Deutsche Bahn: The German Train System

The German train network is one of the best in Europe. You can get to almost anywhere in Germany by train with enough time and determination. Deutsche Bahn (DB) is the largest passenger train company in Germany. It is a private company, but is wholly owned by the German government.

The rail network includes a wide variety of train types.


ICE

  • Inter-City Express
  • Fastest rail service in Germany
  • Costs more than other train services for a full-flexible ticket
  • Nicest cars by far

IC

  • Intercity
  • Second fastest service
  • Usually connects major cities within Germany
  • Has a more extensive network of stops than ICE

EC

  • Eurocity
  • Same speed as IC
  • Connects major German cities to major foreign cities with fewer stops in-between than IC

CNL

  • City Night Line
  • Connects major cities that are distant
  • Stops infrequently
  • Runs overnight and aims to arrive early in the morning
  • Sleeper cabins available, but rather pricey
  • Common routes include Hamburg-Munich and Munich-Venice

IRE

  • Inter-Regio-Express
  • Connects regions to one another
  • Usually has fewer stops than RE that run the same routes
  • Route from Berlin to Hamburg on IRE is only EUR 29,99 roundtrip

RE

  • Regio-Express
  • Regional train
  • Connects larger and mid-size cities within a region
  • Stops less frequently than RB
  • Each state usually has it’s own RE system
  • Berlin and Brandenburg have formed an alliance under the VBB to make it easier to travel around the Berlin-Brandenburg area

RB

  • Regional Bahn
  • The shortest distance mainline rail service
  • Services small cities as well as medium and large
  • Stops frequently
  • Often takes a significant amount of time more than other regional trains to go the same route
  • Before using it, one should check that an RE is not available that is faster

S-Bahn

  • Stadtschnellbahn
  • A subsidiary of Deutsche Bahn, usually in a partnership with a regional transit authority such as BVG (Regional transportation authority for Berlin)
  • Light rail system in major cities that connects parts of the city to each other
  • Berlin is known for its Ringbahn, a large circular SBahn route that runs continuously

U-Bahn

  • Untergrundbahn, literally underground train
  • Managed wholly by the regional transit authority, not DBahn
  • Has the shortest distance between stops of any train system
  • Stops are concentrated in the city center, and usually fan out from there
  • Berlin has many transfer stations where UBahn lines overlap

InterCity Express Train Interior, DB, DBahn, Detusche Bahn, ICE

Booking a Ticket

When booking a ticket, the train type, time before departure, ticket class, ticket flexibility, and ticket demand must all be taken into account. A full price ticket allows one to take any train running that particular route of the same class of train. For example if a full-fare ticket is booked from Frankfurt am Main to Stuttgart on an IC train and you miss the scheduled train, you must take another train that is also IC from Frankfurt to Stuttgart even if an ICE is leaving sooner on the same route.

Full-fare tickets are also rather cost-prohibitive. Sparpreis is an excellent option for booking train tickets far below their book-value. There is one major difference between the two tickets. Sparpreis tickets are not flexible. If a train is missed, or even one connection is missed and DBahn is not on strike, a new ticket must be purchased. Sparpreis is usually the lowest price possible for a certain route without the use of additional price reduction cards.

You have five main options by which you can book a ticket on DBahn. The first is through the use of their website. It has an English language version that makes most tasks easily accomplished.

Deutsche Bahn Website, DB, DBahn

The second is through the DBahn App which is available for iOS and Android. It recently gained the ability to purchase a wider variety of tickets than it could before.

The third is to call DBahn and then receive the tickets through mail. Don’t do this. Really. Just don’t. It’s like dealing with Delta customer service and USPS at the same time.

The fourth option is to walk into a train station and find a DBahn ticket office. The people there can usually help you find harder to custom routes well in advance of travel. You should really only use it if you need it though.

The final option is the ticket kiosks that are in nearly every train station in Germany. They are red and white and accept credit and debit cards as well as cash. They are easy to use and have multiple language options. I highly recommend them.

Ticket Types

DBahn offers a wide variety of ticket types beyond normal point-to-point route tickets. Each ticket type allows one to accomplish a different set of goals. Before choosing one, be sure that you really need it and cannot do the same cheaper with point-to-point tickets.

Länder-Ticket

  • Allow you to travel with up to five people an unlimited amount of times within a certain state
  • Can only use RE, RB, SBahn, and usually UBahn and local transport in major cities
  • Some states have other train services also available for use with the tickets
  • Valid on weekdays from 9:00 AM to 3:00 AM the following day, midnight on holidays and weekends
  • Available for booking on the DB app with the exception of the Hessen-Ticket
  • Usually cost EUR 23 for one person, and EUR 5 additional for each person
  • Particularly useful in Bavaria if coming from outside Munich as it is also valid on MVV and all Meridian trains

Schönes-Wochenende-Ticket

  • Allows unlimited travel for one day from midnight until 3:00 AM the following day
  • Available for Saturday or Sunday
  • Valid across all of Germany on regional train services; IRE, RE, RB, SBahn; also includes some local rail services
  • Costs EUR 40 plus EUR 4 per person, up to five people
  • Also valid in some parts of Poland, Switzerland, Austria, the Netherlands, and Denmark

Quer-durchs-Land-Ticket

  • Same concept as the Schönes-Wochenende-Ticket, except it is valid on weekdays
  • Costs EUR 44 plus EUR 8  per additional person, up to five total
  • Valid from 9:00 AM until 3:00 AM the following day
  • Valid across Germany including some local rail services

Ostsee-Ticket

  • Allows a traveler to depart from a selection of cities in the North of Germany, (Berlin included) and travel to a limited list of destination cities on the Baltic Sea
  • Includes cities in Poland and Germany
  • Valid on nearly every train type
  • Both trips must be selected before the Ostsee-Ticket is shown as an option
  • The price changes throughout the seasons from EUR 34 to EUR 44
  • The departure and return must be within fifteen days of one another

BahnCard

BahnCards make train travel in Germany much cheaper if you travel often. Most only make sense to purchase if you will be in Germany for more than three months. The number that follows the BahnCard is the percentage discount that a cardholder receives on each ticket purchased using the BahnCard. For example the BahnCard 25 gives the holder 25 percent off each ticket price, both full-fare and Sparpreis. The normal BahnCard 50 does not include any discount on Sparpreis. If you are under 18, the JugendBahnCard 25 is the optimal purchase. It only costs EUR 10. For those under 27, the best option is the My BahnCard 50. It costs only EUR 69, and includes a 25 percent discount on Sparpreis. For those older, and who don’t ride trains enough to justify the steep price of the Bahncard 100, the Bahncard 50 is the optimal choice if a discount on Sparpreis is not important.

Safe travels, and good luck mit der Deutschen Bahn!

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