Public transportation in Germany, and in Europe in general, is known to be excellent and efficient. The residents of the big cities, in some cases, do not own a private car at all, and use the public transportation available to them almost all hours of the day. Even the less big, touristy and central cities have efficient and good public transport networks, in which buses, trams and urban/suburban train lines take part that connect their users with different points.
As most public transport systems in Germany are regional (ie relevant to specific regions), the S-Bahn ticket is necessary and is valid for both trains and buses. The ticket can be purchased online or at the sales points in the central stations and ticket machines. Unlike the Tube in London, the Metro in Paris, the BART in San Francisco and urban trains in most cities in the world – on the U-Bahn you can also travel without the use of a ticket (that is, you can enter the train station and the platform itself without presenting it). At the same time, those who are caught doing this without having a valid ticket will be required to pay a high fine on the spot (and also when it comes to tourists). This is usually a fine of several dozen euros (while a single one-way trip is less than five euros).
To save on travel costs, you can purchase a special card – Eine Streifenkarte, which is a set of several punched cards connected by a strip or a set of four cards (relevant to Berlin itself). This works differently in each city, but can save the passenger a little money. Those who want to save even more and are expected to stay in the same place for several weeks, can purchase an annual or monthly ticket. A daily card (Tageskarte) is suitable for traveling within 24 hours and can save quite a bit if you plan to travel between many hubs. In any case, it is worthwhile and highly recommended to properly plan the vacation and purchase the relevant ticket accordingly. In Berlin, Frankfurt and other cities short route tickets are offered – Kurzstrecke, suitable for a maximum of three stops. Here too, whoever is caught traveling at more than three stops, may pay a fine.
The various mobility options
S-Bahn – this term is an abbreviation of “Stadschnellbahn” – fast train in the city. The urban rail system in Germany first began operating in 1930, when Berlin expanded its electric rail network. After the smoke, steam, and train noise became a real nuisance, the city inaugurated a new electric system in 1924. Today, many cities throughout Germany, as well as in Austria and German Switzerland have commuter train systems such as the S-Bahn. In large cities in Germany the S-Bahn is also part of a train network, which includes underground U-Bahn lines. They all have the same card, which can be used when combining the two. Berlin’s S-Bahn is the largest train system in Germany and includes 15 lines with a network of 330 km, mostly above ground. A round green sign with the letter S in white marks an S-Bahn station.
The S-Bahn is Berlin’s main and central transportation solution. Its 15 routes cross the vast area of the city, from Kopenick in the southeast to Spandau in the northwest. The ring lines of the S-Bahn (lines 41 and 42) wrap around Zone A, the central part of Berlin and connect with all the other lines. The lines operate every ten minutes during peak hours and every 20 minutes during off-peak hours. The S-Bahn is the best way to cover long distances in the city, and it can be combined, to get a more successful response, with the U-Bahn – the subway.
U-Bahn – short for Untergrundbahn. This term refers to what is known in English as the Metro, the subway, or the Tube. Although the U-Bahn trains usually run underground, they can also often be seen above ground. A blue sign with the letter U in white is identified with the stations of the U-Bahn. The first electric subway line in the world began operating in London on November 4, 1890. In Germany, an identical train line began operating in 1902, in the city of Berlin itself. Over the years, the U-Bahn network in Germany expanded and became very active and useful, both among residents and among tourists. Today there are only four German cities (and the city of Vienna in Austria) where U-Bahn subway lines operate: Berlin, Hamburg, Munich and Nuremberg. In several cities, such as Cologne, Hanover and Stuttgart, there are light trains (Stadtbahn) that sometimes go underground, but these do not belong to the underground railway lines. U-Bahn is a fast way to get around in Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, Nuremberg and Vienna (Austria), with its trains arriving at their stations at intervals of between 5 and 10 minutes during peak hours. The rules for buying and validating the S-Bahn tickets also apply to the U-Bahn tickets and of course you can combine the two.
Die Stadtbahn – is the light rail, active in some German cities. Its purpose is to reduce the use of private transportation in order to reduce loads on the road and allow smoother and more fluid traffic. Unlike the regular electric train, the light train travels over its own special track so that it does not interfere with traffic on the road. In cities where the U-Bahn does not operate, including Dusseldorf, Frankfurt and Stuttgart, this light rail provides a cheap and convenient alternative to the underground system, such as that in Berlin and Munich. Similar to the U-Bahn lines, it is also marked with signs with the letter U in white on a blue background. This train is considered faster than a normal electric train.
Buses and trams (trams) – their stops are marked with a round yellow sign with the letter H painted in green. At some of their stations an electronic sign may appear, indicating the track/line number as well as what time it is expected to arrive at the station. In addition to the regular buses, you can find double-decker buses in Berlin, similar to those in London. Bus 100 is a double-decker bus that takes its passengers on a wonderful city tour at the price of a regular bus ride. It passes near the famous zoo in Berlin and passes many other attractions. With a day ticket you can enjoy a great combination between traveling and sightseeing in the beautiful city.
Regional trains – Regio, also called RB – Regional Bahn (stops everywhere), and RE – RegionalExpress (faster and more frequent).
Taxis – although taxis are not part of the public transport system of Germany and Europe in general, they certainly provide a solution in certain cases and can be used as a wonderful alternative. For example, when you want to get to the airport with a lot of luggage and especially in cases where there is more than one passenger. A taxi can also provide a suitable solution in cases where you want to get to a public wedding in a city that is not close and cannot be reached by other means of transportation.
A rental car – this is a very convenient solution, used by many travelers in Germany, who come for a short or long trip. These can be families with children, young people after the army, couples and even single travelers who wish to travel around Germany and sometimes also combine a visit to other neighboring countries. Driving around Germany in a rental car is very comfortable and the road infrastructure is considered excellent. In the big cities it may be busy, but the signage is legible and clear and the navigation apps also help with orientation. You can rent a car when you leave the cities and use the other means of transportation when you are in them. This combination is suitable for independent travelers and all those who also want to reach different places throughout the country, where it is more challenging to find available trains or buses.