One of the most defining things about Berlin (Germany) is that despite its large population (3.5 million citizens), its density is lower than in other European capitals such as London, Madrid or Paris, given that its urban area its simply enormous. With an area of 891 km2, Berlin is even bigger that some countries, which explains why sometimes getting around takes so long, even without leaving the city centre.
Getting from the airport to downtown Berlin is quite easy even if you don’t master the language, although it is true that at first the tube map can be quite intimidating given the great amount of lines forming its network. Still, I strongly recommend following my advice on how to save money and time in your visits, based on the experience I have gained from visiting this city a great number of times.
Airports in Berlin
There are two airports currently operating in Berlin: Tegel and Schönefeld, and up until very recently the Tempelhof (closed in 2008). The location of both terminals makes it impossible for an extension, so there are plans for the inauguration of what will come to be the only and ultimate airport in the city: Berlin-Brandenburg Willy Brandt, a project whose opening has been put back on several occasions and that has not an inauguration date yet.
Once opened, Berlin-Brandenburg Willy Brandt will absorb Tegel and Schönefeld traffic, thus increasing the passenger capacity to 30 million, which will go up to 50 million in the coming years, a figure that is more in line with a world-leading city.
How to get from Tegel to the city centre
Tegel airport has the advantage of being very close to the city but, ironically, there is no connection with the tube (U-Bahn) or the commuter rail network (S-Bahn).
Four bus lines connect the airport with different connection points in Berlin:
- JetExpressBus TXL. Stops: Tegel Airport, Beusselstraße (S-Bahn), Hauptbahnhof (S+U-Bahn), Brandenburger Tor (S+U-Bahn) and Alexanderplatz (S+U-Bahn).
- Bus 109. Stops: Tegel Airport, Jakob-Kaiser-Platz (U-Bahn), Jungfernheide (S+U-Bahn) and Zoologischer Garten (S+U-Bahn).
- Bus 128. Stops: Tegel Airport, Kurt-Schumacher-Platz (U-Bahn), Franz-Neumann-Platz (U-Bahn) and Osloer Straße (U-Bahn).
- X9 JetExpressBus. Stops: Tegel Airport, Jungfernheide (S+U-Bahn) and Zoologischer Garten (S+U-Bahn).
How to get the right ticket and not die trying
Public transport in Berlin sells different kinds of tickets depending on the needs of the traveller, and the range is so wide that you might get confused at first. Therefore, prior to getting into this topic, it is mandatory to understand the rates systems, which is divided into three areas: A, B and C. Zone A comprises the urban city centre, zone B extends as far as the boundaries of the urban territory, and C comprehends the outskirts of Berlin. Tegel airport is located in zone B.
Each ticket lasts for two hours and is accepted in the whole transport network, U-Bahn, S-Bahn, buses and trams. During this period of time, passengers are allowed to move and change between different means of transport, provided that they not exceed the two-hour curfew since the ticket was validated. Validating your ticket is extremely important because travelling with an invalidated ticket is equivalent to travelling without one, which might result in being fined. Remember that there are constant ticket inspections performed by plain cloth ticket collectors.
The main tickets used in the public transport system in Berlin can be found below. Remember that children under 6 travel for free and those between 6 and 14 pay a reduced fare.
- Single ticket AB: 2,70 euros. Reduced: 1,70 euros.
- Single ticket BC: 3,00 euros. Reduced: 2,10 euros.
- Single ticket ABC: 3,30 euros. Reduced: 2,40 euros.
- 4-trip-tickets AB: 9,00 euros. Reduced: 5,60 euros.
- Day ticket AB: Non-transferable ticket that runs from the moment it is validated to 3.00 a.m. on the following day: 6.90 euros. Reduced: 4.70 euros.
- Unlimited 7-day-tickets AB: 29,50 euros. ABC: 36,50 euros.
For more information on all the tickets available check the BVG website, company that manages the Berlin tube.
The same kind of tickets are available at a lower price and are called short-trip tickets (Kurzstreckenkarte Berlin), which you can use for up to three stops in the tube and six if you are travelling by bus or tram. However, distances in Berlin can be so large that in very rare occasions are these tickets truly useful. They are also valid for two hours but they can only be used in one direction.
Tickets can be purchased at ticket machines and in all stations in the transport network, as well as airports and tram stations. The system can be a bit tricky, especially when it comes to paying, because sometimes they do not accept banknotes, so it is convenient to carry coins. Luckily enough, machines can be set up in English, thus making the purchase process a bit easier.
How to get from Schönefeld to the city centre
Unlike Tegel, Schönefeld airport is connected to the commuter rail network (S-Bahn), thus making connection with downtown Berlin a lot simpler. Schönefeld is located in zone C, so you must purchase an ABC ticket to get anywhere in the centre of Berlin. S-Bahn lines S45 and S9 depart from Schönefeld.
Image: Jorge Franganillo
The Schönefeld S-Bahn station has barely 4 ticket machines distributed throughout a long hall before arriving to the platforms. Generally, there are long queues to buy the tickets because the system is not very Customer-friendly, but there is always people willing to help (in exchange for a small donation). Further information in S-Bahn website.
Do not forget to validate your ticket
The transport system in Berlin has no gates or turnstiles so it is easy to forget to validate the ticket. Validating machines are placed along the platforms so if you forget to do it (as it’s happened to me more than once), you can get off the train quickly in the next station and validate it while the train is stopped at the platform. Never travel with an invalidated ticket because the fine might be quite handsome.
It is recently in vogue to resell unused or invalidated banknotes to earn a bit of extra money. Depending on the station and the time, it is not unusual to be approached by a stranger trying to sell you different kinds of unused tickets at a lower price than the original. For instance, I was offered an unlimited day ticket for only 2 euros once, however I personally believe that it is best to purchase an official ticket and not accept one whose authenticity cannot be verified.
S-Bahn commuter trains tend to display information about the next station on the screens, but this is not the case with the U-Bahn tube, where this kind of information is announced over a loudspeaker but not on the screens, so you better be on the lookout.
And if what keeps you awake at night is how to pay in this country, we remind you that the legal tender is Berlin is the Euro. You can easily exchange your currency with Global Exchange.