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Help with train travel in Germany

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Your advice is appreciated; we usually rent a car.

DH & I will arrive in Frankfurt on a Sunday AM, travel to Cologne for two days and then proceed to Heidelberg. We will base in Heidelberg for four days, planning to take day trips for two days, then return to Frankfurt and home.

Primary reason for the trip is to visit the Christmas markets. Cologne for me - I want to see the cathedral and other sites. Heidelberg for DH - he's got a romantic feeling about the university and old town.

I think it would be a good idea to take a train from Frankfurt to Cologne - easy to get to the train stations from the airport and our Cologne hotel is within walking distance.

DH feels that renting a car for a week is more economical ($350 - plus gas, parking) vs. train. I'm thinking it would be less hassel to travel by train.

I'm not very familiar with using the www.bahn.de website. For example, it looks like a second class ticket from Frankfurt - Cologne - Heidelberg will cost approximately 120 euro each.

There are offers for discount prices, rather than full fare. Is anyone familiar with this option? It looks like I have to register - and maybe have an EU credit card - to purchase?

Also, if we take the train from Frankfurt to Cologne - can we stop at Mainz for a few hours for a daytime visit and then get back on and continue our journey?

Thanks for any help you can give us.

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