I had a revelation while at the German Christmas Market on now at Queen Elizabeth. Two years ago I spent two weeks in Berlin during the period after Christmas and for New Years. I was living in Italy at the time and had taken a trip to see my friend who was living in Berlin. Being at the Christmas market reminded me of a lot of things in Berlin that I loved (and wish desperately were available in Vancouver), Culture, History and a wealth of cute cafes and excellent bars and lounges.
One of the first things I was introduced to in Berlin was their intricate train system, called the S and U Bahn. I realized today that I miss that train system almost as much as I miss the museums and art galleries.
Upon first look at a map of all the train lines it’s overwhelming, I didn’t even try to understand the thing, but my friend who was living there for only a few months at the time swore it gets easy after a couple weeks (with the handy map tucked in your purse).
First thing you notice when you arrive at the platform is that it’s not unlike the Skytrain, it’s a fare pay system that requires you to buy before you get on the train, but there’s not turnstiles to guarantee payment by all passengers, but as our German guide (my friend’s bf) told us, something like 80-90% of people will pay every single time. They do random checks on the trains but it’s by plain-clothed people so you have no idea who could be checking and when. Good old fashion fear (and isn’t the German kind the best?) is their surefire way they get the people to pay. Take note Translink, maybe you wouldn’t need to raise fares each year so the honest riders have to pay the scammers (but to be fair, it has a lot to do with German culture too).
They, like the Canada Line, have electronic signs to inform passengers what trains will be arriving and when. They’re on time and run one every couple of minutes, meaning each trains isn’t that crowded.
The biggest difference and the most advantageous is that it runs all over the city. You may have to make a change or two, but you can depend almost entirely on the train system. Buses are around, but they’re rare, I never took one.
They don’t run all night, except on weekends and holidays… you hear this Translink? There’s an understanding that 4am on a Tuesday night isn’t going to see a lot of passengers but on a Saturday, the need is certainly there. But then again the nightlife (clubs, bars, lounges on every street corner) in Berlin is much more desirable and worthy of staying out for.
Finally, they’re clean and actually really quite, it’s this weird thing about the culture in Berlin, people don’t really talk that much to the people they’re with on trains. I don’t know if I can say the same about smells, but I don’t remember any horrible smells.
Overall, the U and S Bahn, as the stereotype of Germany would have you believe, is just a much more efficient system. I really wish we could have something like that here, because the city could benefit from it, as would the suburbs.
Have you been in another city where the transit system was far better than what we’re given here? Let us know in the comments (leave those cities with far worse systems for another day, that’ll be later this week).