A geezer in Germany

Published 06-04-2019

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Many years ago, I wrote that Germany should be "off limits" to economy travelers because of its high costs. Now, however, the cost of traveling in Germany compares favorably with costs in its European neighbors, and Germany has always provided a treasure trove of scenic beauty, urban excitement, history and cuisine. Guidebooks cover that stuff in as much detail as you want, so I am here with some observations about coping with this large and diverse destination.

This report actually starts with Amsterdam, which is as close to Germany as my "too good to ignore" frequent flyer promotion could take me. My main observations about Amsterdam are that (1) It is more expensive than the parts of Germany I visited and (2) I arrived in time to catch the season's ending of Keukenhof, the fantastic tulip extravaganza. Even if you're not a "flower person," it's a not-to-be-missed, world-class destination. It's closed for the year by now, but it runs every year from mid-March to late May; check keukenhof.nl/en/ for exact 2020 dates. There is no rail stop near Keukenhof, but nonstop buses operate from various points around Amsterdam, including Schiphol Airport. Buy a combined bus-garden ticket at departure points; credit cards accepted.

This trip was another one focused on rail travel, and I bought a promotionally priced Benelux-Germany Eurailpass shortly before that product was phased out in favor of a much more flexible version of the all-countries Eurailpass. Rail is a great way to get around Germany, if you know what you're doing.

Seat reservations are a must. Some trains, including very modern ones, are outfitted with compartments in first and second class rather than the open plan with one or two seats on one side of the aisle and two on the other. Each compartment features facing bench sets, and the middle seats are like middle seats in an economy plane. Get seat reservations to avoid being stuck in one of those middles.

There's not much I can add to the wealth of information on historical Berlin. During my first trip here, before the wall came down, the epicenter of Berlin was the Zoo and Kurfurstendam area, which retains much of the high-end shopping. But the heart of the city has moved eastward. My hotel was in the Alexanderplatz area, a center of the former East and now home to a handful of new midrange hotels.

Getting around Berlin is easy, with its integrated system of surface rail, subway, tram, and bus lines. Fares are 2.80 euros for an individual one-way ticket for travel within central zones A and B, enough for most visitors, or 7 euros for an unlimited-ride 24-hour ticket. You can buy rail tickets from machines in stations, with coins or credit card, and onboard trams with coins only. Signs at rail and tram stops announce times and destinations for the next several services and are easy to follow.

No, the new airport still isn't opened -- although it has at least started assigning space to individual airlines. When it opens, direct rail integration into the city transport system is already in place -- a big improvement compared with today's poor ground service at Tegel airport.

I finished my German visit at the touristy but comfortable town of Boppard in a hotel overlook-ng the Rhine. It was a great way to veg out in a great setting. I also found that cities in the Rhine Valley issue cards entitling visitors to free local bus and rail transport during their stay. I used my card for an excursion on the scenic Hunsruck Railway, Germany's steepest adhesion rail line that passes through some pleasant forest areas. Hotels in Basel, Switzerland, also issue such cards; I have no idea how many other places do, as well.

My last night was back at Schiphol Airport, where I stayed in the in-terminal airside Mercure hotel. Although the hotel was fine, I don't think I'd do that again other than as a transit passenger -- otherwise too much hassle with baggage and security.

(Send e-mail to Ed Perkins at eperkins@mind.net. Also, check out Ed's new rail travel website at www.rail-guru.com.)

No, the new airport still isn't opened -- although it has at least started assigning space to individual airlines. When it opens, direct rail integration into the city transport system is already in place -- a big improvement compared with today's poor ground service at Tegel airport.

I finished my German visit at the touristy but comfortable town of Boppard in a hotel overlook-ng the Rhine. It was a great way to veg out in a great setting. I also found that cities in the Rhine Valley issue cards entitling visitors to free local bus and rail transport during their stay. I used my card for an excursion on the scenic Hunsruck Railway, Germany's steepest adhesion rail line that passes through some pleasant forest areas. Hotels in Basel, Switzerland, also issue such cards; I have no idea how many other places do, as well.

My last night was back at Schiphol Airport, where I stayed in the in-terminal airside Mercure hotel. Although the hotel was fine, I don't think I'd do that again other than as a transit passenger -- otherwise too much hassle with baggage and security.

(Send e-mail to Ed Perkins at eperkins@mind.net. Also, check out Ed's new rail travel website at www.rail-guru.com.)

My last night was back at Schiphol Airport, where I stayed in the in-terminal airside Mercure hotel. Although the hotel was fine, I don't think I'd do that again other than as a transit passenger -- otherwise too much hassle with baggage and security.

(Send e-mail to Ed Perkins at eperkins@mind.net. Also, check out Ed's new rail travel website at www.rail-guru.com.)

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