How to save money and enjoy a trip to Bremen, Germany?
November 12, 2011 1:09 PM   Subscribe

Planning to attend a language course in Bremen, Germany early next year. Need extensive MeFi advice/help!

Hi there, I've been waiting to query the MeFi hive this question for a long time now. I've seen some excellent advice for people travelling to foreign countries for the first time so, here's my turn. 

This is my first time in Europe. I would like some advice and support that would help me save money and make the most of my stay there. 

I'd greatly appreciate any help, here is what is on my mind right now:

- Getting there
      Arrival in Frankfurt/Hamburg Airport (i'm not sure which city yet) - Names of cheap accomodation to stay for a night? Best way to get to Bremen? 

- Things to do in free time
       in and around Bremen. I'm interested in experiencing the culture first-hand. I support Werder Bremen in the Bundesliga. Movies, etc, what are the fun things to do around that time of year, winter activities?

- Expenses
           How should I carry my money, card/cash?
           Food - monthly, daily, practical amount. Low limit - high limit?
           General - travel and sightseeing
           Ways I can save greatly
            Additional hidden expenses?

- Traveling around Germany
     What's the best and most cost efficient way to do this? What are the restrictions on visiting bordering countries e.g. Netherlands for the weekend? 

- Places to stay 
           If i want to stay on for a few days, possible accomodation- couch surfing etc? 

Lastly, what are the things i should be aware of before setting out on this solo trip?
posted by naskar to Travel & Transportation around Bremen, Germany (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I can't provide all your answers, but I can suggest bugeurope if you're planning on staying in any hostels. They have good reviews that can help you to find the hostel with the qualities you desire (esp re: party vs non-party).

Also I learned the hard way that train tickets in Germany don't come with a seat reservation, so if you're going on an especially long one, you might want to consider reserving a seat that you don't find yourself standing next to the bathroom with six other people for four hours.

Finally, if your credit card doesn't have a chip & PIN, be prepared for many shopkeepers and/or ATMs being surprised and/or refusing to accept it.
posted by monkeymonkey at 1:19 PM on November 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Travel to Bremen by train.

Not sure what your budget is but trains are generally quick and clean and reliable in mainland Europe so I'd definitely give them preference over some of the budget airlines for your exploratory journeys, mainly because a lot of the budget airlines fly to airports miles outside the cities you are trying to visit so you incur additional travel cost and time that way.

Not sure what you mean by restrictions on visiting bordering countries - there are none. Most of the time you'll not even notice that you're crossing a border as there are no passport controls in the Schengen area. Which doesn-t mean you shouldn't take your passport with you because you still may have to produce ID in places.

You'll find that people use cash a lot more than in the US. You'll get very dirty looks at times for paying for small amounts with card, even if the shop has the facilities to take card payments.
posted by koahiatamadl at 1:22 PM on November 12, 2011

Can't do everything here, but let's make a beginning:

Hamburg: airport bus to the Central station; about 30 minutes. Train to Bremen Central takes around an hour. So unless you're late, you'll make it to Bremen after you arrive. (From Frankfurt, incidentally, the train is your choice as well. If you're planning to use the train more, buy a Bahncard 25 which gives you a discount on tickets for a year.) Timetable and ticket orders at

There's a bunch of good museums in Bremen, an art gallery, a theater, and concerts of varying styles and quality. The Early Music department of the art academy is famous, and there is a good chance you'll run into concerts of that persuasion.

Bremen is one of the least nervous German cities, a lot of local spirit there; but people are kind of reserved, polite but quiet. The center is quite charming; and there are many parks around the city.

Over to the next...
posted by Namlit at 1:28 PM on November 12, 2011

I can't directly answer the specifics about Germany, but I have some friends that living in Bremen and will see them shortly. I'll them for advice and some of your questions and see what they have to say.

In general, travelling within the Schengen area is easy if your country doesn't require you to have a visa. Generally, travellers from most countries are allowed to stay up to 90 days without visa. Check this page for more information. Looking at the website of the German embassy in your country will also give you more specific information.

For stuff to do/general travel information, I like Lonely Planet. They have a lot of useful information on their online guide for Germany, including hostel recommendations, etc. Travelling through Europe I find that having the physical travel guide is handy because I'm old fashioned and have a dumbphone/ lack of reliable internet access, but YMMV. Also try checking out Thorn Tree, the LP forums and they may be able to give you some additional help.

Expenses are tricky to tell you about, it will all depend on how you like to travel. I am perfectly happy with sandwiches, street food and staying at hostels/camping/couch surfing, you may not be. Expenses to remember about are travel insurance (a huge must!!), laundry (I forgot about this one), a cheap prepaid card for a mobile if you need it. If you're a student, get an ISIC card to save a decent amount of money on things like train tickets, etc. If you're under 26 and not a student, check to see about youth discounts. I know Norway has them for things like trains and plane tickets which is really nice!

I'll memail you once I go ask the Germans here (where I'm studying abroad in Norway) if they have any advice.
posted by snowysoul at 1:55 PM on November 12, 2011

First word of advice: Germany is basically the 0th world. Expect everything to go very smoothly. See if your bank has a no fees debit account that lets you make international ATM transactions. Sometimes they will.charge a monthly fee for this but it is worth it. I use cash mostly in Europe because of the chip and pin issue. You can book hotels online through the same places you do in the states. Also, everyone will speak English and be very helpful. Have fun and don't tell them the awful truth: American beer is now better than German.
posted by dis_integration at 5:02 PM on November 12, 2011

Visiting the Netherlands at the weekend:

From Bremen, your closest Dutch city is Groningen, a pretty university city with a population of 200,000 or so. To get there, you can take a train to Leer, and change there for a train to Groningen. Go on a Saturday if you want to browse in the market and the shops; go on a Sunday to avoid the crowds (but be aware that the shops will be shut). There are several museums - the most notable is the Groninger Museum, though my personal favourite is the small but eclectic Universiteitsmuseum - and they do open on Sundays, as do most restaurants, cafes and bars. In good weather, it's also a very nice city to stroll around and explore; the city centre is eminently walkable, and there are plenty of interesting buildings, artworks, gardens and canals to admire.

(Speaking of which - if you're hoping to see skaters on the Dutch canals, I'll warn you now that while the canals in Groningen do look very picturesque when they freeze over, I've been here four years and never seen them freeze hard enough for proper skating.)

The Leer-Groningen train crosses the border at Nieuweschans, and sometimes border officials come through the train checking passports. Since Germany and the Netherlands are both in Schengen, if you're in Germany legally, you'll be legal in NL too - but don't forget your passport. (Border crossing aside, it's actually a legal requirement in the Netherlands that adults must carry their ID card or passport.)

The journey's usually about two and a half hours, but sometimes the trains line up badly (long waits to change trains), and there's often engineering work on that line at weekends. Check on the Deutsche Bahn website, which can tell you about the Dutch part of the journey too, before making firm plans.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 6:06 PM on November 12, 2011

Great replies so far!

@snowysoul @koahiatamadl -

I'm from the Maldives in South Asia and I need to apply for Visa before travelling to Germany. I checked the Visa page link but Maldives doesn't show up on the Map clearly.

Can I travel around Germany (to Netherlands for example) with the Visa I will be getting?

Thanks Snowysoul, I'll be applying for the ISIC and I look forward to your email.

Could I get a rough idea on monthly expenses for food, travel? Thanks a lot for the help so far.
posted by naskar at 7:34 PM on November 12, 2011

Trains in continental Europe are great but if you are looking for an even cheaper (and more fun) way of getting around I would suggest Mitfahrgelegenheit. (German site but assuming your attending a German language course it'll be good practise) It's basically a ride sharing community where you can find people who will give you a lift in exchange for petrol money. You'll get to see more of the country as you travel as well as meeting some interesting people. Obviously it's not as reliable as public transport (your lift might just not turn up) and you have to take sensible precautions to keep yourself safe but I have had some great experiences using it.

Toytown Germany is an English speaking expat in Germany site with a forum which already has tons of information that might be useful for you.

I don't really know the area around Bremen very well but you are not too far from Hamburg which is a cool city and if I were you I would definitely visit the Netherlands at some point. I have no idea if that will be allowed on your visa but there are no border controls or anything so I can't imagine you would have any problems.
posted by neilb449 at 12:49 AM on November 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've traveled and lived extensively in various German cities many times and for several years. I'll give a general overview, but memail me with any specific questions.

Before arriving in Hambrug or Bremen, check out for train times and prices. They have a German and English website. You will be able to find out specific schedules and pricing for travel. Depending on the costs of the tickets you can then figure out how you will want to travel.

For traveling, check out the Schengen Zone on Wikipedia. Long story short, once you get to one country, your passport will never get checked when you cross a border. This does not apply to Lichtenstein and Andora which are not a part of the Schengen Zone. If for whatever reason you plan on staying in a country for more than 90 days, every 89 days you will need to leave the country and make sure to get your passport stamped at the train station after you cross the border before coming back. It's a good excuse for traveling. If you have a Visa to get into Germany, it is sometimes cross honored in the Schengen Zone, but not always depending on inter-country relations.

If you really want to travel far over a short time, make sure to get an InterRail pass. Unlimited train travel with a few restrictions, but very easy to use and gives you many huge discounts. Otherwise, look into renting a car. If you have specific urban, but especially suburban and rural destinations in mind, it is the easiest way. That said the public transport system is generally excellent. I've only ever had one German train and two European trains ever be more than 5 minutes late or early. Expect travel comfort to be similar to Norwegian trains.

As for Euros, make sure to have at least 100€ or more on you at all times. Restaurants as a rule do not take EuroCard, a.k.a. EC. If they do, Visa is often your best/only choice for most shops and/or hostels.

Speaking of hostels. 9/10 hostels in the Lonely Planet guide book are good. I've only ever had issues with their recommendations in Cophenhagen. If you really plan on traveling to more than one country, but what is called the "Backpacker's Bible". It is thick, heavy, and a general pan in the ass to drag around, but worth its weight in gold at times.

As for ID, mostEuropean countries require adults to keep identity papers on themselves at all times. When using the local bus, subway, trams, etc. it is on the honor system. You need to get a ticket, generally good for unlimited travel within a system for 1-2 hours. If an agent in poorly tiled clothes holds out an ID and asks for your "Fahrausweis", they just want to see your ticket. If you have a InterRail pass, it is an ID and ticket requirement.

As for the food expenses, Germany changes depending where you are. When I lived in Berlin, dinner could be obtained at a decent restaurant with beer, for less than 5€. Most places we're closer to 5-10€. When I lived in Ulm, it was closer to 15-20€ for dinner.

That brings me to beer, light beer is actually refers to the color and not the calorie content. "Helles" or light beer is the lighter stuff, lagers, pilsners, and the like. Dunkels beer, or dark beer, is your porter, stouts, etc. When in doubt go for a name you do not know and it will be good. Beer is normal to drink for breakfast as it's German nickname is liquid bread and Germans love their bread.

When obtaining food, breakfast can be very cheap is you stop at a bakery, Bakerei, or a pastry shop, Konditorei. Many times they are the same thing or together. You must have at least one fresh baked pretzel. It is comparable to nothing else. If you go to a good traditional restaurant, they will leave a basket of pretzels on the table and charge you for every one you eat.

If you are really confused, feel free to stop a random person and ask for help. Most Germans I have ask have helped, even if hey just gave me the short answer and walked away quickly. Generally they are nice, if very curt and to the point.

When you stay at hostels, which can range in price from 5-150€ a night depending on your arrangements and how you want to sleep, there will be communal areas and you should hang out in them. Lots of travelers do and it is a great way to get tips and local travel ideas. Just be forewarned, in no particular order Germans (and many travelers) like to talk about politics, religion, sex, and money. Make sure to have a small padlock in case the hostel has lockers and you have a nice camera, laptop, etc. Most hostels do not have a theft issue, but some have a very bad one and the lockers are cleaned on an hourly basis unless secured.

As I said at the top, this is fairly general, so memail me with any specific questions.
posted by Nackt at 1:41 AM on November 13, 2011

Couchsurfing is not just for a place to stay. You can also find people to meet for a drink or an event, and lots of cities have regular meetups where locals and travelers hang out together. (Look for the local 'groups')

Have a great trip!
posted by Salamandrous at 9:20 AM on November 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

How does couchsurfing work @Salamandrous?
posted by naskar at 11:49 AM on November 13, 2011

Also how does the Bahncard 25 work? The website mentions 25% savings, could someone let me know how much it costs for the card?
posted by naskar at 12:07 PM on November 13, 2011

Bahncard 25, 2nd class, 57 Euro per year at the moment. It's usually something you've earned out after just a few trips. When you buy tickets you mention (or, online: you click on something) that you've got the card and you get the discount. Must have the card with you to show to the conductor, obviously.
posted by Namlit at 12:52 PM on November 13, 2011

I was going to suggest Couchsurfing. Read the FAQ here, and check out the metafilter group. I used CS in Koeln and Muenster and had fantastic experiences both times.
posted by knile at 1:07 AM on November 14, 2011

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