Last-Minute Trip to Germany
January 28, 2020 2:29 PM   Subscribe

My partner is going to Germany for work, (Hamburg, Frankfurt) and I impulsively bought tickets to visit. They were an unbelievable deal. The low cost is offset by the fact that the tickets don't go exactly where I need to be. There will be trains and buses involved. I don't speak German. Having never been to Germany, how feasible is this?

What are your travel tips for long flights and bus/train trips? How can I protect my stuff as I sleep? What is the best way to buy Euros? I do have a travel credit card that automatically currency converts and can be used internationally. It worked great when I went to Italy. I hope it works the same way in Germany. What are some things I can do during the long transit? What is something I can do for my husband for his birthday, which is happening during this trip? What shouldn't I miss in Hamburg, Stade, Frankfurt, or Baden Baden?
posted by domo to Travel & Transportation around Germany (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Hamburg to Frankfurt can be done in well under 4 hours on the train. Baden-Baden in about 5 hours. All the stations will be equipped with ticket machines that are multilingual and most (probably all) of them will also have English speaking staff selling tickets and providing information. Often on European trains you leave your larger luggage at the end of the carriage and it is generally safe so you would be good for a snooze. Keep your backpack with laptop, tablet on you/under your feet. You'll be fine. You can plan and buy tickets here or just plan and then buy them at the station.

I used one of the those pre-loaded cards around Italy in summer 2018 and in Germany on two visits since, and they worked fine in both places. That was a UK card but hopefully a positive sign. You should be able to draw money from ATMs even if there is any problem with paying bills with it.
posted by biffa at 2:50 PM on January 28, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Alles gut. Download Eurail/Interrail Rail Planner. Then and download the maps of Germany. Watch some Rick Steves. Read up on German trains. Use Rome2rio to plan your itinerary.

If you're traveling alone, I'd take a backpack and try to keep it on your person.

If you're flying Lufthansa, drink a few schnapps and nap until you arrive. You don't say where you're landing and where's your final destination, but an additional plane hop might be easier than a train or bus, and the view out the window in Frankfurt isn't Bavaria.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 2:52 PM on January 28, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Here in Europe, the Man in Seat 61 is pretty detailed on how to buy tickets, best fares etc.

In cities and popular tourist areas you shouldn't have a problem speaking English. We had no problem on a recent trip to Hamburg getting around the city, using the metro, going out to eat (In Hamburg I had to go see one of my favorite paintings in the world but that may not be your thing)
posted by vacapinta at 2:52 PM on January 28, 2020 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Travel tips: compression socks, earplugs, know your data/phone plan before you get to Germany, lotion, saline nasal spray, scarfy thing like a pashmina will have many potential uses. Travel Insurance, I cannot stress enough how much I love travel insurance. If you're checking a bag, have clean underpants, toothbrush, daily medication in your personal/carry on bag. Email a copy of your passport ID page to yourself and a loved one. It is Much Easier to deal with a lost passport if you have images of the old one.

Trains: I would not be worried about sleeping with my stuff on a train, there are often luggage racks on the trains.

Euros: I found that I could get Euro at the airport through an ATM or exchange desk. Not the "best" rate of exchange, but the convenience is high. Some countries you can only buy Euros at certain places outside the airports and they may be very inconvenient places indeed. Call your credit card company to ask them if there will be any differences from Italy to Germany in your experience

Entertaining oneself during transit: entertainment of your choice - magazines/books/kindle/small knitting project/deck of cards for solitaire, and there will likely be movies on the flight. I also bring snacks.

For your husband: bring a handmade card, as he may not have room in his luggage to bring back a gift of any size (but then again, he might), plan a nice meal where all he does is show up. This will require you knowing a bit about his work scheduling while he's there, and may be difficult if he's on call or something.
posted by bilabial at 2:59 PM on January 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Things to do in Hamburg: I posted some tips in an earlier thread, check them out!

Stade is an old Hanseatic City, and it's been a long time since I visited, but the old town center is worth visiting. Take a look at the photos on Wikipedia and elsewhere and you'll see why.

Frankfurt: Make sure to stop by the most important landmarks. If you're there in the next two weeks, the Making van Gogh exhibit at the Städel Museum is worth a visit. They have an audio guide in English as well as a podcast.

I'm a little stumped on Baden-Baden, I have to admit. I've been there several times, but didn't find much of interest there. It attracts a lot of rich people because it's a spa town complete with a casino, and there are expensive shops downtown. I much preferred to go for hikes in the surrounding hills. The Black Forest is right on it's doorstep.
posted by amf at 3:04 PM on January 28, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: You can literally walk up to any ATM at your arrival airport and withdraw Euros. If you have time to faff around with buying them in advance great but I am time poor and would rather pay the slightly worse rate.

Large luggage is generally left either in a rack as you enter the train carriage, between the backs of seats or in racks above the seat. People normally keep smaller items closer to hand. Never had a case go missing. I do generally keep valuables/electronics in a small bag with me.
posted by koahiatamadl at 3:15 PM on January 28, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Definitely call your bank and tell them precisely when you will be out of the country to avoid any automatic fraud cutoffs from triggering.
posted by JoeZydeco at 3:18 PM on January 28, 2020 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Think about booking trains in advance, if possible, as you can save either time or money by getting a cheap ticket on one of the fast trains(IC/ICE). However, these tickets are only valid on a particular train. As reference, Frankfurt-Hamburg on an ICE is about 4 hours, and a full ticket costs €115. Right now, taking next Wednesday as a random date, I can see tickets available from €29 to €90, depending on the exact train. (A seat reservation will cost more, but may be worth it on a busy train.) The “slow” train will take 8 hours, and is €44.

As a warning, the metro/public transport system is different in each city/area in Germany, including how ticketing works. Most of them are a bit complicated when you first encounter them, so you’re as well asking someone how to get the ticket you want, and if you need to validate the ticket in some way. (In particular, if you’re planning a couple of journeys in a day, it’s often cheaper to get a day ticket rather than singles.)

It’s not quite clear when you are coming, and how long you’ll be here, or even what you are interested in! However, if you are in Frankfurt for more than a day or two, you might like to go to Rüdesheim and take a cruise up the Rhine. (Unless it’s raining!) Or simply a cruise on the Main around Frankfurt.
posted by scorbet at 4:02 PM on January 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: When do you leave, and are you a AAA member? If so, you can get Euros from AAA in about a week. I like having at least some foreign currency onhand just in case there's, like, a crazy long line at the ATM or something goes wrong with my card when I arrive.

In Hamburg, Miniaturwelt might seem like it's just for kids but it is amazeballs and well worth a visit, IMHO. There's also the world's largest cemetery park, Ohlsdorf, which I found beautiful to wander. Frankfurt: hit the cathedral and the shopping district around it. The Rheingau is the wine region maybe 45 minutes from Frankfurt and has tons of really cute towns--I had a really fabulous daytrip to Ruedesheim once, 10/10 would recommend.

Most Germans in the service industry (public transport, hotels, restaurants, etc) will speak good English and if not super friendly, will be helpful. One thing to pay attention to: on both the real trains and on the light rail/subway, watch out for the 1st class cars and don't get caught in one without a 1st class ticket. (Or if you do, definitely play dumb foreigner and you'll maybe get a stern lecture and allowed to keep on your way or pay a small fine, ummm, so I'm told).
posted by TwoStride at 4:07 PM on January 28, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Your bank might have an ATM partnership that is worth checking out, like the Global ATM Alliance. Never, ever change traveler's checks or cash for euros, it's a huge ripoff unless you're doing a large quantity. Germany is pretty cash-centric but you don't need them in advance. I'd get a few hundred euros on arrival at the airport and hope to be done with it. Afterwards I do recommend a bank ATM instead of a random one. So many places take contactless payments now so you can use your phone (the German is "Kontaktlos") most places you can use a card.

I do have an extensive jetlag prevention procedure, but basically you want to gradually shift your schedule earlier if you can, and plan to sleep and fast on the plane as much as you can. Talk to your doctor but melatonin is a godsend for me, as are comfortable earplugs, a sleep mask and an inflatable pillow (IKEA has a great one for $4).

German trains are great, punctual, fast, cheap, and comfortable. (Ditto public transport in general.) The tricky part is boarding. The locals arrive about 15 minutes before a long-distance train, I would give yourself 45 until you get used to it. It can be anxiety producing because the big board won't tell you your track number until about 20 minutes before. Once you get to your track there will be a diagram and likely a digital display of the cars (Wagons). Position yourself on the trackside where your car will be, if possible. Just know that they are only going to wait a couple minutes before leaving. Big luggage has to be left at the ends of the car, but you can stash typical carryon and personal bag under or above your seat. Even if you're not 100% sure of your schedule, buy a ticket now (not Super Sparpreis, just regular Sparpreis) and you can change for a very reasonable fee. The ticket machines are multi-lingual but we found ticket counter staff extremely helpful in English (again true for transport).
posted by wnissen at 4:45 PM on January 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Regarding language, I lived in Frankfurt for a few years (and still visit regularly) and my German is still basic at best. Many folks speak English, particularly in the more touristy areas. I would often ask someone a question in German and get an answer in English.

Trains and transit are pretty easy to handle. Long-distance train tickets can sometimes be bought in advance at a modest discount, if you know your schedule (see or Credit cards are accepted fairly widely, particularly in larger cities (although I would still recommend having Euros, as they still aren't as widespread as the US). For cash, I just use an ATM, they are pretty much everywhere - your bank might charge an exchange fee but it's usually not too terrible (I get around this by using my USAA card). Otherwise ATMs work just like they do in the US.

As for things to do in Frankfurt:
- The Romer and Dom (cathedral) are nice to check out, plus lots of shopping in the nearby Zeil.
- The Museumsufer is a street just across the river with numerous museums, all excellent.
- The Main Tower has an observation deck with great views of downtown. If you want good views, the Galeria food cafe (top floor of Galeria Kaufhof) also has pretty cool views, and is free to boot.
- The Kleinmarthalle is an excellent food hall downtown worth checking out. There is also a memorial at the site of the former Jewish ghetto, not as well known but worth visiting.
- There's several excellent parks, including the Frankfurt green belt.
- There's also lots of good day trips, I listed several in another Ask a while back.

Have fun!
posted by photo guy at 4:51 PM on January 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: “Many folks speak English, particularly in the more touristy areas. I would often ask someone a question in German and get an answer in EnglisH”

I speak German, and get very little chance to practice in Germany for exactly this reason! Heck, my old boss was bilingual (married to a German man, lived and worked there for years), and all her in-laws switch to English when they meet her. Lots of Germans seem to really like speaking English for whatever reason. You will be fine (it’s nice to be able to read it, so you can read signs and logos if nothing else, but not essential).

The Deutsch Bahn website has an English page, I just use that when I want to buy tickets (so I am totally clear what I have bought).
posted by tinkletown at 5:01 PM on January 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I speak German OK but few Germans over there would speak to me in German. Seems like at least 75% of anyone 40 or under can speak English. Every restaurant, bar, train station etc will have multiple English speakers. Language isn't much of a barrier at all.
posted by Patapsco Mike at 6:27 PM on January 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Email a copy of your passport ID page to yourself and a loved one.

Email is not secure. If there are two of you travelling, just make photocopies of your passports and each carry the copy of the others passport in a secure place [not in your checked baggage].
posted by HiroProtagonist at 7:30 PM on January 28, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I found the DB (Deutsch Bahn) Navigator app helpful for looking up train schedules and buying tickets on the fly.
posted by Tuba Toothpaste at 9:15 PM on January 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I have traveled around Germany on trains quite a bit and now we live here (for a few months at least).

How soon is "last minute"? If you have the time to wait for mail to come, I would look into Eurrail passes — primarily so that you do not have to pick which train you are riding on — otherwise German train tickets are like plane tickets in that you are locked to a train unless you pay quite a bit more for a flexible ticket. Do a little math to see if it saves you money/breaks even and then I think the flexibility is worth it. The passes also can be used for city transit the day you use the pass.

Also, you can buy seat reservations online separately from the full ticket. This is another way to get a little flexibility and get a seat before you commit to the train. (That way, you only lose 8-10 euros.) If you are taking a long ride and look at reservations and everything seems full, note that it might just be that a given seat is booked for one tiny portion of the trip and you'll be fine for a spot.

I recommend riding first class — it's not that much more and it is a lot more comfortable and a lot more empty.

For most trains, there will be a map of your train on your platform telling you where your car arrives. It is delightful. It also tells you where the dining car is. The dining car is pretty pleasant but there can be a bit of a rush for it, so you may want to get yourself lined up. If you get in and there is someone sitting at a table, you can ask if the other spot is free and sit with them.

ICE, IC, and EC trains will have food; regional ones will not.

For Hamburg, I can second Miniatur-Wonderland. They are usually open late one day and I recommend that because there are fewer children so you can get up close and hit the buttons without having to share. :) We also really loved the Internationales Maritimes Museum — nine floors of ships and shipping history. I have no idea why anyone would want to spend time in Frankfurt tho. I'd honestly just say _fuck it_ and go to Hamburg and Berlin, but I am very biased.

Have a fun trip!
posted by dame at 1:39 AM on January 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm a little stumped on Baden-Baden, I have to admit. I've been there several times, but didn't find much of interest there. It attracts a lot of rich people because it's a spa town complete with a casino, and there are expensive shops downtown.

Well, there's the spas. And for an outsider I think the wonders of a German spa-sauna are worth exploring. There is nothing like it in the US, it is sort of an amusement park for adults, an adult waterpark. I've only been to the Friedrichsbad and posted a photo on flickr of what you can expect.

Just a note that most german saunas (and dutch ones) are nude and co-ed. This can be an experience too.
posted by vacapinta at 4:40 AM on January 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Spa Towns (mostly towns that begin with "Bad" meaning "Bath") are primarily used for rehabilitation after disease or surgery. You don't recover in a hospital post-procedure, you go to one of these towns and luxuriate in warm baths, massages, exercise, fresh air hikes, etc until you're recovered. The proximity to thermal springs created the towns in the first place.

So you'll find that these towns have lots of services like this and restaurants/amusements/casinos to keep the patients busy, but they're not really geared for tourists. And, yes, they'll be mostly full of old people.
posted by JoeZydeco at 4:57 AM on January 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I would give serious thought to buying a German Rail Pass. It is so nice to know that you don't have to take time out to buy a ticket, and also that you don't have to catch a specific train.
It looks like a 15 day pass costs €405. Compare to the Super- Saver one way fare between Hamburg and Frankfurt at €89.90 and you can see that the pass can quickly become a good investment.
posted by Tunierikson at 6:02 AM on January 29, 2020

Best answer: My last trip, I bought tickets on and printed at home, it worked out well - I found it easier than the Deutsche Bahn site, which always times out while I'm in the middle of buying tickets. I also used my credit card in Germany and it was no problem.
posted by beyond_pink at 6:10 AM on January 29, 2020

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