Germany started with their train system in 1835, when the first steam-engines pulled wagons filled with heavy coal. While there is still a lot of transportation of goods (cars, shipping containers, rocks, etc.) and slow commuter trains, the fastest and easiest way to travel is via high speed train, what we in Germany call ICE (Inter City Express). ICE trains go as fast as 300 km/h, or 186 mph.
When traveling longer distances within Germany, I prefer taking a train over a car rental or flying. The ICE train from Frankfurt to Berlin, for example takes just four and a half hours. Driving would take roughly five to six hours, depending on traffic. This is the perfect time for you to kick back, read a book, listen to a podcast or just enjoy the scenery you’re zooming by without going through the hassle of driving yourself. Maybe take a nap. It’s that nice. We were traveling with my family on the ICE to Berlin in a ruhebereich, a small, quiet room, and could take a nap without worrying about our belongings.
When riding the ICE, there’s no need to worry about:
• Weighing Your Luggage
• Leaving Your Favorite Liquids Behind
• Finding a Power Outlet (there’s an outlet at every seat on the ICE!)
• Waiting in Security Lines
• How Many Bags and the Size of Bags you Travel with
When the Best Train Ticket Prices are Available
The best way to get your hands on an inexpensive ticket (usually half-off) is to book 70-90 days before your trip on the website of the Deutsche Bahn.
You can get tickets for 29 € per person usually, but ticket prices go up as the departure date draws near, so plan accordingly and buy early. Simply enter your destination, date and approximate time on the website and you will be given a range of options to choose from.
Some connections will be faster, some slower. Here is a ranking from fastest to slowest trains:
• ICE (Inter City Express) usually pronounced ‘Eye See Eee’, are the fastest German trains
• IC (Inter City) trains are a bit slower than ICE trains with a few more stops along the way
• RB (Regional Bahn) and RE (Regional Express) tend to be highly localized with lots of stops. You will see more of the countryside, but travel time can be up to double compared to an ICE train.
Can the Best Travel Option Get Even Better?
Yes, with seat reservations! I highly recommend making a seat reservation on the ICE trains, since those trains can get crowded at rush hour, or if a connection to the same city was canceled. This will cost you about $5 per connection (unless you choose a First Class ticket, where a seat reservation is already included), and trust me, it is worth it and makes for a stress-free travel.
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As much as I’d love to plan every meal we have, usually Denise and I want to see the sights of the city that we are in without stopping an hour or more for lunch. Grabbing a quick snack is usually pretty easy, but can cost you in the tourist centers. On a trip to Rothenburg ob der Tauber, we found ourselves hungry in the middle of the city. Luckily I spotted a butcher shop, called 'Metzgerei' [pronounced mɛtsgəˈrai].
What tourists do not know is that almost every butcher shop has a separate display case with cooked, warm and ready meatballs, schnitzel, roast pork and other meats. A good butcher shop will also have deli-style salads, soft drinks and water available - perfect for a quick and inexpensive lunch break! Also, a local bakery usually delivers fresh rolls to the butcher shop in the morning, which is great for you, since you can order a “Schnitzelbrötchen” (schnitzel in a bread roll) usually for less than 3 Euros!
Nothing like waiting in line behind a bunch of locals on their lunch break to make you feel part of the culture.
I was so excited to introduce Denise to her first Metzgerei in Rothenburg ob der Tauber. What was the best, authentic, cheap lunch you had when you were in Germany, Austria or Switzerland? Let us know in the comments.
Although I’ll always advocate for experiences over things, I’ll admit that sometimes a ‘thing’ has magical powers to bring wonderful memories of an experience rushing back into your present. If you’re looking to bring a touch of the German Christmas Market home with you to reminisce, consider choosing one of these souvenirs.
A pyramid? In Germany?
One thing I can always count on with German culture is to be surprised and delighted by their attention to detail. I’d heard rumor of ‘Christmas Pyramids’. Honestly I was a bit perplexed by the mention of it, and my train of thought was on its way to Egypt and wondered how they’re connected. Seeing is believing, and Sebastian’s parents carefully brought over a pyramid for us one Christmas.
Sebastian’s parents carefully lifted out of a box this meticulously handcrafted, wooden, contraption with figurines, helicopter fans and candle holders... Suffice to say, when his parents lit the candles, causing the heat to rise and the fan to spin, turning the figurines, making a visual play of shadow and light- my mind had been blown. No batteries required!
And while we’re talking about lighting up things.
Here’s a stinker! I say stinker, endearingly..
This clever little guy actually is hiding an incense stick in his belly. No joke. Once lit, the smoke will travel out through his pipe. I’d imagine this would be a great way to convince your little niece, nephew or other naive child that he’s actually alive and smoking. You’ll find these ‘Smoking Men’ in all sorts of occupations and forms. This one is a seller, in my opinion, and he’s selling Christmas souvenirs..oh the irony, and one of which is my next suggestion.
Always the Overachievers
Again, the attention to detail, so German.
You know, and I know, that something used for cracking open walnut shells does not need to be this fancy, but of course the Germans thought otherwise! Ironically, I’ve loved nutcrackers since I was little, and collected a few over the years. Upon learning this, Sebastian’s Oma gave me her nutcracker, an oldie but a goodie, who is our star performer here. He was even given an extra frisking during the Frankfurt airport security. Chemical swabs and everything. Who knows what secrets he possesses that prompted suspicion! He was approved, and flew home with us. He’s guarding our kitchen this year. Nutcrackers, like the smoking men, can also be found in all sorts of occupations and forms.
To generalize, I’d say if you buy something wooden at the Christmas market..you’re already winning. There’s so many wonderful handmade gifts at the market, these are just three that are my favorite, which we’ve also collected ourselves, and I know are quintessentially German in origin.
If you missed Sebastian's post about Christmas Markets, you can catch it by clicking here.
Sebastian and I wish you a very, very Merry Christmas! Enjoy it! Hug your loved ones and spread the love! Also check your smoke detectors:-) Ho ho ho! Can you spy all three souvenirs in our kitchen?
Living in Florida is not a coincidence, I hate being cold. During my favorite holiday, Christmas, it is frigid in Germany. During the winters I lived in Germany, I’d watch Home Alone 1 & 2 over and over again and avoid leaving the house at all costs. But, there is one thing that could get me to voluntarily venture out into the cold, and that’s a German Christmas Market.
Originating in the middle ages, the Christkindlesmarkt, which translates to ‘christ child market’, is essentially a gift and food festival with a heavy dose of Christmas spirit. Most large towns have these markets, and are held i the town square. My home town would host the market for a single weekend, while big cities, like Frankfurt, would run the market for the majority of December.