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Berlin 2011: Public Transport

by John Mensinger on July 25, 2011

My favorite public transit system in the world is in Berlin.  It is clean, affordable, extensive, reliable, and easy to use.  You can get on the S-Bahn with your dog, drink a beer, or take along a bicycle.   You have to buy a ticket for the bicycle, but the first dog is included at no extra charge.  For more information visit the website of BVG.    Train stations and bus/tram stops have detailed maps and timetables.  They announce the stations as you arrive and the name of the next station is shown on electronic message boards in the train, tram, and bus.

A car is an impediment in Berlin.  Traffic can be heavy, roads are under construction, that left turn you need to make is forbidden, and finding a parking place is as easy as winning the lottery.    Our home exchange partners gave us the use of their car, which we only used for a weekend trip to the Czech Republic.   We deeply appreciated the four public transit passes they gave us for the month of June.  These transit passes are transferable.  With the month long pass you can take another person along as your guest on weekends and after 8pm in the evenings.  The passes were good in the A and B zones on the suburban trains (S-Bahn), Regional Trains, subway (U-Bahn), buses, trams, and ferries.

It was a 400 meter walk to the nearest station from our exchange home where trains would take us to the center of the city in 15 minutes.  Sometimes we would miss the train because my wife was slow in climbing up the stairs.  I would complain to her “Now we have to wait two minutes for the next train.”  If we were really unlucky on a Sunday evening we might have to wait 7 minutes.

The A and B zones cover most of greater Berlin.  If you want to visit the C zone with an AB ticket buy an extension ticket, costing Euro 1.50 one way and validate it before boarding.    You can buy tickets from the automatic machines at every station; they speak English but won’t take your American debit or credit card.  You don’t need to show your ticket, except when boarding a bus or during a surprise ticket control by an undercover inspector.   Make sure you validate your ticket when first using it (not necessary for a month long ticket with a date on it.)

You can spend 10 Euros for a day ticket on a private double decker tourist bus.  It has commentary and great views from the upper level which is open to the elements.   Or you can use your public transport ticket and take a double decker bus on lines 100 or 200.  If you are on the upper level at the front you have a 180 degree view.   The public bus has a roof over the upper level, which is sensible given the amount of rain in Berlin.

You can spend 17 Euros for a cruise on the Spree River or on one of the many lakes that surround Berlin.  Or you can use your public transport ticket for a 25 minute ferry ride from Wannsee to Kladow (in good weather board early for a seat on top of the boat).  Then enjoy a hike or cycle ride along the lake.

There are many types of public transit tickets in Berlin—good for the day, a group up to five, weekly, monthly, etc.  Another option is the Berlin Welcome Card, which combines unlimited public transportation with discounts to certain museums and attractions.

There was only one place where the public transportation system failed us in Berlin.  Our lovely apartment was on the 4th floor with no elevator, only several flights of stairs.

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