Schwarzfahren in Berlin or: How I learnt to take the U-bahn without a ticket (by accident)

“fahrkarte, bitte”


Visitors to Berlin as well as long-term residents will soon encounter one of Berlin’s gang of roving ticket controllers. For those subject to the frequent checks, it’s somewhat surprising that there are only a few hundred prowling Berlin’s U and S-Bahns. They’re easy enough to spot. Look for 2 terribly dressed people who get on through the same door, move to opposite ends of the carriage and then start looking shifty. That’s your cue to jump out the closing doors (if you don’t have a ticket, of course). Once the doors slam shut, said controllers will flop out their ID badges and go hunting, almost always catching at least one person.

What are your options?

If you do decide to embark sans ticket, you have 3 options:

  • Own up.
  • Make a run for it.
  • Be homeless. Controllers never check homeless for the obvious reason that they don’t have a home to send the fine to.

If you are really intent on schwarzfahren, check out this Vice article for ideas.

My own ‘brush with the law’ came last January. The controllers come out in force in the first few days of each month, no doubt hoping to catch those who forget to renew their monthly tickets. I was taking the U6 and arrived at Schwarzkopfstraße (who said controllers were without a sense of poetic justice/tragic wit). The station was under total lockdown. The train stopped, the controllers preceded through the carriage and ticketed everyone. It hit in instantly that I hadn’t renewed my ticket. Busted.

A lot of people fall foul of Berlin’s ticket checkers. Last year, 350,000 were caught and slapped with a €40 fine.
This year, the fine has gone up to €60, payable when travelling without a ticket or when neglecting to validate. validate1

Coming from the UK where taking public transport basically makes you a communist, I’ve really come to appreciate what a real mass transit system looks like. If you’re troubled by the ethical implications or the threat of a fine worries you, buy a ticket…..and be in possession of a better memory than mine.

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