A Foreigner’s Guide to Public Transport in Germany

public transportation in germany

“A developed country is not a place where the poor have cars. It’s where the rich use public transportation.” Mayor of Bogota

Public transport in Germany is outstanding, covering effectively regions inside the big cities, interconnecting cities as well as connecting smaller towns along the way. Its excellent reputation refers to it being reliable, comfortable and relatively fast. Albeit the fact that Germans are known to be car lovers, most citizens living inside big cities, especially expats choose to use public transport in their everyday lives. Bigger cities offer various types of public transportation compared to smaller towns yet even in the smallest towns there is at least a bus system. The information on schedules, ticket fees and possible discounts are elaborately presented on the respective official websites.

Modes of Transportation

The major cities feature four distinct types of public transportation. The fastest and vastly used is the Rapid transit system involving five U-Bahn systems covering the city center and thirteen S-Bahn systems that operate underground in the city center and over ground towards the suburbs.

Public transport is enforced also by Straßenbahn (tramlines) and the bus system.

Buses are a great way of transportation at night time. Though they are cheaper compared to a cab and to be found in the middle of the night, they tend to be pretty slow and not so comfortable. On the other hand tramlines, have a higher capacity than buses, they are faster since they run on their own tracks yet they have a predetermined line therefore they lack flexibility.

U-Bahn (subway/underground)

Most of Germany’s metropolitan areas have the Untergrundbahn also known as U-Bahn, the underground rapid transit. In the most central areas they run underground raising at ground level as they get closer to the periphery.

The lines are systematically organized and numbered with a U followed by the corresponding number meanwhile they operate quite frequently, every 5 to 15 min.

S-Bahn (suburban commuter rail)

This is the railway that operates within city center traffic including the suburbs and nearby towns. There express trains travelling from the city center deep into the periphery work flawlessly in the bigger cities such as  Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, Frankfurt-Mainz-Wiesbaden, Stuttgart, Cologne-Düsseldorf-Ruhr District, Nuremburg, Dresden, Leipzig-Halle, Mannheim-Heidelberg-Karlsruhe, Magdeburg, and Rostock.

In the largest cities the S-Bahn standard is quite similar to the metro system. Service is relatively frequent every 20-30 min. The train, after making several stops in and around the city center, prologues its way towards the suburbia.

Service in the weekdays differs from that of weekends, it vastly condensed particularly on Sundays and during holidays.

public transport in germany

Bus

Bus stops in Germany are marked with a capital H. The bigger the city, the number of bus systems operating in it increases. Berlin has several bus systems operating simultaneously, and as other large cities it has a night bus service. Instead smaller towns operate under the GermanRail system.

Straßenbahn/Trambahn (streetcar/tram)

Most cities, especially the eastern ones have this type of over ground transportation. In the major cities it even goes underground in the central part, obviously avoiding the overpopulated parts. It even has a nickname, the tube.

public transport in Germany

Stadtbahn (light rail)

Similar to the U-Bahn, yet operating mainly in the suburbia and over ground some of the large cities have also this means of transportation called Stadtbahn or light rail. This servise has an exclusive predetermined unique way which makes it faster than the Trahmbahn.
The frequency is flattering as well running every 10-20min.

The Stadtbahn stations are marked with the same U as U-Bahns, an ideal situation for confusion however they have Stadtbahn written below.

Ticket Fees

Tickets come in one time pass, a daily pass, weekly pas and a monthly pass.

With a valid ticket one has access to all public transport inside the city: S-Bahn, U-Bahn, buses, trams and ferries.

Tickets are bought at ticket machines on the platforms of S-and U-Bahn stations which fortunately for expats are multilingual. In buses the money is given to the bus driver pretty old school while in trams you get the ticket from the machines machines inside the trains.

Tickets must be validated before the journey.  This is done by going at the yellow or red boxes on the platforms to get them stamped. In buses or trams the person in charge does it manually. In case of inspection, a ticket that is not stamped is invalid and you are charged around a 40 Euro fine.

Travelling with a dog is possible under the certain conditions; the dog has to be leashed and wearing a schnozzle (mouth-mask). If the dog is small enough to hold it, the size of a cat really it can ride without a ticket whereas for big dogs a ticket of 1.5 euros is usually paid.