Transport Tips in Germany
Some Transport Tips if Hiking in Germany
With three posts, I will provide those of you who are planning to hike in Germany with some concrete practical advice, starting with a few transport tips if hiking in German using the public transport system.
Public transport in Germany is, on the whole, excellent.
Many, even fairly small towns, have a railway connection, and of those that do not, most have bus services throughout the day that can take you into the next larger town.
It is railways, however, that are the hiker’s best friend.
Whenever you come across a town – or a village – with a “DB” logo on the map, you can be confident that there will be a service to the nearest city or large town in intervals of no more than two hours, often until late in the evening. That’s always good to know.
Bus services are less reliable
Depending on the size of town or village and the specifics of the region, there may be buses only in the morning and evening rush hours, taking the local people to and from work, and if you expect to leave town after 6 p.m., you may find yourself in serious trouble.
Small towns and villages often do have a kind of local taxi service, but you need to bear in mind that we are not talking midtown Manhattan here.
Entire days may go by without anyone requesting such a service, which is why you should not expect taxi drivers to have their cabs parked on the local high street. (They generally have another business to keep themselves occupied.)
If you do find yourself stranded, walk into the largest and busiest local pub you can spot – often right next to the local church which should, at any rate, be easy to find – and try to explain what you need. In any group larger than three of four people, there will normally be at least one person with a working command of English (particularly in groups of people under 50).
When you plan to go by rail, always purchase your ticket before boarding the train.
Few of the smaller stations these days have a ticket office, but all of them are equipped with vending machines that accept cash and credit cards. If you are not sure whether your credit card will be accepted, make sure you have enough cash in small denominations. (The machines give out change, but 50-Euro-bills are very likely to give you problems.)
For longer and multiple journeys (if you know that you will need the train more than once on the same day) and / or if you are travelling in company, the “Schöner Tag” tickets offer excellent value.
These tickets cost € 20-26 for a single person or € 30-36 for groups up to 5 people and entitle you to use all rail services within a particular federal state – sometimes even two (smaller ones) – except the Intercity trains (IC and ICE).
Also, they generally allow you to visit the first stop in the neighbouring state or even country. (You can visit the border towns in France and Switzerland, for example.)
On weekdays, you are restricted to trains after 9 a.m. On weekends, they have a slightly different offer – the “Schönes Wochenende” ticket – where this rush hour restriction does not apply and where you can also freely cross all state frontiers.
It’s probably most convenient to purchase your ticket on one of the vending machines because they “speak” English. Just touch the screen button “Länderticket”, the British flag and take it from there.
As it happens, Frau Easy Hiker once wrote a longer article about the Länderticket, and you can find her advice here.
The Ländertickets also entitle you to use most urban public transport systems (the “S-Bahns”) and many coaches on the rural transport networks. This is, however, a bit of a grey zone, and I have already experienced that drivers from the same private company – most bus services in rural parts of the country are “outsourced” – have different policies.
Generally, they accept these tickets, but once, I had to listen to a long and rather peeved complaint of how the private bus companies “do not see a penny” from all the Länderticket money German Rail is raking in.
So, if you are equipped with a Länderticket and are about to take a rural bus: show your ticket to the driver, but be prepared to pay the full fare if he refuses to accept it.
Before setting out on any trip to Germany, always check online whether your plans are compatible with the actual public transport timetables. This is relatively easy because the website of Die Bahn is so good. They really make it easy for you to get around.