For years, I’ve come to Germany every fall or so to practice German, and one of my favorite “first things” is to reacquaint myself with public transportation. It’s part of learning the culture. In Berlin, light rail, subway, streetcars (trams), buses and even ferries are coordinated by an association of the transit-system owners. To the end-user, it’s seamless. I bought one monthly pass and can use any of the transit options as much as I want.
The screenshot above is from the app by the BVG, the association that coordinates public transportation in Berlin. I took the TXL bus from Tegel airport (direction Alexanderplatz) to Beusselstrasse. Then switched to the S41 light rail (direction Ringbahn) to Gesundbrunnen. A tool like this plus GPS on the street makes visiting a strange city an utterly different experience from that of even five years ago.
Bus was the first leg of the trip from Tegel airport to my room. Don’t look at me. Honestly, it just never occurred to me to take a taxi.
Yep. The downside of the bus is that it can get crowded, a special annoyance when you’re dragging a wheeled bag.
A taxi would have made this much easier.
Inside the bus, a screen overhead tells passengers what stop is coming up. Press a button to tell the driver you want off there. The green-and-yellow device at right is where you start a ticket’s validity. If you don’t validate, you’re riding “black” (schwarz fahren). Tickets are checked at random, and as I recall, it’s about $50 if you’re cheating.
This is what light/urban rail looks like in Berlin. It’s a mainstay of the transportation system, running above and below ground. In many cities, the “S-Bahn” would be the main way commuters get to city jobs from the suburbs. In this huge city, it’s simply the best way from one side of town to the other.
Inside a light-rail car. The sign says my stop (Bornholmer Straße) is coming up.
I’ll throw in a photo of the subway, even though I don’t use it much. The subway is arguably the easiest transport system to navigate, but light rail and buses run above ground. Much more fun to watch Berliner life as you ride.
This streetcar, which I use to get to school, stops right in the street! That’s across a couple of busy traffic lanes from the sidewalk where people wait. Luckily other people were there my first time. I watched and learned that you just step into the street to get on. Apparently, the trams are synchronized with streetlights because no traffic in that area moved while we crossed.
And you get off same place, same way.
Inside a streetcar, electronic signs show upcoming stations as they do in buses. But the trams typically stop at every stop.
Busy streetcar stops have a sign like the one in the photo above that tells you how many minutes ’til your ride arrives.
Here’s your streetcar. Show your pass as you step on! Nobody’s going to stop you if you don’t. Tickets are checked randomly underway. But showing the pass removes any doubts as you board and approaches politeness.
Bike lanes still surprise me from time to time. That’s the sidewalk on the left, then the bike lane, then parked cars, then multiple lanes of street traffic and, as you saw earlier, the possibility of a couple of sets of streetcar tracks. I’m learning to check for bikes before I step to the curb to cross the street.
All of which make it wise to heed the little green guy. He’s the Ampelmann (traffic light man), apparently beloved by Berliners. A referendum stopped officials from replacing the little green men, and the Ampelmann has his own store, where you can buy all sorts of clothes and toys with his image on it.
It pays to wait for the green, even if the streets are clear of cars. It’s against the law to jaywalk here. It’s called being inattentive as a pedestrian in street traffic (I won’t bore you with the German). Germans on the street frown at violators, especially if there are children present. You’re supposed to set a good example. If the law catches you, it can be a fine of €5-€10. On the spot.