Using public transportation in Germany

Courtesy of the Herald Union Archive U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden
Courtesy of Pagina/
Courtesy of Pagina/

Traveling around Germany on public transportation can be a bit overwhelming at first, but with a little practice you can become comfortable with the system.

The German transportation system offers coordinated public transportation travel throughout Germany. One ticket allows you to use any method of local transport in the area covered by the association, from regional express trains and underground trains to streetcars and buses, regardless of which method of travel you use to reach your destination.

Riding the bus or streetcar

For shorter trips, a simple one-stage bus ride should get you where you need to go. If you want to ride a bus or a streetcar you will have to wait at the “Haltestelle,” stopping place or bus stop.

A sign with a big ‘H’ indicates a bus or streetcar stop. A schedule will be posted at the stop showing what routes stop there, on what days and how often they run. Bus, streetcar and train schedules will have two different schedules: one for work days and a separate schedule for weekends and German holidays.

When the bus or streetcar arrives, you may enter at the front, middle or rear of the bus. If you need to buy a ticket, enter at the front and buy one from the driver. If the door closest to you does not open automatically, press the button located next to the door, and it will open for you.

Getting off the bus can be a bit tricky. Make sure you know where you need to get off, and start moving toward the door before the bus comes to a stop. If no one has already done so, press the “Wagen Haelt,” or bus stop button, so the bus driver will know someone needs to get off at the upcoming stop. When the bus finally stops, if the door does not open automatically, then you need to press the button near the door for it to open.

To get back to your starting place, normally you can catch a return bus on the opposite side of the street. If your stopping point is a one-way street, you will need to search around for a stop on the same bus or streetcar line that heads back to your starting point.

Longer trips may require a combination of bus, streetcar or train.

Taking the train

Train schedules are prominently posted throughout train stations. You will find two schedules: “Ankunft,” for arrivals, and “Abfahrt”, for departures. Departures are listed on yellow charts; arrivals are listed on white. All trains arriving or departing from that station are listed chronologically starting at midnight.

Times are listed using the 24-hour clock. Symbols indicate the services onboard as well as which days that train operates.

The “Gleis,” track and train number and the arrival or departure platform number, are also listed.

In major stations, there will also be large automated display boards showing the trains scheduled for the next hour or so. Use these resources to determine which platform you need to head to for your train.

Buying a ticket

You need a valid ticket to use train services. You can buy your ticket from the ticket counters at the train station or at one of the ticket machines. The machines are equipped with user screens to guide you through the process. With the simple press of a button, you can select a different language for the ticket machine user guide: English, French, Italian, Spanish and Turkish.

The ticket machines are equipped with a user display and 10-digit keypad to guide you through your purchase. Simply follow the instructions on the user screen.

Select your destination from the directory. Use the 10-digit keypad to enter the two or four digit destination number listed to the left of the destination.

Then press the button in the key block under the keypad for the appropriate ticket, adult or child. Check the destination number and selected ticket details on the screen, and pay the amount displayed. Take your ticket and any change from the tray.

The machines will also accept payment in banknotes, specifically €5, €10, €20 and €50. The screen will display the banknotes accepted depending on the fare amount and the change available.

At the boarding platform

Once you arrive at the platform, confirm you are at the correct place by using the overhead signs. The overhead signs indicate the train number and type, destination and departure time of the next train. If you arrive early, the sign may be showing a train that comes before yours.

When the train arrives at the platform, you will notice that each car has a sign on or near each door showing the train and car numbers, origin, destination and major stops along the way.

Make sure you are at the platform before your train’s scheduled departure time. German trains are generally punctual. Connections are well-timed, so it is essential that the trains run on time. If you’re even a minute late, you might miss your train. The doors will close automatically when the train is ready to leave.

On board the train

Once the train has been underway for some time, the conductor will come through and ask for tickets. If you just boarded, present your ticket and passport if proof of age or residency is required as part of your ticket. 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.

Some lower-end trains no longer have conductors. Passengers on these trains are on the honor system. You must purchase all tickets and reservations before you board these trains. 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, signs on the platforms will tell you where you are. 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. At some stations the train only stops for a minute or two, so if you’re not ready, you may end up taking an unscheduled diversion to the next stop.

Once you get off the train, follow the “Ausgang,” or exit, 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.

Armed with everything you need to know to get around with Germany’s public transportation, you should be ready to visit castles, Christmas markets and countless other tourist places.

For details on public transportation, contact your local service providers.