Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Berlin: By Foot, By BVG, By Bike, By Car, By Boat, By Train, By Plane

I've talked so much about our adventures outside of the city lately (like new favorite Naples), I haven't been giving Berlin it's due.

One of the reasons it's one of the greatest cities in the world is transportation. Much of our problems with life in Seattle revolved around the mundane issues of how to get around. The city is surrounded by water as it is sandwiched between the Puget Sound and Lake Washington (among other bodies of water). Everyone has to funnel through certain areas, navigating the crisscrossing bridges. Gorgeous, but also capable of creating volcanic fury-inducing traffic jams.

And it's not like there is great - or even decent - public transit to rely on. A light rail system is being implemented, and we do have the laughable monorail from the world's fair, but buses are the main mode of public transport. They come in about 20 minute windows (if you're lucky), and are often crowded with the unwashed, the mentally ill, and the clinically dangerous (just check out The Stranger's frequent articles). We laugh (cuz if we didn't we'd cry) about our fancy neighborhood of Queen Anne having a higher crime than our "ghetto" kiez in Wedding.

And going out in Seattle can be a nightmare. When we visited Seattle last Spring, we tried to get a cab with a group of friends in West Seattle at around 11pm and could not flag one down or call for help to save our life (and public transport was far from easily available). We were stranded! In Berlin, by contrast, we've seen more sunrises than the rest of our life put together. There is no need to leave a party because of boring issues like transport. You leave when the party is over...which can reach well past daylight hours.

That is why you choose where you want to live carefully. Seattle's "just over the bridge" can take an hour to get to, and friends in other neighbors may just not get visited as much if they live in an inconvenient area. Friends in Berlin can complain about us living in Wedding, but personally I see no room to complain as we are literally 15 minutes from Alex(anderplatz).

In Berlin, we walk everywhere, gleefully take to the liberal amounts of public transit (U-Bahn, S-Bahn, Tram & Bus), ride our bikes over (mostly) flat terrain, and even occasionally pick up a lift by plane, train or automobile. We've got options. It's glorious!

If this is where you ended up looking for actual info about Transportation in Berlin, have no fear! Here is some actual info.

By Foot:

The city is surprisingly vast & there is no way to walk all the places you should go, but walking is one of the best ways to get to know any city. Every time family our friends visit from the USA we warn them that marathon walks and let them know an Ian patented death march is sure to occur.

If you need more guidance on how to put one foot in font of the other, there are many walking tours of Berlin (SlowBerlin, Berlin Walks, Berlin Free Tour, Brewers Berlin Walking Tours, Sandemans NEW Europe), or even better, a self-walking tour of Berlin's Main Tourist Sites.

Berlin Transportation Guide
(Friend riding available upon your social circle)

By Public Transport:

As most people in Berlin, we are in a hate/love relationship with the Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe or BVG. Mostly, it's the best system we have ever ridden (including London/Paris/etc), but even close to perfection runs adrift from time to time, and paired with German customer service - or lack thereof - it can occasionally let you down.

BVG's extensive public transport system includes:
  • U-Bahn - Subway/metro
  • S-Bahn - Overground train, this is the fastest way to traverse the city. The Ringbahn circles the majority of the city (S41 travels clockwise, S42 travels counter-clockwise) with multiple lines interconnecting through the center and extending out.
  • Buses - Mostly in the west, help connect between U-Bahn/S-Bahn points. The slowest way to move about the city.
  • Tram  (Straßenbahn) -  Mostly in the east, one of the slower ways to travel, but can really have a party atmosphere like the M10 party tram
  • Ferries
Berlin UBahn Transportation Guide

Their site has many different features (also in English) including a helpful route planner, maps, and schedules. You may also call #49 30 19449 to reach customer service. It really is an excellent system, but be forewarned that German customer service can leave a lot to be desired.

Berlin Transportation Guide Tram
Berlin tram plowing through the snow
  • Standard tickets (€ 2.40 for A and B) - There is no need for most people to get a ticket covering zone c unless you are heading out to something specific like Potsdam (or - as helpfully pointed out in the comments - Schönefeld Airport).  One ticket is valid for travel within two hours of validation in a single direction (we frequently cheat on the one direction as this seems ridiculous, but be forewarned we've heard of tickets being handed out). There is no limit to transfers.
  • Kurzstrecke - (€1.40) For a short, single journey you can buy a cheap Kurzstrecke, but this is only valid for 3 stops on the U-Bahn or S-Bahn (six stops by bus or tram); no transfers are permitted.
  • AB Tageskarte (day card): € 6.50, ABC Tageskarte (incl. Potsdam): € 7.00.
  • 4 Fahrten Karte (4 single trips AB bought at once for a reduced price) € 8.40 - We purchase this most often.
  • AB 7-Tage-Karte (7-Day-Ticket): € 28.00, ABC 7-Tage-Karte (incl. Potsdam): € 34.60 - Again, no need to buy C. Buy an extension if you are heading out there.
  • Berlin CityTourCard (48 hrs, tariff zone AB € 16.90 / 72 hrs, tariff zone AB € 22.90 / 5 days, tariff zone AB € 29.90) - Ticket valid for all public transport services in Berlin, Potsdam and the surrounding area and a discount card for many tourist attractions. Make sure you need the discounts (if you want to go to many museums), otherwise buy a straight transport pass. 

Where to Buy Berlin BVG Transportation Tickets?

You can buy these tickets from machines at the entrance to all U-Bahn/S-Bahn/Tram stops (may be at entrance versus on platform) which can be identified by their school bus yellow color. You can also purchase basic tickets (standard ticket, Kurzstrecke or day ticket) abroad a bus, but I wouldn't recommend getting too complicated as you'll be buying them directly from the driver upon entry. Small Spatis (convience stores), sometimes located within the station will also sell tickets and can be helpful if machine is being uncooperative/won't take new 5 euros/broken (expect the unexpected with BVG).

We've taken our love for the system to an all new level of tourism/party with Riding the UBlau where we ride an entire line, getting off at every stop, taking pictures, rating, and taking a shot. It's a little boozy. The only way you could have more fun on the UBahn is by listening to Trike's song "Dance to Trance" shot entirely in the UBahn.

What's transport look like? Here is a seriously empty S-Bahn (it's usually not like this):


By Bike:

Seattle's hills and narrow streets never had us interested in biking. But when we arrived in Berlin, we saw bikers of every size, hipness, and age. Ineptly, amateurishly, and enthusiastically we took to the streets and many bicycle paths (Radwege) in Life by Bike.

Berlin Bike Transportation Guide

You can get guided bike tours on Berlin Bike or Fat Tire (ask for our friend Kyla - hilarious and seriously Berlin knowledgeable). BBBike offers helpful maps & route planners in German & English if you prefer to take yourself.

The Deutsche Bahn (DB) Call a Bike program (helpfully tested out by Digital Cosmonaut) offers public bicycles throughout the city. These can be unlocked by calling a number on the bicycle with a cellphone, after registering with the service. You can also rent a bike from most bike shops for between 8-12 euro a day.

2014 Update: Just heard about a cool bike borrowing program at
Fill in a BikeSurf request form and ride away. If you have experience using the service - please leave a comment!  "Two legs good. Free wheels better."

By Train:

Like many Americans that come to Europe, the wonders of train travel have opened our eyes. However, Germany's train travel can be quite expensive if you don't book early. A Bahncard helps negate some of that high cost, but is only beneficial if you travel by rail somewhat frequently. We still love to take the train when we can.

Deutsche Bahn offers a comprehensive site for not only German, but much of Europe (often better than the country's site). However, they don't always offer prices. For this, I prefer the site.
Train travel Europe
Arriving in Europe 2007
Berlin Train Transportation Guide

One of the best thing about the train system is the Schönes-Wochenende-Ticket. The ticket is valid for a group of up to 5 people to ride the regional rail for only 42 euros! "The Weekend Ticket" is valid in 2nd class of all DB regional trains (Regional-Express, Regionalbahn, S-Bahn), many local traffic associations, non state owned railway companies according to their regulations as well as on some section of line in Poland. This is perfect for a day trip out of the city to places as far away as Stettin, Poland. Tickets can be purchased from machines or at the DB ofice for a 2 euro charge.

Always check for deals and booking in advance as you can travel quite cheaply if you are ready  prepared. The native Germans have that step covered.

By Car:

Though it's not necessary to have a car in Berlin and many people (not just cheapskates like us) get by just fine, it is a wonderful asset and can help you reach places on the outskirts of town or different cities much easier than public transport.

Your best option for hitching a ride is the site It offers the ability to pick up rides from people going your way, or offer rides to other travelers for a fee. The site is also surprisingly useful for showing you other transportation options and prices. It is fairly inexpensive, although there can be issues with people running these routes as a business and last minute cancellations.

Orrrrr you can have some amazing friends with a car who will take you to the middle-of-nowhere Tierheim (animal adoption center), Spreewald, and by some of Berlin's tourist sites, like our drive-by of the longest remaining section of the Berlin Wall.

By Taxi:

We don't travel by Taxi. Seriously. I am skeptical of anything that costs money and have rarely seen the value of convenience over cash in my pocket. You could call it budget travel, but it is really just being cheap. I am slowly elevating my iron fist on our finances (much to Ian's relief), but haven't submitted in this arena.

If you do care to take a taxi in Berlin, it's easy and compared to other capitol cities - cheap. There are over 7,000 taxis in Berlin and Taxi drivers are known to be fair and less expensive than in many other big European cities. They usually drive cream-colored Mercedes with "Taxi" signs on top. Taxis queue can be found outside larger S- and U-Bahn stops, and can also be hailed from the street at the same rate. Calling a taxi is an option as well; mention to the operator if you want to pay by credit card, as not all taxis have card-reading equipment. Taxi drivers are generally able to speak English.

Taximeters start at 3 euro, with the first 7 kilometers charging the rate of 1.58 euro per kilometer, and then 1.20 euro for every further kilometer. Add a tip of 5-10 percent.

Taxi Companies

  • City Funk Telephone #21 02 02
  • Funk Taxi Berlin #26 10 26
  • Spree Funk #44 33 22
  • Wuerfel-Funk #0800 222 22 55 (tollfree) or #0177-222 22 77 (for mobile phones)
  • Quality Taxi #0800 - 26 30000

I still just don't know why you would :)

Berlin Taxi Transportation Guide
NYC cab

By Boat:

Berlin is crisscrossed by waterways and spotted with lakes. The city actually has more bridges than Venice. That means there are some really lovely boat rides and actual transportation options by water (, but I've only engaged with water for pleasure.

A trip down to the Spreewald got us real close to the water in a canoe, which the Germs strangely called a Kanadier. Just an hour away, this was a really lovely way to get down with nature.
Berlin Boat Transportation Guide
Canoing in Spreewald

There are also tour boats in the city. I'm always a bit reluctant to go on tours, but this was an extremely pleasant (and inexpensive at about 7 euro per person) way of spending an afternoon with the visiting father-in-law. Boats can be picked up on the Spree around the Berliner Dom.

Berlin Tour Boat Transportation Guide

By Plane:

Don't do like we do and arrive at airports late! (But in Berlin's charmingly small airports you can).

There were three airports, but then Templehof was turned into a spectacular park. There are currently 2 airports with the opening of a main airport embarrassingly delayed until sometime next year (or later?).


The main international airport, this place is tiny. You can arrive at the door and be at your gate in 10 minutes tops. The only drawback is that Berlin's usually fabulous pubic transport fails you at this airport with the only option being buses which can be packed with travelers & luggage. It is located in the Northwest corner - which is great for us in Wedding.


Located in the South East, this is the primary discount/intercontinental airport. It is also surprisingly accessible for an airport in the capitol of Germany with decent links to S-bahn, train, bus, etc. Thought the distance from the S-Bahn platform is a long run (see above about arriving to airports late).

So there you go, how to get around one of the most fabulous cities in the world. For more tips on the city including more detailed info on Berlin Transport, refer to the EasyExpat Guide to Berlin.


Georg said...

Well that's a thorough post! There is another reason to get a Zone C get to the airport! They are just waiting to bust you for that :p

Adam said...

Also for those looking for bicycles in Berlin, a guy on CouchSurfing offers "BikeSurfing" - free bikes to tourists during their stay!

It's a really nice project in my opinion.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the help guys! This was supposed to be a post about something else, but then rambled it's way into something probably only half helpful. BUT with your fabulous tips we are back on our way.

Tiffany @ No Ordinary Homestead said...

Well you should have been part of the Blogger Stammtisch this week -- your post is right on topic :)

I wrote a very similar one myself this week...great minds I suppose!

Tiffany @ No Ordinary Homestead said...

Ahahaha -- and now I just saw your comment on my post saying nearly the same thing I just said. :D

BTW, thanks for sending Benjamin my info -- we loaded him up with stuff so he doesn't have to eat with his hands anymore, and he's coming by again for a fan :)

Tara said...

For taxis another useful app to use is MyTaxi.

And I will be a bit biased here, but if you are travelling to and from any city, the travel start-up that I work at specializes in comparing and combining multiple modes of travel by time and price from one place to another. It's a cool tool -- Maybe you wouldn't have had to wait at the airport so long!

We're Back in Berlin Ja!

We're Back in Berlin Ja!
ebe & ian at Yak-toberfest 2008