A solid public transportation system is common for cities in Western Europe. Berlin is no exception, and it is possible to get anywhere in the city within a reasonable walking distance via the extensive network of trains, busses, streetcars, and subway stations. It costs from 70-90 Euros a month to get around via this system, which is much cheaper than owning a car. Cars in Germany are expensive (albeit very well-made) since car owners are taxed for the privilege to own one. And don’t even get me started on the price of gas in Germany, since it’s four times that of most cities in the U.S.! Therefore, finding other modes of transportation is an important of German city life.
How do people get around?:
The subway and the S-Bahn are the most popular forms of transportation, since they travel long distances in a relatively short period of time. By subway, I can get from northern to southern Berlin in 25 minutes. Sometimes I can get a little claustrophobic in these trains during rush hour, since in the middle of the city people try to squeeze in as many as they can. It’s best to try to choose a less popular route during these times, but sometimes it just can’t be avoided. I once got out of a crowded S-Bahn train to allow people behind me to get out, but unfortunately the line of people exiting the train was so long that the train’s doors closed before I could get back on! The nice thing was that another train came along in five minutes, so it wasn’t the worst thing in the world.
Biking is also a popular way of getting around in Berlin. There are bike paths on almost all the city streets, and strict rules dictating how people should bike in order to keep everyone safe. Bikes are required by law to have a light and a bell to warn pedestrians. Walking in a bike path is a good way to get yelled at by bikers who don’t want you taking over their space. In the summer, I try to bike everywhere I can in the city. In winter, I only bike to the closest subway station to get out of the cold! There are those who bike even through the snow and ice, and I definitely salute them, but I am not that hardcore.
Since it’s the middle of March and still snowing outside (which is not usual for Berlin, actually) I thought I’d try out another way of traveling. Germans tend to go hiking through the woods on a sunny weekend day. The snow this weekend is a bit high, though, but that hasn’t stopped those living here. Instead, people are breaking out the cross-country skis and hitting the trails. I’ve seen people cross-country skiing near the forests of Birkenwerder, as well as here in Woltersdorf, where I am spending my Saturday. It’s a small town right across the eastern border of Berlin, situated in the Berlin City Forest (Berliner Stadtforst). Although skiing may not be the best way to get people from point A to point B, it’s still a way to get the weekend forest-walk taken care of.
Cross-country skiing is a lot of fun, but since I’m a beginner I had a few awkward falls. I’ve been looking for a winter sport (I’m afraid of heights, so downhill skiing is out!) that doesn’t cost too much, so it was great to find this sport! I’ll be doing more of this in the future, especially if this snow sticks around for a few more weeks.
As for the public transport system, I think it’s great. I drove a lot in the U.S., and it takes a lot more concentration and planning than just hopping on a train and letting the driver do the work. It’s also less expensive than owning a car, less of a headache when it breaks down, and safer than driving on the busy city streets. Plus, I can read or get work done while I ride! It’s also fast. In Minnesota it could take an hour to get from one side of the city to another by bus. It’s great to have the variety of short- and long-distance trains to choose from in Berlin. And when the weather is fine, taking trips by bike can be fun too!
Germans tend to have a culture that revolves around punctuality and reliability. Therefore, their transportation system has to live up to those expectations to survive as a primary mode of travel. The relative closeness of everything compared to the U.S. is also helpful in creating a quality public transportation system. The cold winters also lead people to seek out warmer modes of travel, like trains or subways. Cars are also driven by those who have the money to buy and keep one, but they are largely unnecessary for everyday life in Berlin. Germans also like to keep healthy, so activities like walking, cross-county skiing, and biking can all be good ways to stay in shape. Making exercise part of my daily routine has helped me stay healthy while I’ve been here. Although it’s not always the most convenient to walk to the train station or go grocery shopping without my car, I much prefer the advantages that sticking with alternative modes of transportation brings.