Berlin U- and S-Bahnen

Berlin’s subway and urban rail systems (U- and S-Bahn, respectively) sprawl across the city like a spiderweb of weeds. The two systems are integrated and can be accessed with the same transit pass. The subway stations are designed with a centre platform flanked by two tunnels. The station names are in a uniform style along the central platform, yet the station name signs along the tunnel walls are diverse and an artistic treat to the eyes. With no consistency to the station designs either, each station we pulled into was like entering a new palatial room. I took many photos of the stations, and once I figure out how to upload my photos to my computer I will post them. Visit the Berlin subway system’s web site here:

Stations overlap with different routes (think of the St. George station on the Toronto subway system which serves both the Bloor-Danforth line as well as the Yonge-University-Spadina line) and the stations which are of the same name but serving different lines are different in design as well. One must read the signs on an U-Bahn platform because the connecting line one may wish to take may not be accessed by that particular staircase. There may be as many as four staircases on a platform, all of which lead to different connecting lines. Mark and I took the U-Bahn so often that we got to learn where to go to catch our connecting subways. When we first arrived, we spent many wasted steps crisscrossing station platforms trying to find the correct staircase to take.

Although the demographic is changing, Germany still has a high percentage of senior citizens and I couldn’t help but wonder how they get around the subway system since so few stations have elevators or escalators (it’s like Paris in that regard). There is so much walking involved in order to make even one connection; I can’t imagine how anyone with a mobility impairment can travel the Berlin subway with ease. What I found even more shocking in the subways was that they are not flush with the platforms. When they arrive into the stations, one either has to step up (and I’m talking about a big step) or, less often, step down into the train. How can someone in a wheelchair get over that step? I did, however, see someone in a motorized wheelchair do this with ease. Some of the subways have white etchings of the Brandenburg Gate covering the entire windows, which made them hard to see out of.

One feature of the U-Bahnen which is consistent throughout the entire system is the male voice recording announcing: “Einsteigen bitte. Zurückbleiben bitte.”. That translates to “Board please. Stand back please.”. I can still hear it playing back in my mind’s ear. Mark and I heard it so many times we feel that we know the guy who recorded it.

S-Bahnen are trains that are above ground. They connect with the U-Bahnen, yet sometimes their connections with the subways are in stations a short walk outside. S-Bahn trains have seats that line the side of the cars as well as seats that either face or have their backs to the direction of travel. U-Bahn cars however only have seats that line the sides of the cars, so you are facing someone at all times. There is not much space between the flanking U-Bahn seats and one finds oneself rubbing knees, sometimes literally, with the person sitting opposite. Both U- and S-Bahn trains require an extra fare for bicycles, and they even require a special “dog fare” if your dog is too big to sit on your lap. I only discovered the latter when I asked, jokingly, if a woman passenger sitting next to me had to pay a special fare for her dog. She answered me with a straight face and said that her dog was small enough to travel for free. The next day when I bought my transit day pass at an automated kiosk I looked for other ticket options and found that the woman was not having me on: you can actually buy a dog pass. While small dogs have no such problem, having a discriminating dog policy based on dog size makes it particularly awkward for large dogs that wish to travel the subway system on their own. How do they manage to put the coins in the kiosk slot with those paws?

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