Welcome to the final post in the “Welcome to Kaiserslautern” series. In this post, Ollie (I am referring to myself in third person it seems) from Kaiserslautern Day Tripper shares insight and tips for using public transportation. Also for you we have local photographer Evan Willingham who shares an amazing destination, while former resident Erinn Burgess gives us parting shots. So, whether you are sitting in quarantine or on your extension year, here are a few things you should know. Before you read this though, don’t forget to read Post #1 and Post #2!
Public Transportation: Get Out of Your Comfort Zone! by Ollie
Ollie is half of Ollie and Nellie, and is founder and administrator of Kaiserslautern Day Tripper
One of my favorite parts about living in Europe is the extensive public transportation network. It is an experience that we just don’t get back in the U.S., and one I try to take advantage of every chance I get. I love showing visiting friends and family members just how easy it is to hop on the train to somewhere new. In the next few paragraphs, I’ll share with you reasons I choose public transport as well as try to break down the options available to you.
Other than just showing off to our guests how easy it is to get around using the bus and train system, I usually use public transportation if the trip is about as long (or in some cases shorter) than driving, or to avoid places with tense parking situations. A perfect example is Heidelberg, a favorite day trip among those who live in Kaiserslautern. A train ride to Heidelberg is about just as long as driving, but the advantage you gain is not having to navigate through city parking. For just over €20 for a family, why not give it a shot?
I’ll mostly use the local train and bus system to avoid parking in downtown Kaiserslautern and if I’m going to do some drinking. In just a half hour, I can leave my house in Kaiserslautern, take the train to the main train station, take the train to Landstuhl, and walk to meet friends over some drinks. It is so easy to do, you just have to break out of your barrier and do it!You can always ask about using local transport inside the Kaiserslautern Main Train Station (Hauptbahnhof), but the DB Navigator App and VRN App are very intuitive and helpful. By selecting where you want to start, end, and departure time, both apps give you a menu of journeys and tickets to select for your adventure.
Germany’s transportation network can pretty much be broken down into two categories: regional transport and long distance (high-speed) transport. Generally, regional transport is low-cost but is slower because of multiple stops. This includes the bus, and for the train it includes the RB, S-Bahn, or Regional Express. When you buy a ticket for regional transport, you don’t need a seat reservation, and usually your ticket is valid that day from the departure to destination, regardless what time you travel. Long distance and high-speed transport is much more expensive and usually requires a seat reservation. This includes the ICE, IC and EC, with popular destinations such as Paris, Stuttgart, and Munich. You will want to plan these trips far in advance, since the best rates are about two months before departure.
You will want to use regional transport for day trips, and generally use the VRN App if you are going between here and Mannheim or Saarbrücken. Kaiserslautern is part of the VRN Network (Verkehrsverbund Rhein-Neckar), so the VRN App will give you the best low-cost options (including day tickets) on the network. However, if you are going a little further, such as Trier or Heidelberg, you will want to use the DB Navigator App. DB offers several day passes that are good for your state, nearby states, and even a pass that allows you to travel throughout Germany on regional transport.
The idea of using Germany’s public transportation system is frightening in thought, but I promise it gets easier after the first time! I suggest you start with a few real easy and nearby trips such as Landstuhl and Homburg, and then build up to longer trips such as Heidelberg and Trier. It’s such a rewarding experience, and you will want to share your experience with all your friends. Happy travels!
Maastricht by Evan Willingham
Maastricht is one of the oldest cities in Holland and at 3 hours away by car, (more or less depending on traffic and the weight of your foot) makes it an ideal location for a weekend trip. It’s a university town that seamlessly blends medieval and modern architecture. There is almost no better example of this than two of the bridges that span the Meuse (Maas) River.
The old being the Sint-Servaasbrug, built in the 13th century, and the new being the Hoge Brug that opened in 2003. Bring your camera or whip out your cell phone as there are some lovely views from the bridges and you’ll be inclined to take pictures of the bridges themselves especially at dusk when Hoge Burg and city begin to light up. There are plenty of cafés and restaurants located throughout the old town with options within the city and along the riverbank.
Our family of 4 stayed at an Airbnb in the city center across the street from a church that was about a 3 minute walk to the center of the action. A few of the reviews for the place mentioned the church bells being quite loud due to the close proximity. As it turns out, the church bells added to the overall experience of the trip, unlike like your neighbor in the states who decides to mow his lawn 8pm on a Sunday night.
We chose a parking just outside the old city that amounted to about a 15 minute walk to our Airbnb, and paid €10 per day. There is a Parking lot right in the town square that costs around €35 a day. Since this was a road trip I highly recommend taking the route that includes time on the A60 and A62. The calming effects of the views of the German and Belgian countryside are felt almost immediately. Full disclosure: there is road construction/closure near the German (A62) border with Belgium but it does take you through some cool little towns and you’ll get a personalized view of the countryside. I even pulled over to snap a few photos.
Words From a Departee by Erinn Burgess
Erinn recently departed Kaiserslautern and worked Public Affairs for USAG Rheinland-Pfalz. Follow her at www.bur.life
Welcome! We just passed each other in the hallways of the Ramstein Passenger Terminal – you’re on your way in, and I’m on my way out after eight wonderful years in the Kaiserslautern Military Community. Today begins an exciting new chapter for you, and you might be wondering where to begin.
Here are a few words of advice that would have been helpful for me as I began my life in Germany: The sooner you stop comparing Germany to the United States, the sooner you can begin to fully appreciate this opportunity. At first, this may be challenging. You won’t have your favorite stores, restaurants or even some of your favorite mobile apps. You’ll be hard-pressed to find 24-hour markets or Sunday shopping, and you might miss sports or other American pastimes. But instead, you’ll have festivals with traditions dating back more than 500 years. You’ll go on culinary hikes through lush vineyards and sample Riesling, Dornfelder and other local wines. You’ll eat foods you never knew existed (hello, Dampfnudel and Käsespätzle!). You’ll visit churches older than American history. You can travel almost anywhere in Europe with a few hours and $100 to spare. Germany and the United States are two very different countries – and how lucky you are that you get to experience life in both!
Don’t be afraid to try and mess up. Learn a few phrases in German (“Sprechen Sie Englisch?” is a good place to start). Don’t feel discouraged if you butcher those phrases the first two, three or fifty times – what’s important is that you’re making an effort. Try shopping at a German grocery store (Globus offers English tours!). Connect with Army Community Service or the Airman & Family Readiness Center and sign up for a newcomer’s orientation for a free introduction to Kaiserslautern. Get out of the house and explore every opportunity you get. Book that €9,99 RyanAir flight to a city you’ve never heard of. Ride a train. Miss your connection. Get lost. Find your way back. It’s the experiences that challenge you the most that make for the greatest stories.
Be open to connections. When I first arrived in Germany, I didn’t view making friends as a priority – I had friends back home, why go through the struggle of making new ones? In the beginning I dedicated a lot of time to long-distance friendships and didn’t branch out locally. Ultimately, it resulted in loneliness – sooner or later you’re bound to feel left out when geographically separated and in a different time zone from your besties. You don’t need to abandon any friendships; just open your door to let new ones come in. Having a good support system in a foreign land is important. When holidays or hard times hit and you find yourself missing loved ones, leaning on relationships here is what will pull you through. Find your ‘home away from home.’
Enjoy this assignment with an open mind and an open heart. You will leave Germany a different person; it’s up to you how that growth defines you. Viel Glück!