Hiking in Germany
What is KONUS?
Holidays are expensive things. For most families, they are easily the biggest item in their annual budget behind life’s essentials such as food, shelter and transport (such as the family car).
Travel and accommodation make up the largest chunk of holiday expenses, but by the time the holiday starts, they have already been accounted for, if not necessarily fully paid, and have lost their power to annoy.
“Extras”, on the other hand, have not. “Extras” are all the things that your loved ones want and that you cannot deny them. After all, you don’t call them your “loved ones” for nothing.
“Extras” include that dress spotted in a boutique along the way, the visit to the ice cream parlour as a reward for the long hours of walking through foreign landscapes (or museums), and they certainly include all types of public transport.
After you’ve spent all that money to take your family to Europe, you wouldn’t want to sit still in your hotel or holiday flat all day: you want to get around. For a family of 4, that can easily add another 3-figure sum to your budget every day of your stay. You make the calculation.
Maybe I was a bit hasty when I said that travel and accommodation make up the largest chunk of holiday expenses. To people for whom a three-figure sum, multiplied by X number of days, is still a large sum of money, this may be a problem.
But not if you and the family are spending the holidays in the Black Forest.
Over there, the entire family need not pay a penny to use the regional public transport because the local Tourism Board has come up with a brilliant scheme:
People who are holidaying in the Black Forest region – which, incidentally, is home to some of Germany’s prime hiking trails – do not pay a penny for any form of regional public transport, thanks to KONUS.
Throughout an area covering 11,000 km², roughly the size of Belgium, all regional trains (2nd class, no IC/ICE or any scenic railway lines that are operated for tourism purposes only), as well as all coaches and buses including all inner city transport lines in the towns and cities of the region are completely free. You can even take a trip across the border to the Swiss city of Basel.
All you have to do is stay in one of the hundreds of hotels – roughly 80 percent of all small and big hotels in the region – that have joined the KONUS scheme.
How does this work?
The participating hotels pay 36 cents into the “pot” for each overnight stay , 35 cents of which go to the public transport operators while the Black Forest Tourism Board pockets the remaining cent (as a management fee).
Small fry? Not after you have multiplied this sum with the 10,000 hotels and pensions that are taking part in the scheme and the 10.4 million overnight stays (in 2011) for which they paid out more than 3 million euros to the local transport networks and Deutsche Bahn.
A total of 137 towns and villages in the region participate in the scheme.
For a list of KONUS towns and a map of the area, go to the Hochschwarzwald site for a PDF file. If you need more information, address your inquiry to [email protected]
How to claim your free ticket
First, obviously, you must make sure your hotel is taking part in the KONUS scheme. When you check in, your host will issue you and every member of your family or party with a so-called “guest card”, stating your day of arrival and (probable) departure.
This card entitles you to a range of benefits in the town or area (such as a discount for certain museums, that sort of thing), and, if it carries the KONUS symbol, to the free use of any means of public transport. Just show this card whenever you enter a bus or when the conductor comes to check your ticket in a train.
However, you cannot ask your host to send it to you by mail so you can already use the ticket for the inbound journey. It becomes valid only after check-in. Neither can the ticket be used for the family dog (sorry, only humans are covered) or any bicycles that you may rent to explore the region: in either case, you would have to buy an extra ticket.
Still, this is the best offer any tourist can ever hope to find, anywhere in the world – until, that is, a rival tourism board comes up with a reliable method of blindfolding daughters on the way through shopping streets or of spoiling kids‘ appetites for sweet snacks.