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German Railways - Often Faster Than Flying

German Railways - Often Faster Than Flying

The Deutsche Bahn is the German national railway system. Every major city in Bavaria boasts its own train station. S-Bahns routinely travel through these major thoroughfares, as do RB (Regional Trains), RE (Regional Express), IC (Inter City) and ICE (Inter City Express) trains.

Indeed, there are many business travelers and holidaymakers who attest that it is not only cheaper, but also faster and more convenient to take the train rather than to fly to many destinations in Germany and neighboring countries.

The line of reasoning is this: after you have calculated the time it takes to get to and from airports, the time needed for airport check-in and luggage collection, as well as any departure delays (especially with today's increased security procedures), a medium-distance train will probably get you where you are going more quickly. Plus, the comfort of rail travel, especially in first-class, certainly exceeds that of short-haul planes.

A lot of people seem to have reached this same conclusion, as rail travel on key routes can get very crowded. For that reason, it is strongly suggested that you reserve a seat during peak traveling periods (you must reserve at least 24 hours before departure and reservations cost 3 euros per person and per journey). These include Friday afternoons, Sunday evenings, and the afternoons at the start of and evenings at the end of holidays.

If you do not reserve, you are likely to find yourself joining others sitting or standing in the aisles. DB also offers a good interactive website (www.bahn.de) with travel planner and special fares. Thanks to Deutsche Bahn's partnership with several European train companies, it is also possible to travel by night to a raft of cities across Europe. For more information visit www.nachtzugreise.de.

Call a Bike

Call a Bike is a service offered by Deutsche Bahn from March to October which provides a fleet of high-tech bikes in the citie of Frankfurt, Berlin, Cologne, Munich and Stuttgart. CallBikes can be rented and returned at all major intersections. First call the hotline at 0700-052 25522 (6 cents per minute) to register and have your credit card handy. When you see a bike you want to rent, call the number printed in the red circle on the cover of the lock.

You will be issued a code to free the bike's electronic lock. To return your bike, take it to the nearest major crossing within the city center and lock it to a fixed object (such as traffic sign or bicycle stand).

Open the protective cover and press the button for "return." You must then make a return call to the same number and you will receive a code to end your journey. The standard rate is 8 cents per minute with a maximum of 15 euros per day (24 hours). For more information, consult www.call-a-bike.de.

BahnCard

Deutsche Bahn's BahnCard system may seem complicated at first, but it is well worth the effort to research your options because the price savings can be significant for long distance rail travel.

There are two basic discount systems. The first is the Plan&Spar fares - which offer 25% and 50% off standard fares if passengers can restrict themselves to a particular day and train. Tickets must be purchased at least three days in advance and there are weekend restrictions. There are also penalties if you change your reservation after booking.

The second discount system is the BahnCard. The BahnCard 25 costs 62 euros annually and offers a 25% discount on all tickets, while the BahnCard 50 costs 255 euros and offers a 50% discount. This is a most flexible discount system, but you need to calculate the upfront costs versus the per ticket discount. Remember that the annual BahnCard will automatically renew if it is not cancelled at least six weeks before expiration.

It is also important to note that the BahnCard 50 is half price for certain groups, including children, students and senior citizens over 60. And to make matters even more complicated, there are additional discounts if you travel in a group, with children, and over the weekend. So it is best to consult your travel agent or to visit the Deutsche Bahn website (www.bahn.de).

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