How to Get to Berlin from Munich Germany Cheaply on the Autobahn

Trip Background

In September/October of 2012, a friend and myself made the trip to Munich Germany to meet up with a bunch of others for Oktoberfest.

Having done some research, I learned that Oktoberfest is fun on weekdays, but a total disaster on a weekend, as many from out-of-area and locals come out that couldn't attend during the week, on top of the tourists and locals already there. As a tourist, you can get into halls early enough in the day to not require vouchers/tickets, but this can be difficult on a weekend.

It didn't help that the hostel's prices (well, whatever was available a few months in advance) were significantly higher for the weekend.

So the plan was made to go to Berlin on the Friday afternoon.

But how to make the journey in an efficient and cheap manner?

Trains, Of Course, Right?

When I think of Germany, I think of chocolate. But after that, I think about trains. The fares on the website were running around 99EUR per person for the trip at the time I was booking.

I'm aware that ride-sharing services exist in Germany, but they seem to be inaccessible to non-German speakers, even though the Germans tend to speak excellent English, the websites' structures that I came across were unnavigable to me.

The Real German Need For Speed: Me Edition

Another thing that people associate with Germany is The Autobahn.

Yep, a highway in the modern world without speed limits (on sections of it anyway). The Germans are obviously an enlightened bunch, being reasonable enough to allow something that most other jurisdictions think their people are too stupid and irresponsible to handle.

You can read about the speeding ticket that I "may" have gotten on a section with a speed limit here. They do have speed-limits on sections that aren't engineered very well, during bad weather, in cities, and other areas where there have been a higher-than-average number of accidents. Whodathunkit, speed limits assigned based on risk.

I was able to hire a car for a 24-hour period through for 69 EUR all-inclusive. Not wanting a slow car, I opted for a Mercedes C-Class, something capable of going 200km/h+. And yes, that mission was accomplished more than once. Slower cars were certainly available at a lower price, but... you know. After the C-Class, you have to pay much more for each incremental gain, the C-Class was the most optimal balance between performance and cost for me.

Another nice aspect of a car rental was being able pick up the car whenever you wanted, then going to pick up the luggage from the hostel, rather than having to lug it all to the train station. Similarly, at the destination, one could drop everyone off at the true final destination, and then drop off the car and make it back without having to lug too much. The destination drop-off point didn't mind us dropping off the car the night before (we didn't want to deal with parking, so we technically didn't even have the car outside of the pickup calendar day).

The Mercedes C-Class was an automatic. Though I can drive standard, the less you have to think about at 200km/h, the better. It was gas and not diesel, unfortunately.

I checked many car rental sites, and Sixt was the cheapest. Sixt had much different pricing depending on which national site you used. The .com was the cheapest, the .de and sites were more expensive, so do consider this. As with most car rental companies, they charge a premium for picking up the car at a railway station or airport, so, do as I and pick it up from any other location (Sixt has several in Munich), again, pricing may vary between these non-main locations, so you'll have to price-check for optimal pricing.

I only confirmed the second driver after making the initial booking. Re-booking online would have had a 15 EUR re-booking fee, on top of the 5 EUR second driver charge (included in the 69 EUR figure above), but I was able to add this at car pick-up for just the 5 EUR. As I describe in the German Photo Radar article, having a second driver registered on the rental may have saved me a fine.

The one-way fee (again, included in the 69 EUR) was just 15 EUR, not too shabby when dropping off the car several hours away from its home location. I guess Sixt isn't a franchise operation as many North American car rental agencies are, so they don't overly penalize you for doing this.

In Germany, Driving Can Be Cheaper Than The Train

Google maps, thankfully, includes an estimate of gasoline costs for a journey, which it estimated at 85 EUR for this journey.

Despite Germany's fixation on environmental sustainability and limiting CO2 emissions, they still allowed for a car to be a cheaper and more convenient form of travel than the train. 

Overall, 154 EUR was spent on this car journey in travelling costs, 44 EUR less than taking the train. Probably a little more in gas due to a couple stops, some... inefficient driving, and a snafu with the car's GPS, but cheaper than the train for just two people. More fun too. If you have 3 or 4 people travelling, then the savings are far greater. I do recall asking some random people if they wanted a cheap trip to Berlin, but I didn't have any takers. Ha.

I'm aware that Deutsche Bahn tickets can be cheaper if you book them early enough, or get some other special, but I was too late for the discount tickets. For me, driving on the AutoBahn wasn't a chore, but rather a bragging point of the trip.

Driving in Germany as a Canadian

If I felt unsafe, it was because of my own driving, not anyone else’s.

Germans are serious about staying in the right lanes unless passing, something I wish Canadians would take as seriously. You could be barrelling down the highway at 180km/h, see someone ahead shift into your lane at 150km/h to pass someone going 120km/h and not have to slow down, because you know the person going 150 will shift right back into the right lane after they pass the 120km/h vehicle. North America could get much better utilization of our highways, with more safety, if we didn't always have 3 or 4 lanes going at the same speed :(

I'll also add that I didn't observe a single police vehicle on the road during the 5-6 hour drive. I guess they realize that having pulled over cars and additional cars needlessly on the road/shoulder is dangerous to everyone.

And my final note/rant, highways in Ontario Canada are in better condition than German ones. Germany will have a two-lane unlit grade separated highway with no shoulders and no speed limits, while we'll have more lanes, lighting, real shoulders, real barriers and a pathetic speed limit.

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