watzmann logo

Previous Contents Next

10. Phone System

The German phone system used to be operated by the Deutsche Telekom, only (then government-operated, now privatized). The German phone market was demonopolized in January, 1998. Since then, more than 100 new phone companies have sprung up and the phone rates are under fierce competition. In the less than two years, for example, the rate for calls to the USA has dropped from 3 DM to less than 0.15 DM per minute.

So, as they always say in those great ads, how do you get these fantastic rates ? Look at one of the web sites that offer rate comparisons. Billiger Telefonieren and teltarif.de are two sites that offer rate comparisons and the latest news around all things telephone. Heise Verlag maintains a rate calculator, too.

Officially, every phone, fax or modem you connect to a phone line needs to be approved by the German telekom. Approved appliances have a special sticker with a BTZ number on the back. Although it is illegal to connect appliances without a BTZ number, e.g., your favorite low-price phone from your last USA trip, violations are rarely prosecuted or punished - as long as your unapproved appliance doesn't bring down everybody else's phone connection.

Area codes in Germany all start with a 0. To dial an international call, you dial 00 and then the country code. Area codes and phone numbers in Germany are variable length: the bigger the city, the shorter the area code, so that 089 is Munich, but 07252 is some small town somewhere.

You can tell that a number is toll free if it starts with 0800; older toll free numbers might still use the 0130 prefix, which will be abandoned for the internationally more common 0800. On older coin phones without an LCD display, you might have to insert 20 Pfennige to place a toll free call. Don't worry, you get it back after the call.

Look at the de-telefon-faq for more information. Defunct ?1999-11

10.1 Some recent history

It used to be, in the good old days (before 1995) that the phone system was operated by a government owned monopoly, the Bundespost. They had all the advantages of a government monopoly: phone calls were expensive, their service was outrageously unfriendly, and hooking up a new phone could take up to six weeks. But they had very pretty yellow phone booths.

Deutsche Telekom was split off Bundespost and turned into a public company on January 1, 1995. In November 1996, they sold a first packet of shares to the public and have by now around 2 million shareholders.

In their monopoly days, the Deutsche Telekom based their rate not on per minute fees, but instead sold one unit to a fixed price and varied the length of time on the phone one unit would get you depending on how far away you were calling and on the time of day and day of the week. A big mess. By now, rates are usually quoted on a per minute basis, although you can sometimes still find quotes for 1.5 or 4 minutes. So always make sure the rate you got quoted is really for the amount of time you think it is.

The Deutsche Telekom lets you explore all the intricacies of their pricing scheme with their Tarifrechner. Bring some Aspirin.

10.2 Public Phones / Phone Cards in Germany

In the good old days, phone booths were bright yellow, a real eye-sore but easy to spot if you needed one. The new phone booths are almost all glass with some gray and a pink trim, trendy but not as easy to spot as the old ones. If you are in an urgent need for a public phone and can't find one, ask in a restaurant, they usually let you use their phone for a quite usurious price (like 50 Pfennige per minute or so).

Public phones in Germany work more or less like everywhere else, except for the differences: Most public phones by now are card phones. Unlike American card phones, they use debit cards. German phone cards can be bought at any post office, most money exchanges at major train stations and many newspaper stores. They have a given value, for example 12 DM for 60 units or 50 DM for approx. 260 units, which works out to something like 0.20 DM/unit. Once you have used up this value you must get a new card.

It is not that easy any more to find a public coin phone, even though they still exist. You usually have to insert 20 Pfennige, the minimum price for a call. In airports, train stations and some of the more touristy places you often find credit card phones, too.

10.3 Nation-Wide Phone-Numbers (Emergency, Information)

There are two nation-wide emergency telephone numbers:

The numbers are toll free, in the modern public card-phones you should be able to dial them at any time, without the need for change or a card. If you don't know what kind of emergency you have at hand, call 110. The fire fighters will send you nasty bills if you call them unnecessarily. 1999-11

In some older pay-phones, though, you may have to insert coins first, but they will be returned after the call. In some phone booths you will find special emergency switch boxes which can be used by simply pulling a lever. 1999-11

10.4 Getting Phonenumbers via Internet

There is now a service available for the yellow pages by Deutsche Telekom which allows you to search the contents of the CD-rom Gelbe Seiten für Deutschland. 1997-01

For searching white pages: That has recently become available; for example at

If you are looking for an Austrian phone number, you can use the following BTX-gateway or this telnet connection

For Swiss numbers you may use the following telnet gateway. 1995-3

10.5 Importing Phone/Modem/fax to Germany?

You may own any phone but you may not connect it to the public system unless it has a BZT number (Old phones: ZZF). You may not own radios or cordless phones which are not approved. The number is usually found on a sticker at the back of the case.

Tone dial and pulse dial are available everywhere. Problems are possible with Hong Kong or British pulse dial phones because the pulses there are not exactly the same as in Germany. But the phone system is very tolerant and with most of these phones you can switch to the other system anyway (same for modems).

Cordless phones are a real problem. In Germany, cordless phones operate on different frequencies (900 MHz) than in most other countries. In the bands that many foreign phones use (80 MHz for cheap US-phones) are a number of official channels (police, emergencies, radio, TV ...). It is punishable to own and use an illegal cordless phone! Therefore, use only approved cordless phones !!! or they will get you !!!

On a lighter note: it is possible, for more money, though, to obtain a 900 Mhz phone abroad. In the US, for instance, these are about twice as expensive as the 80 MHz phone; however, you may expect to still cut a deal, compared to German prices ;-) 1996-1

The wall outlets for phones in Germany have a different shape than the usual modular plug. Adapters are available in Germany (from 2.50 to 20 DM). These adapters are no problems with phones. But legal and illegal things might not work together on the same line.

Fax machines usually work in Germany, too. Typically you'll need a new power adapter, though. 1995-3

Since local phone calls in Germany are usually billed by the minute, a speedy Modem is not only convenient but can also be a real money-saver. By now, both ISDN connections with 64 kbit/s and v.90 modems with up to 56 kbit/s are widely available. An ISDN hookup, which provides up to ten phone numbers and two simultaneous lines, is not only faster but also cheaper than two seperate conventional lines. 1998-05

Watch out for the 16kHz timer signal, which the telekom sends to allow for your own tracking of billing periods. This is an additional account feature, costs 99 Pfennige per month and is pretty useless with the newer rate structures anyway. But if you have it and if the modem doesn't filter this signal you might lose connection every 90 seconds (or at multiples thereof.) 1999-11

Teleadapt (http://www.teledapt.com) has a device called TeleFilter, which filters the Accounting signal used in the german phonesystem, useful for modems that do not have the filter built in (e.g., most non-german modems). The same device is also sold by Blackbox (http://www.blackbox.com). 1998-04

Mobile/cell phones (called "Handy" in the local vernacular) are operated on one of four networks: D1, D2, E+ and E2. If you want to do international roaming from your home country, it should work, ask your home provider about that. You will need a GSM900 phone for the D-networks or a GSM1800 phone for E- networks. US GSM1900 phones will not work! Note that the D networks have far better coverage outside the bigger cities, they work nearly everywhere, including forests and such. 1999-11

10.6 Adapters

There are cheap(!) adapters available (between 2 and 20 DM.) To build one yourself is most likely not cost efficient. Be aware of possible legal conflicts. Your phone is more likely to be illegal than the homemade adapter. Connection scheme:

       American plug                     German TAE-F or TAE-N plug
   +-------------                            -----
   |           * yellow      4              /    /
  |            * green       3          4     //    3
  |            * red         2              /    /
   |           * black       1                //    2
   +-------------                           /    /
                                              //    1
                                            /    /

For regular voice service connect green/red only! Connect them to the two wires that come into your house (if you can make out which they are) yellow/black are for data transmission devices. impedance is no problem.

10.7 Calling Germany Collect from Abroad?

The most convenient way for German tourists to call home is the Deutschland direkt Line. You can reach it toll-free from the US at

From Canada it is Note that this service is very expensive. The cost is supposedly around DM 2.10 per minute, plus a flat fee of DM 3.00. Collect calls are possible. It is also possible to use a special phone card and password. Ask your local 'telefonladen' for details. 1995-3

If you want to call a German '130' number from the US, you need to call either the above mentioned service or your long distance operator. '130' numbers are Germany's version of the US '800' numbers. But if you call them from another country you will have to pay the usual fee for operator assisted long distance calls. Some of the German '130' numbers are linked to US '800' numbers so you can actually call them for free in the US.

It is also not possible to reach US '800' numbers from Germany. You will have to use an operator. If you own a US phone card use one of the numbers listed (see Using US Phone Cards) Otherwise use the German long distance operator.

10.8 Using US Phone Cards in Germany?

If you have an American phone card you can get connected to an English speaking operator from any phone by dialing:

The following countries offer an equivalent service by dialing:

0130-800-### (### is the international access code. For two digit access codes dial 0##. Example: Australia 0130-800-061)

Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Chile, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Iceland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Rep. of Korea, Luxembourg, Malaysia, New Zealand, Philippines, Portugal, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, Finland, France, Hungary, Ireland, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Denmark

Many other international long distance companies provide the same service. Ask your long distance carrier for the right number.

Previous Contents Next

o Last modified: 2001-09-03 Page created: 1999-02-06 Send comments about this page to