From Frankfurt and other German gateways, most Lufthansa (tel. 800/645-3880 in the U.S., or 800/563-5954 in Canada; www.lufthansa.com) destinations in Germany can be reached in an average of 50 minutes. All German cities with commercial airports have an airport shuttle service, offering reduced fares and fast connections between the city center and the airport. Departure points are usually the airlines’ town offices and the city’s main rail terminal. Luggage can be checked at the DB (Deutsche Bahn/German Rail) baggage counter at the airport for delivery to the railroad station at your ultimate destination.
You’ll find that the trains of German Rail (DB Rail; tel. 0800/1507090; www.bahn.com) deserve their good reputation for comfort, cleanliness, and punctuality. All are modern and fast, and all cars are nonsmoking. A snack bar or a dining car, serving German and international cuisine as well as good wine and beer, can usually be found on all trains except locals. Accompanying baggage can be checked for a nominal fee; suitcases, baby carriages, skis, bicycles, and steamer trunks are permitted as baggage.
Germany’s high-speed rail network, known as InterCity Express (ICE), is among the fastest in Europe—their trains reach speeds of 280kmph (174 mph), making transits north to south and across the country in half a day or less. ICE trains have adjustable cushioned seats and individual reading lights, and are equipped with Wi-Fi (for a fee). Bars, lounges, and dining rooms are available, too. About 20,000 slightly slower InterCity (IC) passenger trains offer express service between most large and medium-size German cities. A network of EuroCity (EC) trains connecting Germany with 13 other countries offers the same high standards of service as those of IC.
InterCity Night (ICN) trains operate between Berlin and Bonn, Berlin and Munich, Hamburg and Frankfurt, and other German cities. Trains depart between 10 and midnight with arrival the next morning between 7 and 8am. The ICN offers first and tourist class. Sleeping accommodations in first class include single or double compartments with shower and toilet, and they are equipped with key cards, phones for wake-up service, luggage storage, and other amenities. Tourist class offers reclining seats as well as berths is four- or six-person compartments. The ICN is equipped with a restaurant and bistro car, and a breakfast buffet is included in the first-class fare. Advance reservations are mandatory for all sleeping accommodations.
German Rail issues tickets for the ICN and also makes reservations. Eurail and German Rail pass holders are accepted on this train but have to pay for the seat or sleeper reservation and for meals. Children 3 and under travel free, provided they do not require a separate seat; those between 4 and 12 are charged half fare.
You can get complete details about German Rail and the many plans it offers, as well as information about Eurail passes, at Eurail (www.eurail.com).
German Rail Tourist Passes -- Eurail and German Rail Passes offer several options beginning with 3 days and going up to 3 months. For example 3 days of travel in 1 month costs 247€ first class or 188€ second class. The German Rail Twinpass, for two adults (they do not have to be married and can be of the same sex) traveling together in first or second class represents a 50 percent savings over single prices. A German Rail Youth Pass is valid only for persons younger than 26 years of age and is available only in second class; German Rail Passes for kids ages 6 to 11 are half the adult price. The passes also entitle the bearer to additional benefits, such as free or discounted travel on selected bus routes operated by Deutsche Touring/Europabus, including destinations not serviced by trains, or excursions along particularly scenic highways such as the Romantic Road. The pass also includes travel on KD German Line steamers (day trips only) along the Rhine, Main, and Mosel.
Where to Buy Rail Passes -- Order Eurail and German Rail Passes from Eurail (www.eurail.com).
Competition in the European car-rental industry is fierce, so make sure you comparison shop. Players include Avis (tel. 800/331-1212; www.avis.com), Budget (tel. 800/472-3325; www.budget.com), Hertz (tel. 800/654-3001; www.hertz.com), Kemwel Drive Group (tel. 877/820-0668; www.kemwel.com), and Auto Europe (tel. 800/223-5555; www.autoeurope.com). You can often rent a car in one German city and return it to another for no additional charge. You may also rent a car through Eurail (www.eurail.com); they offer a German Rail ’n Drive option that gives you 2 days of unlimited train travel and 2 days of Hertz car rental within one month. You can purchase extra days for both train travel and car rental.
There are some advantages to prepaying rentals in your native currency before leaving home. You get an easy-to-understand net price, the rental process is more streamlined, and you can avoid unpleasant surprises caused by sudden unfavorable changes in currency exchange rates. Remember, however, that if you opt to prepay and your plans change, you’ll have to go through some rather complicated paperwork for changing or canceling a prepaid contract.
Driving Rules -- In Germany, you drive on the right side of the road. Both front- and back-seat passengers must wear safety belts. Children 5 and younger cannot ride in the front seat.
Easy-to-understand international road signs are posted, but travelers should remember that road signs are in kilometers, not miles. In congested areas, the speed limit is about 50kmph (about 30 mph). On all other roads except the autobahns, the speed limit is 100kmph (about 60 mph).
In theory, there is no speed limit on the autobahns (in the left, fast lane), but many drivers going too fast report that they have been stopped by the police and fined, and the government recommends a speed limit of 130kmph (81 mph). German motorists generally flash their lights if they want you to move over so they can pass. You must use low-beam headlights at night and during fog, heavy rain, and snowfalls, and you must stop for pedestrians in crosswalks; they have the right of way.
Note: Drinking while driving is a very serious offense in Germany. Be sure to keep any alcoholic beverages in the trunk or other storage area.
Breakdowns/Assistance -- The major automobile club in Germany is Automobilclub von Deutschland (AvD), Lyoner Strasse 16, 60528 Frankfurt (tel. 069/660600; www.avd.de). If you have a breakdown on the autobahn, you can call from one of many emergency phones, spaced about a mile apart. If you don’t belong to an auto club, call tel. 01802/222222. In English, ask for “road service assistance.” Emergency assistance is free, but you pay for parts and materials.
Driver’s Licenses -- American drivers, and those from E.U. countries, need only a domestic license to drive. However, in Germany and throughout the rest of Europe, you must also have an international insurance certificate, known as a carte verte (green card). Any car-rental agency will automatically provide one of these as a standard part of the rental contract, but it’s a good idea to double-check all documents at the time of rental, just to be sure that you can identify the card if asked by border patrol or the police.
parking -- Parking in the center of most big towns is difficult, expensive, and often impossible. Look for parking lots and parking garages outside the center, identified by a large P; in some larger cities, signs on the way into town indicate how much space is available in various lots or parking garages. Most parking lots use an automated ticket system. You insert coins or credit cards to purchase time.
An excellent, efficient bus network services Germany. Many buses are operated by Bahnbus (www.bahnbus.com), which is owned by the railway. These are integrated to complement the rail service. Bus service in Germany is particularly convenient during slow periods of rail service, normally around midday and on Saturday and Sunday. German post offices often operate local bus services (contact local post offices for schedules and prices).
The mighty Rhine is Germany’s most traveled waterway. Cruise ships also run on the Main River between Mainz and Frankfurt; on the Danube from Nürnberg to Linz (Austria), going on to Vienna and Budapest; and on the Mosel between Cochem and Trier. A good place to begin investigating the many options, with lists of operators, cruise line reviews, and loads of other information, is Cruise Critic (www.cruisecritic.com). Canal barge cruises are a way to see a rarely viewed part of Germany. Many German itineraries focus on Berlin and the Mecklenburg lakes, and the "Mosel Cruise," from Trier to Koblenz. A good overview of trips, as well as cruise packages, are available from European Barging (tel. 888/869-7907; www.europeanbarging.com).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.