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Taking U-Bahn in Berlin

I thought I should share my experience taking the U-Bahn in Berlin. We were in Berlin and decided to take the subway instead of a taxi so we went down, bought tickets and hopped on the train. A few minutes later two guys in very casual dress started asking for tickets from everyone. When we showed them our tickets, they told us these tickets were for children and were not correct. They told us we had to come with them. We got off the next stop and they began to get very angry with us telling us we had to pay a fine of 60 euro or we were going to jail. At this point I just started walking away when one of them grabbed me and told me I couldn't leave. I kept walking up to the street level and started yelling for the police (in English of course since I don't know any German). When the police finally arrived they told me they were legitimate and we would have to pay the 60 euro on the spot. They suddenly pulled out wireless credit card machines and gave us a receipt for the money!

Posted by
5308 posts

Thanks for posting this, Tony. It's a reminder to everyone to press the British flag icon on unfamiliar transit system ticket machines to get information in English (and we were in Berlin two weeks ago, so I know it's available.) Transit ticket-checkers in many places are plainclothes, but they DO carry official ID.

Posted by
23550 posts

agent Tony Freeman (agent? FBI?)

This is the normal way tickets are checked on those (most) European transit systems which operate on the honour system.

Tickets are not checked all the time at entry or exit but as the vehicle travels along.

They were right, you were wrong. They had a job to do, and you made it harder. You are actually lucky you were not done for resisting.

Where is the scam in all this?

Posted by
15577 posts

I've seen it in Munich, but they showed badges when they got on the car. And everyone else in the car pulled out their tickets.

Posted by
3282 posts

While not a scam in this case, having someone in plain clothes demand €60 from me on the train would make me question their authority as well! They should have been able to provide some sort of official ID instead of just angrily repeating their demand for money.

The light rail train where I live is an honor system as well with random checks to make sure people are buying tickets. But those checks are performed by uniformed inspectors which leave no doubt that they have authority to check you.

Posted by
12099 posts

How did you end with children tickets in the first place?

Posted by
8889 posts

Round here they work in pairs. They are not in uniform so people don't spot them standing on the platform and get off the train. They get on at opposite ends of the carriage, wait for the doors to close then hold up their ID cards and say (in German ) "all tickets please". People then dive into their bags to retrieve tickets. They then work towards the centre of the carriage, checking everybody before the train reaches the next stop.
You probably missed the announcement (in German) and missed the ID they were holding as they checked people.

The size of the fine reflects the frequency of the checks. Because they are only spot checks the fine (€30 per person?) must be enough to be more than the cost of the tickets for all the times you weren’t checked. It was random chance you were checked on your first trip.
And trying to run away was a bad idea. I am surprised you did not have €60 between you.

Posted by
17653 posts

Something doesn't seem right to me.

How do you know the "police" were legitimate and not part of a scam? Of course they had a credit card machine and gave you a receipt, but maybe it's a sophisticated scam. But I don't think Germany is prone to a lot of scams.

What would be helpful would be if we knew where the ticket were from and to and how much you paid. Did the "police" confiscate the tickets? Did the tickets say "Kinder" on them? Did you purchase the tickets from a ticket automat or from a counter?

Posted by
8889 posts

"started asking for tickets from everyone" - yes, and most of the other people on the train would have been locals, who would know if these ticket inspectors were not legitimate. And impersonating the police is a serious criminal offence, they probably called the police because the poster wouldn't pay up.
And, it would say on the credit card bill who got the money. If it was not the Berlin Transport Authority they can be tracked down.

Lee, this is totally legitimate, and calling it a "scam" is an insult. Maybe Tony should apologise for posting this under "Tourist Scams".

Posted by
2353 posts

I'm guessing agent tony was pointing out that even though it looked like a scam and quacked like a scam - it was not a scam.

Posted by
12099 posts

In Germany I have come across undercover police (civilian clothes, ie, in jeans, leather motorcycle jackets) getting on board a S-Bahn or RB train, asking everyone for the tickets. They were in twos, I saw the ID badge dangling from the belt. This was in 2014. I had my Pass, the travel date had already been punched by a controller on a previous ride. True, the announcement is always made in German. One has to pay attention.

Posted by
2 posts

Wow....I didn't think this post would get so many comments. First...for those who care...I'm an insurance agent...pretty boring. Second, I posted it to let people know that a "scam" can mean many things to many people. It turned out to be legitimate...but because it was my first time in Berlin and Germany I didn't know the normal procedure. We did use the machine in English and we clicked the box that said reduced fare ...which we were told in our guide book can be used if you only need one stop. The two train people told us it was for children. When I got home I checked the cost of the ticket we should have bought v. the cost of the ticket we bought and we paid too much but we bought the wrong ticket. The officials didn't care. They wanted us to pay the fine on the spot. At first, they also wanted to take our passports. I told them I'm not giving them my passport. They got extremely angry...that's when I started walking. As soon as they grabbed me, I started yelling for the police.

Posted by
8906 posts

You did the right thing Tony, when in doubt get a uniformed police officer to confirm the inspectors are legit. They had no business laying their hands on you.

These spot inspections can also occur in systems that use barriers, like London and Paris.

Posted by
4468 posts

Note that legally speaking the €60 is not a fine. It is a fare, payable when you are found not to have a valid ticket.

You are also obliged to show the Kontrollers your ID in this situation. If you do not they will usually contact the police.

Posted by
2353 posts

We've seen them on the S-Bahn when we were using our Rail Pass - it threw one of them for a minute - he had to check with his partner. When we've encountered them other places I usually watch what the locals on train were doing and followed suit.

Posted by
4468 posts

There is a 'short-trip' ticket (Kurzstrecken) in Berlin with the following limitations:

up to 3 stations on the metro (U-Bahn) or urban rail (S-Bahn): transfers permitted.
up to 6 stops on the bus or tram: transfers not permitted.

'Reduced fares' (Ermäßigungstarif) are valid for children aged 6 to 14.

Posted by
12099 posts

It looks as though the two train people confirmed what the first 2 police said the tickets were, ie for children. I suppose the police who showed up after the yelling for police had started were there to confirm that the tickets were for children. Both these police would be wearing "Polizei" on their back or on their shoulder patch. Check the should patch.

Posted by
17653 posts

After looking at the website for VBB, I see that the Ermäßigung (reduced) fare is for dogs and, under certain conditions, for Bahn Card holders, as well as children (6-14), so it probably had Ermäßigung, not Kinder, printed on it.

Without seeing the guide book, I can't tell whether you just misinterpreted what the book said or whether the book misled you by interpreting the German different than VBB does. On the website, and I presume also at the ticket machine, VBB refers to "discounted price" and "short-haul tariff". Discounted price tickets are for Bahn Card holders, dogs, and children. Short-haul tickets are for a trip of three stations or less, at a lower price than a ticket valid for the entire zone.

Posted by
23 posts

FWIW, in Munich all the S-Bahn and U-Bahn cars we rode in had signs regarding Schwarzfahren (apologies for any misspelling, still learning German) - riding without a valid fare - and explaining there is a 60 euro fine if you are caught. These posts were in German, English, and a third language (maybe French?).

Everything I've read indicates there are NO exceptions to this, regardless who you are, where you are from, what languages you do or do not speak, whether you had the best intentions or the worst intentions. They don't care, you pay the fine.

Posted by
4468 posts

They are on commission so are unlikely to let anyone off.

Posted by
16827 posts

I observed two 20-something male tourists (sounded US or Canadian) being escorted off the Berlin U-Bahn last year for trying to use one ticket to compete a quick roundtrip. I assume a fine followed. The tourists claimed they thought there was no restiction on how the tickets could be used during their 90(?)-minute validity period

Posted by
5817 posts

There are regularly plain clothes ticket inspectors on London buses.
There are posters on the public transport network advertising the fact that you can't spot them until they start checking for tickets.

I think this is another example where the slight obsession with "scams" is to the detriment of the ordinary traveller. These inspectors were simply doing their job. You made a minor mistake but the "they must be scammers" attitude caused the situation to escalate. You are lucky the situation didn't get much worse.

Posted by
516 posts

I would have been suspicious too, especially the plain clothed part. But on the flip side, a badge or ID and seeing everyone else on the train take out their tickets might be a reassurance that it wasn't a scam (especially if the others were locals). So as a side note, it might be good practice to never be the only one or only one of few, on a train, or if so, move to a carriage with more people to either help you or to observe and follow suit.

Posted by
30958 posts

tony,

Thanks for sharing your story, as it's a good reminder for others on what can happen even with a simple mistake. Paying fines on the spot is quite common in Europe, and I routinely see people get fined when I'm travelling in Italy.