When we talk about public transport in Germany, there are two aspects of it; one is using public transport to travel between different cities, states or even countries, in this category you have long-distance buses, long-distance trains like IC, ICE, EC or regional trains, and the other category is within a city or nearby suburb travel, for which you use trams, local buses or subways or metro or as they are called S-Bahn or U-Bahn.
In this article, we will talk about the first category, train travel or long-distance travel. We will be covering local transport in the second part of this article. In part 3 of this series, we will also cover what other options of travel you have apart from those mentioned above.
Table of Content
There are many options available whenever it comes to public transport in Germany. The country has an effective nationalized railway network. You need to buy a ticket from Deutsche Bahn to cross the country by train.
Public transports in Germany are safe, efficient, and easy to use. With this smooth facility, German cities are not part of being a car-loving nation anymore. In Berlin, only 30% of trips are by car, and in Munich, there are 33% of the trips. On an average day, 30 million passengers use public transport in Germany.
Trains in Germany
The German rail network is one of the biggest and busiest globally. Deutsche Bahn is German’s leading railway company and it’s name is DB. However, Deutsche Bahn is a state-run railway provider in Germany. DB runs high-speed, regional, intercity, and urban trains and some cross-border routes throughout the country.
While the vast majority of German trains are painted in Deutsche Bahn’s familiar shade of red, other companies in the country offer train transportation. Thalys has some high-speed routes in Germany, while OBB (Austrian Federal Railways) trains run at night throughout German stations.
There are three types of train facilities in Germany which are connecting major urban areas:
- Intercity-Express (ICE): These are high-speed trains that reach speeds up to 320km/h. These trains zoom around the country at intervals of hourly and two-hourly. These link up all major cities. ICE trains are quiet and fully air-conditioned with reclining seats. These trains have tables at seats, dining, and bistro cars. An ICE line connects Frankfurt and Cologne within 58 minutes only.
- Intercity (IC): The trains connecting German cities are called Intercity (IC) trains. These are express trains. Most of the IC trains have coaches with air-conditioning and power sockets. IC trains have first-class and second-class carriages and usually also have catering services. IC trains offer a bistro car on main routes with a varied menu offering snacks, drinks, and several hot dishes.
- EuroCity (EC): The trains connecting German cities with the neighboring countries are called EuroCity (EC) trains. These are not high-speed trains and can’t use the high-speed lines. EC trains convey seats in compartments in both first and second class. Most of the centers throughout the train will line up with the windows.
In addition to intercity services, Germany also has urban and regional train services. DB Bahn offers new and improved urban and regional trains with comfortable seats. DB is offering spacious multi-purpose compartments and entry at the platform level to make your travel more enjoyable. These services include four types of trains;
- Interregio-Express and Regional-Express: Interregio and Regional trains provide service between towns and cities within a specific region. These are primarily to offer travel in comfortable, modernized trains. It departs at regular intervals and links local cities to long-distance trains.
- Regionalbahn: The Regionalbahn offers essential services from all local stations. It provides a connection between the regions and city centers. These trains also connect to the Regional Express.
- S-Bahn: These local trains connect urban centers with their surrounding suburbs. The S-Bahn services are in high-density areas, leaving quickly and regularly. Some S-Bahn stations have access to longer-distance regional trains. It is making travel within the city and between cities a breeze.
- U-Bahn: The U-Bahn is the German version of a city’s metro or subway network. However, many U-Bahn lines run above the ground. The symbol for the U-Bahn in Germany is a white “U” on a blue sign.
Deutsche Bahn usually runs Regional Bahn, Regional Express, and S-Bahn networks. There are also private train companies and many regional train services in Germany. Trams and U-Bahn networks are run by municipal public transportation authorities in Germany.
Train Tickets and Costs in Germany
Germany has a wide variety of train services, so the train ticket prices depend on the services. Advance ticket purchase is not necessary for the urban and regional trains. The ticket fare is fixed, and reservations are not required and are impossible. The fare is the same whether you purchase the ticket online or from a ticket machine at the train station.
Booking is regular for intercity services. There are three types of fares for any intercity service (i.e., IC, EC, and ICE). Every fare has its conditions. Let’s have a look at them.
- Flexpreis: These are full-price adjustable fares. Tickets can get at the station or online on the day of travel at the same fixed price. The refunds and exchanges are free. They are suitable for any train that day. Just hop on and find any empty unreserved seat or seat reservation on long distance. IC, ICE & EC trains are optional for a small extra charge, around €4.50. If the journey is longer than 100 kilometers, same-day public transportation is included.
- Sparpreis: This is a lower price, and the fare is low as €21.10. Cancellations are possible on the day of travel, and it will cost you €10. Refunds are available in the form of a voucher. Tickets are valid only on the train listing mentioned on the tickets. If the journey is longer than 100 kilometers, same-day public transportation is included.
- Super Sparpreis: This is the lowest possible fair price, it is a second-class ticket, and the fare is low as €17.50. There are no cancellations and refunds. Tickets are valid only on the train listing mentioned on the tickets. However, it doesn’t include any local public transportation.
If you want to opt for the advance ticket, sales open 180 days before departure. You can get the tickets at a DB ticket office by the DB Navigator. You can also get the tickets on the Deutsche Bahn website. Besides German and English, online ticket sales are available in several languages, including Danish, Czech, Dutch, French, Polish, Italian, and Spanish.
Facilities at German Train Stations
There is a payment under €1 to use the in-station toilets. On a train, onboard toilets are accessible. There are paid lockers available at the larger stations; you can store your luggage for a few hours in safety. For payments, they have started accepting the cards. Otherwise, you can do payments through coins.
On the website of Deutsche Bahn, they update its categories on an annual basis, with an English language list. DB also maintains; https://www.bahnhof.de/bahnhof-de, a website with information about their stations and available services.
Buy Train Tickets Before Boarding
You can purchase the tickets through the conductors on ICE trains. You need to pay any extra fees; cash and credit card is acceptable for the payments. To board all other trains, you must purchase the ticket in advance. Otherwise, you will pay a heavy fine on top of your ticket purchase. There are automats to buy the tickets. You can also get the tickets from the ticket counter.
Be ready with your EC bank card or credit card with PIN to use automats. The first purchase typically takes 10 minutes; otherwise, the purchase can complete within 5-7 minutes. You should change the automats language to English for buying a ticket.
You can also use the website; http://www.bahn.de to purchase the tickets.
Deutsche Bahn offers BahnCard that can help you get various discounts on train tickets, or you can get the tickets at a flat rate. If you live in Germany and stay there for an extended period, then a BahnCard is a good option. This card is available for German residents and is not suitable for tourists or anyone traveling for a shorter period. You can check the BahnCard website available in German to check the prices and benefits.
You can save huge on long-distance train travel in Germany. It will be good to book your tickets in advance for hassle-free travel. With the help of the given information in this article, you can understand the train travel in Germany. You can also easily choose the type of train according to your travel. You can also refer to our article Guide On Train Travel for more information.