Most Read
    Image 01 Image 02 Image 03

    Der U-Bahn (die Geschichte)

    Der U-Bahn (die Geschichte)

    My friend, Steven Samols, is studying abroad in Berlin. Though I attended the same program in the fall of ’09, Steven has learnt from my mistakes and has been graciously keeping his observations written down. This small passage reminds me that the Berlin subway system (U-Bahn) is one of the more fascinating aspects of the city:
    The Berlin U-Bahn system allows for a fair amount of small personal freedoms but still retains some creepiness of its German past. In one sense, it reflects the socially liberal culture of the city.
    There are, for example, no turnstiles. It is the individual’s responsibility for buying an U-bahn ticket and calculating the risks for not buying one. In the same spirit, drinking any type of alcohol on the U-bahn, at any time of the day or night, is also permitted.
    Surprisingly, this system seems to work. When random ticket checks do occur, nearly everyone seems to have one. Most people who drink on the U-bahn are usually in control of themselves (at least when there isn’t a soccer match going on).
    But there is still something disturbing about the way this system is made to work. The official ticket checkers are always disguised, in plain clothes. So it could be anyone around you. Then when the under-cover official makes his move, by flashing his badge, it looks like a mugging is taking place. Everyone rushes furiously through their bags and wallets to get out their tickets. It feels like a quick race to prove yourself innocent of a crime.
    Looking around me as I get on the train, I usually try to play the game of trying to figure out which person could be the undercover ticket checker. I remember that one in eight East Germans were secretly spying for the state police (Stasi) against their own citizens. The historical comparison of the secret Stasi officers with the secret U-bahn officers has an obviously amusing ironic quality. But then again, maybe the idea of Stasi’s effectiveness is why a remnant of it still exists here.
    What do you make of this?

    Follow me on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube
    Visit the Legal Insurrection Shop on CafePress!

    Bookmark and Share


    Donations tax deductible
    to the full extent allowed by law.


    The UBahn is a great concept because everyone is so used to it and they all (for the most part) follow the rules. Besides — the fine is hurts if you get caught.

    Same for the motorways. Everyone follows the rules. I felt safe driving 230kph knowing that any vehicles I encountered would move out of my way, or they would make room for me to get out of the way of someone going much faster than I.

    Drunk driving is nearly non-existent. last time I was there I was told that if you got caught you lost your license. period. I don't remember how long, but it was long enough to make my work colleague wince when describing the penalty.

    Bumsurf | March 7, 2011 at 11:58 am

    Not everyone is following the rules on the UBahn.

    "Die" U-Bahn, not "der"

    They use the same system in Baltimore on the light rail. It seems to work well enough, most folks I see buy a ticket anyway.

    When I lived in Hamburg, in the early to mid 80s, they had the same system, although I don't remember the checkers (who seldom appeared) being 'undercover.' The few times I can recall, it was a uniformed subway officer who check.

    I do vividly remember the rampant advertising on the subway walls, however. "Ich bin schwarzgefahren. Nie wieder." [I rode without a ticket. Never again.] It was a series of headshots, each with a person holding their right hand in front of their face in shame, saying what they could have bought if they hadn't incurred the fine. Heh heh. Apparently they thought there were enough violators that the issue needed addressing. Still, it wasn't a bad system.

    Leave a Comment

    Leave a Reply

    You must be logged in to post a comment.

    Notify me of followup comments via e-mail (or subscribe without commenting.)

    Font Resize
    Contrast Mode
    Send this to a friend