If you are new in this country, one of the many things you have surely noticed on your first days here is the public transport in Germany. Because it is the German way, Germany’s networks of transportation are generally very efficient, reliable and comfortable. There are many ways to travel that go from riding a bicycle to driving a car and taking a bus or a train. Even though there are so many possibilities, at the beginning it can be rather overwhelming and confusing trying to find your way through the whole system of trains, tickets and special conditions that exist. For this purpose, we have created a small guide about travelling in Germany focusing mainly on railway and public transport. After all, we do not want you to miss that first lecture at university or arrive late to your first job interview because you did not know what ticket to buy or what train to take. So read along to find out more about transportation in Germany!
Public Transport in Germany
What types of service can you find here? On the one hand, there are the long distance trains, which travel to other European cities and also travel inside Germany between major cities. On the other hand, there is the local public transport and how it works will depend on the federal state and/or region you are living in and on the integrated transport system that covers this state/region.
If you want to travel longer distances and want to do this fast, then you can take the high-speed trains (IC/ICE/EC) or even the local railway trains (IRE/RE/RB), which are faster regional trains and usually do not make as many stops. Prices depend on the distance and type of train (IC/ICE are normally more expensive).
Regarding the local public transport in Germany, you will find that there is a wide variety. Public transport systems are very good and fast. They cover the regions inside the cities and between the cities and towns in the vicinity. Major cities have a wide network of public transport and even small towns have at least one bus system. What types of service are there?
- U-Bahn (Untegrundbahn): The U-Bahn is the subway or underground, it usually covers the central city and the immediate area around it. You can identify the U-Bahn by a “U” followed by the number of the line (e. g. U3). Service is frequent (5-15 min).
- S-Bahn (Stadtschnellbahn): This is the suburban commuter rail and you usually find it in larger German cities. These trains travel from the city center into the suburbs and the stops are wider apart than those of the U-Bahn or Straßenbahn, so it is a great way to arrive faster to other places around the city. You can identify them by an “S” followed by the number of the line (e. g. S4). Service is fairly frequent (20-30 min.).
- Straßenbahn: Some cities, especially most eastern German cities, have a streetcar/tram system. Service is also fairly frequent.
- Stadtbahn: This is the light rail and you can also find it in some cities. The Stadtbahn is like the U-Bahn, it mainly operates in suburbia and it is faster than the Straßenbahn because it has its own railbed. Service is fairly frequent (10-20 min.)
- Bus: Almost every town and many rural regions have a bus system. Bigger towns and cities have bus systems too and they complement other services. Service varies widely, since each line has its own time schedule.
Types of tickets
Just as there are different public transport in Germany, there are also different types of tickets.
If you are travelling long distance, you can buy a one-way ticket or round trip ticket. Tickets can be bought online (www.bahn.de) or in person at the central station (Reisezentrum) or even at the ticket machines located in the stations..
Concerning public transport, differences do exist between cities, but some of the types of tickets you will generally find are single tickets, daily/weekly/monthly passes and multi-ticket sets (“Streifenkarte”). A single ticket will give you access to all public transport and is valid for transfers to other types of transportation needed to complete your journey. Each city has its own rules regarding this aspect, so do check what the real conditions are. You can usually travel in one direction within two hours, including the possibility of transferring to other trains or buses. If you are a student, you will most probably have a “Semesterticket”. If you have one, there is no need to buy a ticket, since it covers your use of public transport. You do have to make sure, though, what region/routes the “Semesterticket” covers.
To determine the price of your ticket, you have to check what zone you are travelling in. Cities are divided in zones and each zone corresponds to a certain fare. These fares usually range between 1-4 €. If you want to find out how much you have to pay, check the zone system on a network map (you can find these in the train stations or online) and locate the stop you are travelling to.
If you are travelling with your bicycle or your dog, you have to keep in mind that in most cases certain rules apply. Most systems allow you to travel with your bicycle or your dog (if it is smaller than a cat) without having to buy an additional ticket, but this is not always the case, so inform yourself well beforehand. Furthermore, there may be some restrictions regarding the time or cars in which you can take your bicycle with you (e. g. in some places you are not allowed to take your bicycle in the train during rush hours).
Where do you buy the tickets?
You can buy them at ticket machines, which are located at the stations and sometimes aboard some trains or trams. In buses, you buy the ticket from the bus driver. One very important thing to know is that tickets must be validated! If your ticket has not been automatically validated after you purchased it, you must do it yourself. For this, you have to go to a ticket stamping machine called “Entwerter”, which will stamp your ticket with the date, time and station. You can find these machines at the entrances of stations or platforms (you stamp your ticket before boarding), or inside buses and trains/trams (you stamp your ticket after boarding).
If your ticket has no stamp, then it is not valid and this counts as you not having any ticket at all! Even though the German transportation system works on the “honor system”, now and then ticket inspectors (“Fahrkontrolleure”) will appear unannounced and check tickets. If you are riding without a ticket, you will have to pay a fine of 60 € or more on the spot! So always buy a ticket and have it within reach, you never know when those “dreaded” words “Fahrkarten, bitte!” (“Tickets, please”) might greet you during your trip.
Here are some useful links to find out more about travelling and transportation in Germany:
The official website for the German railway: www.bahn.de
App for buying tickets: DB Navigator