Officially, the Berlin public transit goes by the rather daunting name, Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe, but Berliners all lovingly shorten it to BVG (beh-fow-gey). The BVG includes the U-Bahn and S-Bahn, as well as hundreds of bus lines, trams (a type of street car only running in former East Berlin), and even ferries.
Berlin’s transportation system is truly one of the best in the world. It will zip you through the city at pretty much any hour of the day.
Berlin Public Transit Tips
Here are 10 of our best tips for how to ride the Berlin public transit system like a pro.
1. Know which ticket to buy (and how to buy it)
Unfortunately, this is no easy task. Although the ticket machines all have an English language option, they can still be very difficult to figure out, and the locals waiting behind you are likely to get impatient with any greenhorn taking too long to buy a ticket. To avoid too many nail-biting sessions at the ticket machine, it’s better to know which ticket to buy in advance.
Here’s a list of all the single fares and some tips for how to understood what the heck they mean by them:
- Short-trip ticket = up to three stops in one direction
- Single ticket = ticket in one direction, including any transfers, valid for up to two hours
- Reduced = ticket fare for children, students, and seniors
- AB = fare zone for central Berlin and outlying suburbs
- BC = fare zone for outlying suburbs and Potsdam
- ABC = fare zone for all three
If this seems confusing to you, it’s because it is. A better option — and one that will save you some dough — is to buy a ticket that’s valid for a longer period of time. Depending on how much longer you plan to stay, you can either buy a day ticket, a 7-day ticket, or a monthly pass.
(If you’re also interested in visiting some museums, you may also want to opt for the Berlin WelcomeCard, a ticket specifically designed for tourists that includes admission to attractions and covers public transportation.)
The good news? Although tickets are a bit tricky to figure out at first, they’re valid for any form of Berlin public transit. You won’t have to worry about having to buy a separate ticket if, for example, you want to ride both the bus and the U-Bahn.
Familiarizing yourself with the transportation map will help, too. Download the route map here.
2. No credit cards
As is often the case in Berlin, U-Bahn, and S-Bahn ticket machines do not accept credit cards. Unless you have a German bank card, your only option is to pay with cash. Machines accept any coin ten cents and above as well as €5, €10, and €20 bills.
Please note that they will give you your change in coins only, so if you’re buying a ticket for a smaller amount, it’s better to use a smaller bill, so you won’t be overly weighed down with a pocket full of change. Not all machines accept bills, so if you don’t have enough small change, look around until you find the one that does.
3. Stamp it — or be shamed!
Once you successfully buy the ticket you need, there’s one more crucial step you need to take before you hop on the train: Stamp and validate that baby!
Unless you’re riding the bus (more on that below) it’s unlikely that anyone will “control” (ask to see) your ticket, but it’s still very important that you remember to stamp it. To do so, locate a validating box and insert the top of the ticket in the slot that says “please stamp here” (the machines are usually near the ticket machines on the platform).
If you fail to validate your ticket (or, gasp!, board without a ticket), you’ll be riding schwarz (black), which is German slang for fare dodgers.
If you’re caught during one of the checks they do periodically, you’ll have to pay a €60 fine. If you have a ticket but forgot to stamp it, you might get lucky and be controlled by someone who has mercy on clueless tourists, but you may not luck out. Don’t take a chance — stamp it!
4. Know the difference between the U-Bahn and the S-Bahn
If you want to impress someone with your nerdy BVG knowledge, you can tell them U-Bahn stands for Untergrundbahn (underground train) and S-Bahn for Stadtbahn (city train). While “underground” train is clear, we think a better word for the S-Bahn would be Übergrundbahn (above ground train).
Although they sometimes break those rules, both train systems usually stick with the program, the U-Bahn staying underground and the S-Bahn running above ground. Although this means the S-Bahn can make for a more scenic ride, there are other differences. The U-Bahn makes more frequent stops in the city, while the S-Bahn functions more as an “express”. The S-Bahn can more quickly whisk you off to the suburbs.
The U-Bahn also runs more often (every two to three minutes during rush hour) and is generally more reliable. The S-Bahn is sometimes notoriously late — in winter, it’s been known to sometimes even shut down completely.
5. Taking the bus
As we mentioned above, your transit ticket is also valid on the bus. If you have a valid ticket, get on in the front of the bus. Then, show your ticket to the driver.
You can also buy a ticket on the bus. To do so, you’ll need to tell the driver which kind you need, for example, single ticket AB (in German, Einzelfahrt AB (Eyen-cell-fart ah-beh). The fare is the same price and can be paid in coins only. Once you’ve achieved this feat — and don’t take it personally if the driver was grumpy, because they almost always are — the driver will hand you a ticket, which you don’t need to stamp.
6. After 1 a.m. on a weekday? Take the Nachtbus
Berlin is famous for its late nightlife, but the U-Bahn runs around the clock only on the weekends. If you feel like living it up on a Tuesday, you’ll find the U-Bahn and S-Bahn stations shuttered and closed down between around 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. Although you could always take a taxi — and luckily they are not as expensive in Berlin as they would be in, say, London and Paris — you’ll still have to dig deeper into your wallet than you might want to pay.
But never fear, the Nachtbus is here to save the day (or, in this case, night). When the U-Bahn, S-Bahn, and regular bus lines shut down for the night, the Nachtbus (night bus) takes over, and all for the nice price of a regular ticket.
7. Get used to silence and stony faces
Yes, it’s true. Many Berliners you’ll see on the BVG will look as if they’ve been having a bad day… for the past 20 years. Tourists often find the frowns and silence a little intimidating and spooky, but true Berliners often just don’t see the need for idle chit-chat when they’re on their way from A to B among strangers.
If you’re on one of those trains, filled to the brim but as silent as the grave, be sure you aren’t too loud yourself or people might start giving you dirty looks. And take comfort. They’re smiling… inside.
8. Don’t put your feet or bags on the seats
If Berliners have one pet peeve (aside from giddy American extroverts), it’s riders who put their bags on the seats of a busy train. When the train is not full, you can place your bags there. Be sure to move them right away when more people get on, not just when someone wants to sit down. If not, someone is likely to get annoyed, and Berliners aren’t shy when they’re irritated.
Want to tick them off even more? Put your feet on the seats. That was a joke — don’t do it. In Berlin, it’s just about one of the rudest things a person can do.
9. You’re probably not getting hit on
Some tourists think Berliners stare because they’re silently judging them, and others think it’s because they think they’re hot. Neither one of them are right. Staring is just what you do here, so do as the locals do and stare away.
If the person next to you is also sitting so close you can feel their leg touching yours, it’s also not likely that they’re coming on to you and/or creepy. In general, Berliners aren’t as particular about personal space in crowded spaces, so it’s likely they’ll sit more snugly next to you than you might, um, expect.
10. Get used to being pushed around
Although German has words for “excuse me”, Entschuldigung for example, means “sorry”, it’s unlikely that you’ll hear it too often during your trip. In a crowded place like the U-Bahn, you will get pushed and prodded and sometimes elbowed. Your toes might get stepped on. If you’re very unlucky, it will be strong enough to leave a bruise. Don’t expect an apology, because it’s not coming.
However, even with the occasional push, leg touching and stony face, the BVG is an expansive and efficient transit system. It’s far more reliable than most of the public transportation networks in other countries (including, obviously, the US!).
Enjoy the ride. And seriously — she’s not hitting on you.
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Source: Euro Cheapo