Alex Feder, Contemporary Berlin, Summer 2011
This might seem like a boring subject for a blog post, but as I was riding the train home today, I realized what an important role the train has played in my time in Berlin. Seeing as I have an atrocious sense of direction, traveling across cities to neighborhoods I’ve never visited has always been really intimidating for me. Even in Chicago I only use one or two El lines. Not so in Berlin. The train system here, consisting of the U-Bahn (mostly underground) S-Bahn (mostly above ground) and Straßenbahn (street cars), is so comprehensive, punctual, and user friendly, that I can honestly say I’m more comfortable navigating Berlin after 10 weeks than I am in Chicago, my hometown.
Aside from making Berlin so much more accessible to me, this city’s trains have also taught me a few important lessons. Berliners are generous when it comes to beggars; there have been numerous times when someone comes onto a train, makes a tired and clearly practiced appeal for loose change, and 2 or 3 people in the car give it to him. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like that home. I’ve also seen musicians of all sorts come on the train, play a little something, and then walk around asking for donations. In the States, I would rarely reach into my pockets for street performers, but here (maybe it’s because Berliners are generally more interested in quality music and culture than what I’m used to at home) I find myself tossing change to these buskers left and right because they’re (usually) SO good.
The trains also give great glimpses into the lives of Berliners (and tourists) from all walks of life. On the weekends you’ll find whole cars full of groups of friends and families with day packs headed out to the lakes to spend the day swimming, running, picnicking and relaxing. Rides in those cars are always great because everyone is in such a great mood. Other times, you’ll be standing in the middle of a tourist group all speaking French or Spanish or sometimes even Hebrew. Once I was sitting on the train with friends and all of a sudden, what must have been 30 little kids, all around 5 or 6 years old, piled onto the S-Bahn with their pre-school teachers right behind. It was an adorable sight to see, and certainly not one I’d expect to see on the El.
And when I think about all the important places in my short “life in Berlin,” I inevitably organize it by train stops. Naturkunde on the U6 was my first apartment, Heinrich-Heine on the U8 is where I live now, a little farther north on the same line at Weinmeister is where I have class now and Oranienburger on the U6 was the stop for class for the first month. Potsdamer Platz is the movie theater, Schlachtensee is the lake where we went for Monika’s birthday, and luckily, I can review all my favorite memories in Berlin with a quick glance at the tattered BVG map I’ve kept in my pocket since day one.