What You Need to Know about the Berlin U-Bahn

Berlin's U-Bahn stations | © Andrea Monari/Flickr
Berlin's U-Bahn stations | © Andrea Monari/Flickr
Berlin’s U-Bahn system lends itself to so much mystery. Descending into dark tunnels, there’s no idea of what is going on outside, and who or what exactly the train drivers are honking their horns at underground. We’re still not certain of the answer to that question, but here are some practical, fun facts about Berlin’s beloved underground.

Berlin’s public transport consists of several integrated networks – but what’s the U-Bahn?

The U-Bahn is Berlin’s urban underground railway system. The yellow trains are iconic, and run every two to five minutes during peak hours, and every five minutes for the remainder of the day or every 10 minutes in the evenings. Delays are just a part of Berlin life. Luckily there will be a busker playing his guitar or violin in the station that will help you pass the time.

Berlin's iconic underground transport system © Alexander Rentsch/Flickr

One in three people in jail are there for not paying transport tickets

Yep, riding the trains for free in Berlin is not cool, and if your fines add up, you could possibly land in jail. The U-Bahn functions on a kind of honestly policy, so there is no one checking your ticket in the station; although every day, plain clothes ticket inspectors roam the underground ready to catch out any ticket dodgers. Being caught without a valid ticket will earn you a €60 fine and an uncomfortable conversation when you are hauled off the train. Make sure your ticket is also valid for the zone you are travelling in; most inspectors are not sympathetic to any mistakes you make.

Drinking on the U-Bahn – or anywhere in Berlin – is basically allowed, despite the small signs that tell you not to

Berlin is a city where people mind their own business. Thanks to the wonderful unofficial institution that is the späti, grabbing a drink to accompany you on your journey underground is easy. It’s not uncommon to see people sitting on the train with a beer in hand at any given time of the day, and nobody minds – as long as you act respectfully. Which lead to the next tip…

Enjoy the artistic offerings of the underground while you wait for your delayed train © Alexander Rentsch/Flickr

The U-Bahn is OK with you being weird

The Berlin Transport Authority (BVG) wanted to send out the message that it’s not important how you look, where you come from, or what skin color you have – they’re just there to take you from one place to another.

In 2015, BVG released a video campaign that took Europe by storm. The video featured rapper Kazim Akboga in official BVG uniform, riding the underground rapping a tune with the hook “Ist mir egal,” meaning “I don’t care.” What exactly was BVG’s carefree message? That you can ride a horse, do the splits, be a bearded woman, wear a rabbit costume, grate cheese, chop onions, spontaneously striptease, bring a dog in a shark costume, basically – whoever you are, they don’t care. The only thing they care about is that you’ve got a valid ticket to ride the train.

Be whoever you want in Berlin © Sascha Kohlmann/Flickr