How to Navigate German Public Transport Ticket Machines

How to Navigate German Public Transport Ticket Machines

If you have been to Germany, you know that feeling when your hotel or hostel is 3 miles away and the only way to get there is via public transport and you have no clue how to get a ticket. You immediately step in line behind the other 100 tourists that have no clue how to navigate those red ticket machines and proceed to fumble around for the next half hour trying to get your ticket. That was me too, but from now on, it does not have to be you. Here is exactly how to navigate the German public transport ticket machines, as it turns out, they aren’t as scary as they seem!

1. Don’t go to the First Machine You See

When you first get off the train or plane and need to figure out public transport, you will see people lined up behind the red machines. Do NOT go to the first machine you see with a line. The ticket machines are everywhere, there will be one with no line closer to your departure point. They are multiple at every tram and train stop, use those instead and skip the line. 

2. Change to English

Once you get to an unattended ticket machine, you will be confronted with a screen like the one shown below. The screen is touch screen. The first thing to do is to change the language to English by clicking on the British flag shown on the bottom of the screen.

3. Picking a destination

If you have a specific destination, click on the “To” feature. Type in your destination (the machine should prompt your typing so you won’t have to type out the full name). However, this can be confusing because this only prompts train stations. If you want to travel by tram or bus, I recommend getting a more general pass. 


4. How to get a general pass 

This is the most important tip you will need for getting your ticket. Click on the large box on the bottom of your screen (circled below). 

This will give you all the options for general passes. Most cities within Germany will use a zone system to determine where these passes will allow you to go. Typically, a map will be next to the ticket machine showing the zones of your given German city. Determine whether you need a single or all-day ticket, or strip-ticket (a ticket with multiple stubs, which can be used over several days) then select the designated zone(s). 

All day or single ticket. Select which zone(s) you want to travel to.

Strip Ticket Option. Select how long you want your strip tickets to be valid for on the right.

Note that in Berlin the system is slightly different. Instead of calling zones inner, outer, and xxl as Munich does, they use an alphabetical system. Berlin zones are labeled A, B, and C. In Berlin you can buy passes that either encompass A and B, B and C, or A, B, and C zones. The biggest difference is that Berlin does not offer strip-tickets, meaning that if you do not want to keep buying new tickets, you should buy multiple at once. Here’s a look at the Berlin system:

My recommendation is to buy strip-tickets for cities that offer them. This will allow you the most flexibility when traveling. For Berlin, I would recommend buying multiple AB zone tickets at one time. A and B zones encompass most of Berlin (C zone is mostly residential). This will allow you the most freedom on public transport and means you won’t have to worry about buying new tickets everyday. 

5. Paying

You can pay with cash or credit. For cash, simply put in enough money to cover the fee and the machine will dispense your ticket. If you are paying with credit, the machine will ask for a PIN number. If you do not have a PIN for your credit card simply put in your Postal (ZIP) code to complete the transaction. 

6. Validating your ticket

Once you have completed your transaction and received your ticket there is one final step, validating your ticket. Simply put your ticket into one of the stamping machines located next to the ticket machine. This will make that ticket valid to start a trip sometime in the following two hours. 

The German public transport system works on the honor system. Meaning no one is making sure you are validating or even buying a ticket. However, there are occasional, random, ticket checks. If you are caught without a valid ticket (or no ticket at all) you will be charged with a hefty fine, usually somewhere between 40 and 60 euros. Bottom line, just pay for your ticket, getting caught without one will cost you 20+ times what you would have paid for the ticket. 

Now you are prepared to navigate Germany’s public transport like a pro! For more about Berlin, click here. 

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