The transportation system here in Berlin has been a huge part of my experience abroad. Like my fellow students, I take it every day to and from our classes in the central district Mitte as well as to any part of the city I want in my spare time. Consequently, I have spent quite a few hours riding the rails and have had time to think a little more deeply about the whole process. To give some context, the system is split into several components: the largely elevated S-Bahn (similar to a monorail), the largely subterranean U-Bahn (similar to a subway), street trams in the eastern half of the city, a large number of buses (149 routes during the day and 63 at night), and even a few ferries. Regional trains also pass through Berlin as part of a larger German network and special S-Bahn trains nicknamed the “Ring-Bahn” circle the central part of the city. Needless to say, this system is quite comprehensive, especially when compared to anything I’ve used in the past.
Barring a few minor delays or other disturbances, the entire system works remarkably well, with safe and clean facilities, a strict schedule, and a transit network covering essentially the entirety of Berlin. There is a high degree of freedom conferred by this network, especially with our all-inclusive transit passes. In typically around 30-40 minutes, you can essentially get anywhere in or close to the city with only a few transfers on the way. A relatively quick trip to the Wannsee lakes or even the palaces of Potsdam is always a possibility. We’ve been able to go to field trips all over the city, often without even running over our allotted class time. Without the transit network, exploring such a large and interesting city as Berlin would be especially daunting.
Back in the US, with the exception of very large cities, good public transit is largely non-existent. Even when systems are present, they are sometimes quite dingy or have a certain reputation. Those who can afford to take their cars often do, leaving primarily those with a low income or a particularly environmental conscience (who are typically on their bikes anyway) to take public transit. Here in Germany, there are certainly a large number of bikers, but people from all walks of life can be found on the S-Bahn or U-Bahn, from fellow tourists and students to native Berliners headed to the daily grind. Part of this is simply that the transit system is so cheap, easy to use, and efficient while taking a car into the city could prove a hassle. However, I think this phenomenon works hand in hand with the German welfare state. With insurance and education almost exclusively provided by the state, it follows that transportation would be as well. While I’m sure building such systems could be impractical for any number of reasons, I think we could all stand to have such a great resource available for the general public.