how to shoestring germany
May 16, 2007 8:52 AM   Subscribe

So I'm going to Germany for about a week this summer, flying into Cologne. The cash available for good times is significantly lower than I had thought. Anyone have good ideas for cheap ways around and thru Deutschland? Can I take an inner-tube down the Rhine?

I know there have been several posts on Germany before, so sorry if this annoys people as repetitive.

So basically, I thought I had money for this trip. Turns out I don't. I mean, I do, but not a whole lot. The plane tickets are bought. I'm landing in Cologne. Where to go from here? Preliminary research made Heidelberg, the Rhine, and Jasmund/Rugen sound quite interesting but I'm sure there's a lot of unmissables that I'm missing on this list (sorry). Anything I should make it absolute priority to see? Any creative suggestions for getting around? I'm mostly interested in naturey stuff, castles, monasteries -- I think cities are kind of skippable (correct me if I'm wrong though).

You really can't inner tube the Rhine, can you?
posted by bluenausea to Travel & Transportation around Germany (12 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I did a fair bit of hitchhiking in Germany (that's how I got into Cologne). Truckers are great for long hauls.

I did a lot of train-riding as well ... though it was mostly last minute and I had to ride in the awful smoking car (smokers only) a couple of times. Avoid that if possible - I woke up smelling like I had just spent a night in a dance club or bar or something.

Several people recommended that I use the Mitfahrzentrale (I liked to the version in English) ridesharing website to try and find rides.

I heard that the Couch Surfing website can lead to some very fun experiences as well.

Have fun! Good luck!
posted by redteam at 9:05 AM on May 16, 2007

Berlin is a relatively cheap major European city to hang out in. I don't think I actually visited any museums when I was last there for a week; just walked all over the place, peeked into shops, strolled in the Tiergarten, and many doner kebab, and hung out in cafes.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:41 AM on May 16, 2007

ate many doner kebab.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:42 AM on May 16, 2007

If you're traveling in the Rhine valley, I recommend staying in hostels. Some of them are actually in converted castles, which is a lot of fun. Book ahead, though, because they can fill up quickly.

Hostels in that area run by the official hostel organization

Kick-ass hostel I stayed at on the Rhine - a converted castle up on hill with a spectacular view and meals
posted by cadge at 9:59 AM on May 16, 2007

You understand that the Rhine flows generally north, right? So, if you're landing in Köln, and going south in Germany, through the castles district, you're headed "up river" towards Frankfurt. The KD boats are by far your best bet for seeing the Rhine valley, the wine country, the castle district, and getting to Ruedesheim. The KD boats aren't the cheapest way to do the Rhine, but they are definitely the best bang for your tourist buck, in terms of what you see, for what you spend. Likewise, Ruedesheim can be expensive or inexpensive, depending on where you stay and how much you drink.

Most towns still have a rathskeller, often in, or near, the center of town, often in the basement of the town hall. They're often decent places to get a meal at reasonable value, and some are very good.
posted by paulsc at 10:33 AM on May 16, 2007

I stayed in that same castle hostel, DEFINITELY do that. It's a hike getting up there, but it's cool.

My first trip to Europe I brought NO money. Stayed in hostels. Slept on trains. Had full meals of bread baguettes and cheese eaten in parks. Honestly? Some of it was more fun than the trips I have taken since with money. It also depends on your age though, because in your 20s there are a lot of other peers traveling in the same "I have no money" boat who quickly become your advisors and partners in crime. That makes it a zillion times easier and better.

You'll be fine. You'll have a great great time!!!
posted by miss lynnster at 1:30 PM on May 16, 2007

Oh, and in my experience Köln/Cologne is a college town so you should be able to find partners in crime there relatively easily.

Doner kabab are good, I lived off of gulaschsuppe for a bit though. It's hearty.
posted by miss lynnster at 1:32 PM on May 16, 2007

For travelling around, each Länder has a train ticket which allows for unlimited travel for 5 people within the region. If you're travelling alone, you can usually find a group with one of these tickets and tag along. It's also a great way to meet people.

On the weekends there is also the Schönes Wochenende ticket, which allows for 5 people to travel anywhere in the country on the regional (slow) trains for 33 euros. Sure, you may have to change trains a few times (and it will take hours longer), but it's incredibly cheap compared to the full ticket price.
posted by kamelhoecker at 2:01 PM on May 16, 2007

Any creative suggestions for getting around?

There's a thing called a Wochenendticket (weekend ticket) that costs 30 euros and allows you (and up to four other people) unlimited travel on all regional trains. It's the bee's knees. You can literally go anywhere in the country on a whim. If you're really pressed for cash, you can try tagging along with people for free. And if you do buy one, don't be surprised if people ask to tag along with you. (It's a nice way to meet people)

They have other variations, like a Länderticket that is valid for any regional trains in the state you're in. (In your case it's North Rhine-Westphalia) Germany's public transportation is incredible, though, and trains are the best way to get around.

If you're into nature and castles, you'll probably want to head down towards Bavaria. Heidelberg is a nice (though touristy) place, and some other popular sites down there are the Neuschwanstein castle, Rothenburg, the Eagle's Nest, Munich of course, and about a zillion other things.

When I was a student, I stayed in hostels or (if I was short on money) slept in train stations.

Lonely Planet guides are pretty good for planning shoestring vacations. Try leafing through some of their Germany guides and I'm sure you'll get some good ideas.

Have a great time.
posted by Ljubljana at 2:03 PM on May 16, 2007

Not baguettes and cheese, you'll be in the Fatherland. Not to worry, their bread's even better -- ask for Brötchen at any bakery and add some sliced meat from the butcher -- the joy of Germany is these shops are everywhere. Assemble into sandwiches, and enjoy.

I'd only spend enough time in Cologne to visit the cathedral. At the adjacent train station, I'd catch a quick S-Bahn to Düsseldorf and thence to Wuppertal to ride the Schwebebahn.
posted by Rash at 2:05 PM on May 16, 2007

Seconding Couchsurfing and Mitfahrzentrale; also try Hospitality Club, which was started by Germans and is more active in Deutschland, and Mitfahrgelegenheit if you can read German (I've had better luck with the latter than Mitfahrzentrale, though often people post the same rides on both boards). Staying with people instead of in hotels and hostels will greatly enhance your experience, to say the least.
posted by xanthippe at 7:15 PM on May 16, 2007

Err, that's

Also, don't be afraid of hitchhiking (even if you're American).
posted by xanthippe at 7:17 PM on May 16, 2007

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