I wish we had more options like this in the US. Some of the bigger cities do but one of my favorite things about traveling in Europe is being able to ride trains, buses, and trams safely and quickly to get where I want to go. I would even go so far as to say public transportation in Europe (with no need for cars) makes Europeans much healthier than Americans!

    • Andrew says:

      Like I mentioned on Twitter, I guess I will definitely have to write about the German order and efficiency soon. There is a big illusion here. The transport fits right into that illusion well. See what I can put together in the next weeks. Thanks for the comment.

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