In Germany, you will find yourself well-connected to other cities and regions, even if you don’t want to use a car. Public transportation is easily accessible. You might take the train from a nearby train station (Bahnhof). Or you might use a city bus, which connects to most villages and cities. Or you may want to travel by bicycle.
Cycling is healthy, good for the environment and, of course, lots of fun. In Bavaria and mostly throughout Germany, you will find a network of bicycle paths, which are reserved for cyclists. Often the bike paths will be parallel to the streets, but they will also guide you over streets, which are closed to normal traffic. There are special maps available for cycle tours, and they are available for free at many tourist information offices. These maps provide different tours for sightseeing in cities and for romantic rides through unspoilt nature.
Bicycle traffic laws in Germany are worth knowing. In Germany, it’s illegal to ride a bicycle without a light attached to it but it’s legal to ride without a helmet. Generally, the laws of Germany are quite similar to those you are used to in the US. E.g., do not kill anyone, ride on the right side of the road, and obey all traffic laws as if you were driving a car. Yield to traffic on the right: Unless you are on a major through street with the yellow diamond, marking the way, you must yield to vehicles and other cyclists from the right. This is especially true on residential streets. In Europe there is no right turn on red; you have to wait for the green light (unlike in the USA it is legal to turn right on a red light if you stop first).
Pedestrians always have the right of way. They normally cannot hear you coming unless you verbally announce yourself or ring your bell. Pedestrians in crosswalks (Zebrasteifen) always have the right of way even if they can see you. An intersection with only one painted crosswalk means that you may have to use that crosswalk. You may not cross wherever you want to. Also, if you walk your bicycle across, cars are required to stop for you and most cars do so. If you ride your bicycle across, you are no longer a pedestrian and laws relating to pedestrians are no longer related to you. If you cause an accident while riding a bicycle, you can be held responsible.
Driving an Automobile
Driving a car in traffic in Germany is very different from driving in the traffic in the U.S.. Of course there are mostly no speed limits on German interstates (Autobahn) which are marked with blue signs. Outside the villages you are allowed to drive up to 100 kilometers/hour (62 miles/hour). The normal streets are marked with yellow signs. Within the villages the top allowed speed is 50 km/h (31 m/hr). You can drive up to 200 km/h (124 m/hr) or faster with your car on interstates, if the traffic flow allows it and no speed limits are posted. There is a lot more traffic than in the rural U.S. and the parking spaces are much smaller. Many residential streets have very narrow roads with cars parked to one side. This means you need to allow the cars coming out enough space to pass by and then you can go. The vehicles in Germany are smaller than those in the U.S..
Riding the Rails in Germany
Germany has one of the world’s best passenger rail systems. There aren’t many places that you can’t get to with it, and the trip will be comfortable, economical, and punctual. Other than the automobile, rail is by far the most common means of intercity transport. Generally, long-distance trains are around 90% punctual, and local trains are almost always nearly 100% on-time. All trains have WC (water closet/toilet) facilities. Some lower level trains will have a small snack cart that passes through the cars.
Trains are divided into two classes: first and second. The cars have a large “1” or “2” on the outside near the doors indicating which class they carry. With a few exceptions, all services available on the train are provided for both first and second-class passengers. The benefit of first class is that the rates for first class are higher and, thus, first class tends to be less crowded than second class. These trains usually feature adjustable cushioned seats, individual reading lights, public telephones, and fax machines. First class passengers also have a video player at their seats.
The German word for train station is Bahnhof. If you’re in a large city, you will most likely want the Hauptbahnhof, or Central Station. The stations are usually in the heart of the city. Once you get there, you will find that most large stations are self-contained cities. There are newsstands and bookstores, shops, grocery stores, restaurants, bistros, lounges, hookah bars, post offices, banks, florists, pharmacies, barber and beauty shops, and even movie theaters.
Once the train has been underway for a little while, the conductor will come through and ask for tickets. The conductor will punch or stamp your ticket and return it to you. You will not need to show it again for the duration of your trip unless there is a change of conductors. You must purchase all tickets and reservations before you board the train. Periodic spot checks are made and hefty fines are levied against those without valid tickets. Stops are announced shortly before arrival. If you miss the announcement (or just don’t understand it!), signs on the platforms will tell you where you’re at. If your train has them, the electronic displays at the ends of the coaches will show the name of the upcoming stop as you approach it. Make sure you are ready to jump off when the train arrives at your destination. At some stops, the train only stops for a minute or two, so be ready.
Once you get off the train, follow the “Ausgang” signs to leave the station. Most stations have multiple exits, so double-check to make sure you’re headed in the right direction. If you are making connections, check the yellow departure schedules to find out which track your connecting train leaves from, then follow the signs directing you to that platform. Connection information is also usually announced on-board the trains as they approach major stations.