Conquering the Deutsche Bahn like a pro

I was totally going to title this article “German Train Ride for Dummies,” but I didn’t want to offend anyone. This is just a very basic explanation for riding the train here in Germany between villages because it does differ from American public transport and we wouldn’t want anyone to waste money on expensive surcharges because of an innocent misunderstanding.

I am writing this for two reasons. First, because I am the “Dummy” I refer to above. Secondly, where there’s one of us…there’s always more.

I have two recent trips to tell you about and hopefully this will save you a headache (and some minor embarrassment). I am literally going to throw myself under the bus ~ or train ~ on this one.

My First Trip

The first trip was to visit my husband in Grafenwoehr for the weekend as he was there on a business trip. I decided to take the train, stay through the weekend and drive back with him. I ordered my tickets in advance on DB Bahn.

If you have enough advance notice and it is a longer distance trip, you will save money with advance-purchase fares. If you purchase one of these tickets, you can only travel on that specific train and that specific date and time. Vilseck was the closest village with a stop, so my husband was to meet me there. Easy enough. I found it quite funny that my 18-year-old daughter kept texting me to make sure I understood my tickets. Cute, I thought. Mommy has this! I am a big girl and can go places by myself.

Photo 1 Cheryl German Train 101 16© Cheryl Koller

On the Wrong Train

Tickets in hand, I arrived at the Kaiserslautern train station from Haupstuhl and needed to change trains. The Platform number was written clearly on the ticket. However, platforms change and the destinations aren’t always clear (at least not to me). Long story short: I ended up on the wrong train. I rode for about 30 minutes before the ticket inspector began to yell at me in German. I had no idea what was happening until a kind lady leaned over the seat to inform me that I was on the wrong train going in the wrong direction. Great.

I used my DB Navigator app on my phone to plan my strategy. I highly recommend this app if you don’t already have it.

Photo 2A Cheryl German Train 101 16© Cheryl Koller
Photo 2 Cheryl German Train 101 16© Cheryl Koller

I contacted my husband and told him I would be about 30 minutes late and to please go ahead and order wine. Once I boarded the correct train, I began asking random passengers for clarification on how many stops before we would reach Vilseck. Lost in translation and because I could not see the signs on the platform, I did not get off at my stop. Again, I had to contact my husband. Wine was waiting, he assured me.

As funny as this experience sounds now, it was NOT funny at the time. I did arrive at my destination at some point.

My Take Away

This was my take away from this experience: (A) I either need to travel with my 18-year-old daughter; or (B) I need to pay attention. When booking the tickets online it seems simple and it is very convenient to book and print your tickets at home. The website has an “English version” and is user friendly. You will be required to show a credit card as ID on the train. This will be a credit card that you designate online when you purchase the ticket. The train conductor will check the last four digits against the ticket to make sure it is valid. They are very strict about this. No other form of ID is accepted.

Another important thing to note is that the destination sign on the train platform will be for the end destination. Even though I should have known this, it was what ultimately caused my error. In my mind, I was headed to Vilseck. And, while the train did stop in Vilseck, that was not its final destination.

So, when I arrived at what I thought was the correct platform and saw an odd German village listed as the destination, I just assumed it was still the right train. After all, the departure time matched my ticket. I did not notice that the train number was off. (Example: my train was 1064 on Platform 4. When I got to Platform 4, the train was listed as 1264.) I also didn’t use my reading glasses, but that is a story for another time. The point is I should have done a bit of research before leaving home to know my train numbers and the end destination of those trains. Updated platform information can be found on the app.

It would have also been helpful to know what the stops were be along the way since they aren’t always announced and sometimes you cannot see the sign at the platform until it is too late. Lesson learned. Yes, I will continue to buy saver fare tickets in advance especially for longer distances. But, I will now travel wiser.

My Second Trip

My second trip was a very simple trip from Kaiserslautern to Bad Durkheim. We did not purchase these tickets in advance but purchased them at the train station instead. I decided to take pictures of the actual screens to share with you to show you how simple it is to purchase a ticket at the station. I know the first time we did it, we had no clue what we were doing and looked very American trying to figure it out.

There is a ticket machine at each train station, usually at each individual platform, and they look like this…

Photo 3 Cheryl German Train 101 16© Cheryl Koller

At the bottom of the screen, there is an option for English (a picture of the British flag).

Photo 4 Cheryl German Train 101 16© Cheryl Koller

Once selected you will have a number of options: purchase tickets, purchase group tickets, view a timetable, and/or reserve a ticket.

Photo 5 Cheryl German Train 101 16© Cheryl Koller

If you are traveling with a group, then obviously you would want to purchase group tickets. Since it was just the two of us, we chose the option of step-by-step ticket purchase. You will need to enter your desired destination and you will be taken to a screen that shows you the next few trains leaving for that destination.

Photo 6 Cheryl German Train 101 16© Cheryl Koller

Once you select your preferred train, you are given the option to purchase the ticket. At the bottom of the screen, there is also the option to purchase a duplicate ticket if you are traveling with someone.

Photo 7 Cheryl German Train 101 16© Cheryl Koller

When you are ready to pay, you will notice that you can only pay with the Girocard or Maestro card, coins and up to 20 € in bills.

Photo 8 Cheryl German Train 101 16© Cheryl Koller

Happy training!

Author’s Profile: Cheryl Koller is a native of Georgia. She is a DOD spouse, mom of 4 daughters (2 adults, 2 teens), thrill-seeker, avid traveler, and lover of food and wine. She is a self-proclaimed Freedom-Preneur and Blogger currently living in Ramstein with her family.

Featured Image Photo Credit: © Cheryl Koller

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