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Martin Stut - Telephone System in Germany

Why I wrote this page

To give information about the german telephone system to Back to the contents.

How to use (public) telephones in Germany

As the Deutsche Telekom had (until the end of 1997) the monopoly of the telephone system, things were set up as uniform as a former government agency can make it. This is easy, but expensive. Better bring a calling card or use some trick (see the charges page).

It's relatively simple (compared to what I hear about the US system):

  1. lift the receiver
  2. insert coins or a phone card (only necessary at public telephones)
  3. wait for the dialtone (long, continuous, single frequency of 440 Hz)
  4. dial the number of your destination
  5. after 2 seconds to 1 minute you should hear the remote ringing sound (in germany: a single frequency tuut every 5 seconds)
  6. charges start occuring as soon as (not before) the other party lifts their receiver. This holds for all domestic destinations. Exceptions exist for some foreign countries, with the most remarkable one being Austria (is that still the case?).
  7. talk whatever you like (the audio quality is excellent), but keep in mind the high charges (the remaining value of your card or coins is continuously displayed)
  8. when you are finished, hang up the receiver (on public telephones: press the hook briefly, less than half a second)
Public telephones can be found in most train stations, large public places, restaurants ("Raststätte") besides motorways and in some residential areas. Beware: there may be rural areas, where the next public telephone is 10 km away. There are several types of public telephones ("öffentlicher Fernsprecher", "Telefonzelle"):

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Types of public telephones

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National and international numbering (area codes)

German national calls

As in most countries, german phone numbers consist of an area code and a local number. In domestic relations, the area code is always given with a leading 0 (zero) that has to be dialled for domestic calls outside your area code. (It also works even if you dial the area code for a local call.) The area code is usually separated from the local number by a "/" (slash) or "-" (dash) or by putting it in "( )" (brackets).

The length of the area code varies roughly with the size of the city, from 3 digits (e.g. 069 for Frankfurt/Main) to 5 digits (e.g. 06421 for Marburg), some small towns in eastern Germany even have 6 digit area codes (e.g. 039454 for Elbingerode). Correspondingly the length of local numbers varies from 3 to 8 digits, even within one area code. If you need to determine an area code, there is the complete list (95kB) on the web.

If you are calling a major organization (more than about 10 people, the limit drops with increasing use of ISDN), chances are high that they have a private branch exchange (internal telephone system). In this case the complete local number is given as a combination of the number of the organization and the internal number (extension) within the organization, separated by a "-" (dash). As everywhere: lengths vary from 1 to 5 digit internal numbers, possibly varying even within one organization. Internal number 0 (zero) is usually (90%) the central switchboard. For example if you are calling Marburg university, the number in the phone directory is 28-0 (switchboard), but if you call the hospital (owned by the university) the number is 28-3691, so a four digit internal number, indicating a very large organization.

After all the dry theory, let's have an example. Suppose you just arrived at Frankfurt airport (area code 069) and you are doing a few calls:

Special area codes

Useful numbers

From Germany to other countries

The international access code in Germany is 00. This means that international numbers are composed as follws: For example a London number is dialled as 0044 171 1234567 and a San Francisco number is dialled as 001 415 1234567. You don't have to wait for any intermediate tones or follow any special procedures - just dial as you would with a local call, just the number is longer (and the charge a little higher).

The german charging system used to have a big advantage for short calls: cost is in increments of one unit, starting at zero, no minimum charge. This has been modified to "by the minute" charging.

From other countries to Germany

Suppose you are in a callable card phone in Stuttgart with a sign containing a bell and the number "0711/1234567". Cash ran out and you want "home" (say in Brazil) to call you. In this situation you can briefly call them and tell "call me at 0049 711 1234567".

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Summary: Tips for Travellers

Achim Schmidtmann's homepage provides more general (beside the phone system) tips for travellers to Germany.

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Last updated: 05.05.2007 17:43:05 Martin Stut, email: email address as image, Marburg, Germany
URL: http://www.stut.de/phoneger.htm