When you first move to Berlin, you’ll probably be in awe of the transport system – U-Bahn every 4 to 5 minutes, S-Bahn every 3 to 10 minutes, bright yellow buses and trams snaking their way through the city at all hours… wow, just wow!
However, give it a little while – “Der blah blah Zug nach blah blah verspätet sich wenige Minuten” or the most dreaded three words in Berlin, “Zug fällt aus” – you’ll soon be shouting at the announcer, shaking your fist at the information board and stamping your feet just like a real Berliner (even if you do only have to wait a couple of minutes for the next train).
If you’re still a bit overwhelmed by the mighty Berlin transport system, read on to find out more about how it works.
Good question. First of all, DO buy a ticket. Nobody likes a Schwarzfahrer (fare dodger or literally “black rider”) and you’ll be fined €60 for not having a valid ticket. Secondly, just buying a ticket isn’t enough – you need to validate it. There are machines on the S- and U-Bahnhof platforms and on board trams and buses. Just pop in your ticket, wait for the click, take it out again, check that there’s some blurry text on there that wasn’t there before and off you go. Tickets are valid for all forms of transport so if you buy a ticket on a tram, it’s also good for the U, S and buses – provided it’s within the permitted timeframe and the correct zones.
You can buy tickets on board. Each tram is fitted with machines from around the 1980s, which don’t accept notes or cards. Make sure you have change or you’ll be dashing off the tram at the next stop to break that €20 note.
You can buy tickets from the driver*. Exact change is not necessary. Berliner bus drivers are known for being especially friendly, pleasant and helpful folk so be sure to smile sweetly as you treat them to your best German. They love that. And don’t stick out your hand to flag down the bus – this is not a thing in Berlin. The driver will stop if he or she feels like it.
*Buying tickets from the driver is not possible during Corona times so you’ll have to buy a ticket somewhere else before you get on.
In S- and U-Bahnhöfe
There are ticket machines in every station in Berlin and you can select your preferred language. In some of the bigger stations – Alexanderplatz, Friedrichstrasse, Hauptbahnhof, etc. – there are also ticket offices, which operate normal business hours.
You can also (wait for it, this is some futuristic stuff) buy tickets online or via smartphone app. Any Späti with a BVG sticker in the window will also sell tickets and you can get a Wegbier while you’re there. Standard Berlin practice.
In Berlin, a single ticket (€2.80 in the AB zone) is valid for 2 hours in one direction. Within this time, you can hop on and off as many different modes of transport as you like but you cannot go back in the direction you came from. Confused? You probably will be. If you use public transport a lot, you can save money by buying a daily, weekly or yearly ticket. If you’re only doing a short hop, the Kurzstrecke ticket makes sense (€1.90), and is valid for 3 stops on the S-Bahn or underground (changes permitted) or up to 6 stops on trams and buses (changes not permitted). For more information on all of the different tickets, how much they cost and what the conditions are, visit the BVG website.
What’s the 10 Uhr Karte?
If you’re a bit cheap and like lying in in the mornings, the 10-Uhr-Karte is for you. It’s a cheaper alternative to the normal Monatskarte (€61 instead of €84) and you can use it between 10 a.m. and 3 a.m. on weekdays. At weekends and on holidays, you can use it like a normal Monatskarte. The only downside is that a friend can’t travel with you for free and you will have to buy an extra ticket for your bicycle. The good news is that your dog and three kids up to the age of 6 can travel around the city with you at no extra cost - you just need to keep them in bed until around 10 a.m. in the morning.
Are there special tickets for students?
If you’re a student, you can usually purchase a reduced “semester transportation ticket” through your university. If you’re doing an internship or traineeship, you are eligible for a reduced monthly or yearly ticket (depending on how long your contract is for).
Do I have to buy a ticket?
If you enjoy being hauled, red-faced, off a train in front of a crowd of judgemental fellow passengers, and having to pay €60 for the experience, then no, you don’t. Honest mistake? You genuinely forgot to validate your ticket because you were in a hurry? You’re a foreigner and you didn’t understand what ticket to buy? Doesn’t matter – these inspectors have heard all the excuses and won’t have any sympathy for your plight. As soon as those doors close and you hear the words “Fahrscheine, bitte”, be ready to show a valid ticket or be prepared to face the wrath of the Berlin ticket inspectors.
What are the different zones?
There are three zones in the Berlin transport system: A, B and C – with A being anywhere inside the Ring, B outside the Ring and as far as the city boundary, and C the outskirts including Potsdam and Schönefeld Airport. The zones are marked on the transport maps in every station and on the BVG website. Single tickets are priced as follows: for zones AB (€2.80), BC (€3.10), or ABC (€3.40). When you buy a ticket – either from a ticket agent or a machine – you must select or say which zones you need. If you have an AB ticket and travel into zone C (or from C into A), then your ticket is invalid and you’d better hope those inspectors don’t get on. Schönefeld Airport is where most people get caught out as it’s one stop into the C-zone. If you have an AB card and want to travel into the C zone, you need to buy an extension ticket – Einschlussfahrausweis in German. Trying to say the name of the ticket will probably take longer than the trip.
Can I take my bike with me on public transport?
If you’re one of those people who likes having a bike but doesn’t like riding it, you can block up the U-Bahn, S-Bahn and some trams for other passengers. On the S and U, there are designated carriages in which you can travel with your bike. But, just like any other passenger, your bike will also need a ticket. For reference, a bicycle ticket costs €2 in the AB zone. You can’t take your bike on buses but if you want to make super good friends with one of Berlin’s charming bus drivers, you can sure give it a try…
Can I take my dog with me on public transport?
Small dogs travel free of charge; larger dogs are free with a daily, weekly or monthly ticket (and you can travel with more than one dog, for the price of a reduced fare ticket). Dogs are supposed to be kept muzzled but hardly anyone observes this rule. It’s Berlin – you could put your dog on your head while riding public transport and nobody would bat an eyelid.
How late does public transport run in Berlin?
Berlin is (or was before Corona) a city that never sleeps so its public transport doesn’t either. During the week, S- and U-Bahn trains run until around 1 a.m. At the weekends, they run all night but on a reduced schedule. Some trams run all night every night but also on a reduced schedule. If you’re stuck, there are always night buses. If the BVG can’t get you where you need to be, there’s car sharing, ride sharing, e-mopeds and scooters… in short, you’ll never be stranded in Berlin.
Thanks to the lovely people at the BVG, if you have a monthly or yearly ticket, a friend can travel with you for free after 8 p.m. on weekdays and all weekend – great for when you have visitors.
And, it’s not a need to know but a good to know – when taking the escalators in train stations, always, always, ALWAYS stand on the right and walk on the left. Or you will experience the famous Berliner Schnauze first-hand.