An American in Germany - keep me mobile!
April 23, 2008 2:47 PM   Subscribe

Help an American traveling in Germany get around for a month this summer - car or train?

For a friend: I will be in Germany from June 5 through July 2. While I'm there I might rent a car or travel by train. However, I know nothing about doing either of those things as an American -- apparently there are different rules for buying tickets and renting cars when you are not German, nor an EU citizen.

If I could get an all-I-can-ride train pass (e.g. Eurailpass) for say $500 for the month I'll be there, then we're done -- I'd do that. I'm afraid it might be a lot more, though, in which case I'll need more research to figure out how to best get around.

For reference, I'm flying into Frankfurt and will get picked up at the airport... but after that, I'm interested in visiting Munich, Stuttgart, Saarbruecken, and very possibly Hannover and a few towns near Hannover.

Thanks so much!
posted by FlyByDay to Travel & Transportation around Germany (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You'll spend more in petrol than you will on the train ticket, regardless of price, since gasoline is currently +/- €1.40 ($2.22) per litre.

Just compare costs on individual Deutsche Bahn ticket prices between destinations with a German Eurail pass and pick whichever option is cheaper. I don't think it will be complicated to figure out.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:55 PM on April 23, 2008

I just spent some time in Germany, and got around both by car and train. I believe that you need an international drivers' license to drive there, but renting a car shouldn't be a problem. The trains are really fantastic and convenient, but the drawbacks are that they can be expensive and difficult to get used to (depending on the ticket/pass, some trains are off limits- and unlike in, say, France or Holland, German conductors will fine you if you get it wrong and they do check regularly). Some positive and negative features to help you weigh your decision: with a car you have more freedom; from Frankfurt you can easily drive to France (Strasbourg is beautiful, especially now), Belgium, Luxembourg, or Holland, and international training is much more expensive than domestic. You can also drive the Weinstrasse, which isn't the same by train (or so I've heard). With a train pass, however, it's a lot more convenient to take a longer distance trip to, say, Munich or Berlin or Dresden, as you don't have to deal with parking, maps, and the hassle of concentrating on the road that comes with car travel. With trains come the ability to take in country side in a comfortable (and German trains are extremely comfortable), passive environment. If you do get rent a car I highly recommend splurging for a GPS system, that saved us a lot of trouble. Have a great trip! Mefi mail me if you have any more questions.
posted by farishta at 3:03 PM on April 23, 2008

German cops and drivers have no sense of humor. It's no harder to drive in Germany, than anywhere else, but speed limits are strict (and there are speed limits everywhere, including many sections of autobahn), parking is often hard to find and expensive, there are emissions restrictions in more and more Centros, and fuel and car rental is expensive. Very nice and generally convenient if you can afford it, and are a good driver.

But trains are the way Germans travel. I will say that if you are up and down the Rhine valley, you should forego the train for a day or two, in favor of the KD boats. There is no more relaxing, delightful way to spend a day traveling in Germany, than to take the KD boats through the Castles region of the Rhine, on a sunny spring or summer day.
posted by paulsc at 3:10 PM on April 23, 2008

the eurorail pass is fine because it will allow you to use the ICE bullet trains, which are fairly cool. you'll be in munich, stuttgart and so on in no time. take the second class ticket, it's good enough. bonus: you get a chance to chat up people on trains and perhaps make some new friends.

taking a car is fine as well but it's not as cost-effective since gas is really quite expensive. the benefit here clearly lies in the ability to reach places the train doesn't stop at more quickly. this might be an option to consider if your friend is going to haul luggage around or just wants some convenience. also worth mentioning is that he/she gets to drive on the autobahn and that your average mid-size rental car isn't anything like a ford cophauler but a mercedes, audi, vw or bmw, albeit often with a smaller motor inside than you'd be used to from the US (better equipped cars cost more).

should your friend opt for the car do make sure they know about the traffic laws and signage. (example: guess what this one means...)

I have lead american friends through europe and we had an encounter where my buddy overtook a cop on the autobahn on the right side, which is a huge no-no in germany. suffice to say I had to do a lot of explaining for him. signage relies on symbols, some of which may have to be explained to your friend.
posted by krautland at 3:14 PM on April 23, 2008

Given that you're planning on seeing a few major cities, spaced out over a month, train is definitely the way to go. What with the cost of fuel (above) and a rental car (oh, by the way: they're going to be around 70-90€/day for unlimited kilometer-age, IF YOU CAN DRIVE A MANUAL. If you require an AUTOMATIC transmission, you will pay around 150-200€ and need to make a reservation well in advance).

As ar as licensing, I don't know anyone who has been turned away for a rental with only a US license (sans international license). Hertz even gave us one car on a Japanese license (with no other languages on it anywhere - so could've been any other ID!). Then again, none of us ever got pulled over.

You might also look into some of the highway bus routes or the no-frills airlines, if neither the month-long rail pass nor individual train tickets work out economically.
posted by whatzit at 3:20 PM on April 23, 2008

I agree with pretty much everyone else - the train is the way to go. You don't need to get a pass for the whole month, you can buy point-to-point tickets at the train station (or on the train for a slightly higher price). Point-to-Point tickets may be best for the little train rides for day trips outside the cities. (They usually are not that expensive.) You cannot get a Germany only pass from Eurail, but you can get 4-10 days of travel within a month at Railpass. Don't bother with 1st class - the 2nd class seats aren't going to vary that much within the one country. And if you are between 12 and 25, get a Youth Pass.

Check DB for German Train info.

When I lived in Austria, I found out that in the EU, I needed only my US driver's license to rent a car (and my passport for ID) from many different rental agencies, but know that distance is measured in km, speed is in km/h, roadsigns are very different than US signs, and most European drivers, Germans as well, are a little bit nuts.
posted by kirstk at 4:44 PM on April 23, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks all!
posted by FlyByDay at 6:28 PM on April 23, 2008

i was in Germany earlier this year, i think I paid about $200 for a 4 day rail pass, 2nd class

there was also a strike that left us stranded and forced us to take a cab ride the cost us 70 euros.

time before that we rented a car, pain to park, german drivers are as bad as NY drivers, and we couldn't read most of the signs, ( including the one on the autoban that listed a speed limit that was enforced by camera!!)

that being said, I'd still recommend the train. It's not cheap or perfect, but in the long run a heck of a lot easier, and cheaper overall
posted by Mr_Chips at 6:38 PM on April 23, 2008

trains are the best idea by far. if you plan at least 3 days in advance tickets can be quite cheap.

also, if you travel on weekends (Sat & Sun)you can get the Schöneswochenende ticket that lets up to 5 people travel on the same ticket for 35 Euros. The only drawback is that it's the regional trains, thus, stop frequently and you need to change trains frequently, but I enjoy them! You can buy the tix at ticket machines or in person at train stations.
posted by Etta Hollis at 7:29 PM on April 23, 2008

Just wanted to second the Schöneswochenende ticket. I did some traveling on weekends, and this ticket-- which was good for 5 people-- was sometimes actually cheaper than a single ticket. Apparently there's also a Länder-Ticket for during the week; I never used it, but it might be worth checking out.

Other random tid-bits of information:
1. I don't know your friend's age, but if he or she's affiliated with any sort of German school or university, make SURE you get some sort of ID. German ID= big discounts.
2. ICE trains are really nice and really fast, but also much pricier. If you're a poor college student or recently were a poor college student, it might be worth it to opt for the regional trains. You'll get to see the countryside and save some euros...
3. That said, if you do go on an ICE, spend the one or two extra euros and reserve a seat. This is especially important for long trips-- there's nothing more annoying than having to move all your luggage because it turns out that the seat you've been in for the last two hours was actually reserved by the person who just got on the train. (The seats do say when they're reserved for, but it took me a few weeks before I finally figured that out!)

Have a great time!!!
posted by veryhappyheidi at 8:19 PM on April 23, 2008

[car rental is] going to be around 70-90€/day for unlimited kilometer-age, IF YOU CAN DRIVE A MANUAL. I

Hardly. You can rent a Ford Fiesta for less than 30 euro/day or an Audi A4 for about 40 euro. But regardless, your fuel costs would be the greater expense. If travel costs are not a concern, I would rent a car, park in a suburban area and take a commuter train into any city that you want to enter. Gives you much more flexibility.

german drivers are as bad as NY drivers

Not in a million years. I've driven extensively in Germany and the overriding impression that I get is that the Germans are as disciplined and predictable in their driving as they are in most of their general behaviours.

It's expensive to drive anywhere in Europe, but it's a particularly pleasant experience in Germany
posted by Neiltupper at 9:46 PM on April 23, 2008

If you have money to burn then drive. Driving in Germany is sweet. Germans are very safe and predictable drivers and on the highway you can usually drive just as fast as your heart desires. However, as everyone else has said, it will be expensive. I was told that I could drive on my American license for the first 6 months of living here.

And yeah, German drivers are nothing like NY drivers. They drive very fast but well. If you drive be prepared to stay out of the left lane unless you feel comfortable going well over 100mph.
posted by creasy boy at 11:29 PM on April 23, 2008

If you drive in the left lane, beware of the incredibly fast car that will appear out of thin air behind you.
posted by oaf at 4:01 PM on April 24, 2008

Neiltupper: I hear ya on the low-cost compacts, but when I did this last spring, the prices that looked good like that were without taxes and had a per-kilometer charge. This was for a 300km+ road trip, and was way unacceptable.
posted by whatzit at 4:05 AM on April 25, 2008

Check out Europcar. Audi A4, three week rental, unlimited miles, taxes included: 38.52 euro per day. It excludes LDW but a Gold credit card will cover that.
posted by Neiltupper at 11:29 AM on April 26, 2008

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