Travelling by Train

One great thing about being a student in Germany is that you not only enjoy the great coverage of the Deutsche Bahn (DB) network, but also greatly discounted prices. In some cases, you may even chance upon unbeatable offers especially when combined with a Semesterticket – a transportation pass bought by many students in cities which offer them as it offers unlimited travel on the local city network of trams, undergrounds and buses.

Below are some recommendations for you, depending on whether you want maximum flexibility or maximum savings.

Maximum Flexibility

1. Rail passes
Most students are below the age of 26, qualifying them for the youth prices of the European rail passes such as Eurail which can be bought in Singapore. You would be able to choose the duration of validity based on your needs and the pass usually pays for itself when travelling for more than 2 return trips longer than 4 hours; it also frees you from the headache of buying tickets every time you travel.

Before buying the passes, it is wise to do some research on the different kinds of rail passes available. If you are visiting several countries at a go, it may be wise to look into the global rail passes or a Eurail Selectpass for 3 or 4 neighbouring countries. Some countries group together and offer a joint pass covering their territories, such as the BeNeLux region which covers Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. For most tourists or students studying in Germany on a short term basis, they can buy Eurail passes – including the pass which covers Germany. For students who are studying in Germany for more than year, you will be considered European residents and will not be able to legally use the Eurail passes; instead, you would have to buy Interrail passes (which may be cheaper than Eurail passes in some instances), but are not valid for use in your country of residence.

2. Semesterticket
Students in most cities which offer the Semesterticket would usually get them as it offers great travelling opportunities and flexibility on regional transportation which often includes the S-Bahn and Regio or Inter-Regio (but excludes premium services such as the ICE, IC and EC); the ticket is usually valid for the duration of the semester including the holidays. Most of these tickets are valid for the cities and its immediate surrounding region, but students in certain areas such as Aachen, Mannheim, Heidelberg and Dresden are able to use their semester tickets to travel to other cities as well. This is because these cities belong to an extensive transport network (Verkehrsverbund) which allows the holder of the semester ticket to travel inside all zones covered by the Verkehrsverbund. Do note that this only covers local transportation offered by the Verkehrsverbund and for regional trains (generally the red trains run by the Deutsche Bahn and not the faster white trains such as the ICE and EC).

3. BahnCard 25 & 50
If you frequently travel on short notice, or simply want enjoy discounts on DB tickets as well that offered by the ÖBB (Austrian railways) and SBB (Swiss railways), you should consider getting the BahnCard 25 or 50. These rail discount cards are valid for an entire calendar year and costs €39 and €122 as of 2012 for the student-pricedBahnCard 25 and 50 respectively. These student-priced BahnCards are valid for any tickets booked in second class carriage and can be easily applied for online through the DB website.

While the BahnCard 50 entitles you to a 50% discount on all regular full-priced tickets, we personally recommend the BahnCard 25 as it not only entitles you to a 25% on all regular full-priced, but also to a further 25% on already discounted tickets such as the SparPreis or Europa-Spezial tickets, further increasing your savings. BahnCard holders who travel more than 100km also have the advantage of receiving the City-Ticket option which gives them a free connecting ride on the local transportation of their destination town or city. For those who are unsure if they want to subscribe for a yearly BahnCard or are staying in Germany for a short period (ca. 4 months), you can consider applying for the Probe BahnCard 25 which the DB is offering for a limited period; this ‘trial’ card costs €25, comes with a validity of four months as well as savings right from the first use.  Important note:BahnCard 25 and 50 work on an auto-renewal basis. If you want to ‘unsubscribe’ for the following year, you would have to send DB a cancellation letter (Kündigungsbrief) at least 6 weeks before expiry of the card. This applies to the Probe BahnCard 25 as well.

For our friends living in Austria or Switzerland, do check out discount cards such as the Vorteilskarte offered by the ÖBB (Austria) and the SBB (Switzerland); due to a mutual agreement between DB, ÖBB and SBB, these cards usually are mutually recognised by the aforementioned rail operators.

Maximum Savings

a) Länder-Tickets
If you wish to explore your Federal State for one whole day, a good choice would the Länder-Ticket. Tickets are prices structured differently from state to state depending on the number of travellers travelling on the same ticket, usually starting from €21 for a single ticket. These tickets give you full flexibility and great value-for-money in terms of local and regional transportation if you are going on excursions beyond your immediate city’s transport network, but are limited to only the slower trains such as the RE and IRE (generally the red coloured trains and not the faster white trains such as ICE, IC and EC) for trains travelling longer distances. On weekdays, the tickets are valid from 09:00 until 03:00 the following day while they are valid from midnight on weekends and public holidays – check the conditions of the respective Länder-Tickets for more information!

b) Schönes-Wochenende-Ticket and the Quer-Durchs-Land-Ticket
Literally called the “Nice-Weekend-Ticket” costing €40 for up to 5 travellers as of 2012, the Schönes-Wochenende-Ticket is valid on weekends and covers all of Germany’s regional train network (generally speaking, this covers the rain DB trains but not the faster white trains). With careful planning and a big sense of adventure, this ticket can have the best cost-per-km value! Also valid on some local public transport networks.

If you would like to travel across the various German states on weekdays using regional transportation (e.g. RE, IRE), you can consider the Quer-Durchs-Land-Ticket which was introduced in 2011. As the name of the name implies, you are allowed to travel anywhere across Germany on the Regionalzügen with prices starting from €42 for a single person and €6 for every additional person travelling on the same ticket, up to a maximum of 5 travellers (which would result in a shared ticket costing €66).

c) Special offers
Ocasionally, DB also advertises special offers where you can travel on all trains from a point to another for a flat-price. These tickets are usually booked out over weekends (Friday to Sunday), have limited train availabilities and must be bought at least 3 days before the travel. It also ties the traveller down to a fixed train and route, which makes it less flexible; if you miss the train connection specified on the ticket, you would not be able to use it on another train as is the case with the Normalpreis ticket. Generally speaking, book your trains as early as possible to enjoy the various SparPreise or discounted prices which are usually sold in advance of up to 3 months.

Maximise Your Time in Germany

Night trains
If your city of residence happens to be located on a night-train route or near one, you can then consider buying special tickets called SparNight from €29 onwards. Often operated by trains such as the City Night Line (CNL), you will board the train at night and wake up at your destination in the morning with the rest of the day untouched for you to explore the city. Although you will need to book the tickets some time ahead to secure the €29 price, a little bit of advance planning can help you get the best prices and also make your trip an enjoyable getaway. Do note that €29 are for the regular seats which are not so highly recommended on long journeys as sleeping on seats may lead to bodyaches the following morning. The couchette which offers a simple bed begin from €39 while a comfortable bed in a proper sleeping compartment with breakfast costs €59 onwards. Night trains also travel internationally to Denmark, Poland, the Czech Republic, Austria, Hungary, Switzerland, Italy, France, Belgium and the Netherlands.

Other Offers

There are many other offers out there waiting to be explored – these may be valid only for a limited time, but new offers continually come about. For instance, if you intend to visit the Alsace region in France, the Pass Evasion is available for use on Saturday, Sunday or a French public holiday while the SONE+ is valid for travelling on Saturdays and Sundays in the Czech Republic. If you want to visit Lorraine (France) and Luxembourg together with Saarland (Germany), the Saar-Lor-Lux Ticket (sometimes called the EuroRegio ticket) is available. These are just some examples we have come across in the past and while some may no longer be offered, we are certain there are also new ones which you can take advantage. Our advice: Take some time to plan ahead and resist the temptation of getting a full-priced flexible ticket unless you require one!

Original article written by Malcolm Boey, re-written and updated in April 2012.