Tres Cabezas in Friedrichshain. Photo: Berlinow

Great Coffee in Friedrichshain


Berliner Bank (file). Photo: Thomas Quine/flickr[source]CC BY 2.0

If you’re going to live in Berlin, one of the first things you’ll need is a German bank account. We’ll explain how you get it.

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After a few days in Germany you realize that quite a few shops refuses to accept your Visa or American Express card. Sure, you can carry around a big pile of cash, but there is an alternative. As soon as you open a German bank account you’ll get a Girocard. This is the card that German shops like.

You’ll also need a German bank account to receive salary, and to pay your bills. A common practice in Germany is Lastschriftzahlung. This means, for example, that your phone company withdraws money for your monthly bill directly from your bank account.

Online banks

Which bank you should choose is up to you. Some of them charges a monthly fee to hold your account while others offers their services for free. Most of the online banks have free accounts. Comdirect is a popular bank where you’ll get both a Girocard and a Visa card for free. They also have an iPhone app where you can check your balance and transfer money. A newcomer is Number26, a completely mobile and digital bank.

Most banks require that you have registered with the authorities before you can open an account with them, but there are exceptions. One of them is DKB, Deutsche Kreditbank. They offer a service similar to Comdirect, with the important difference that you can sign up without a permanent address in Germany, you just use your address in your home country. You can even sign up prior to moving to Berlin, and have your cards and passwords sent to you by mail.

Traditional banks

If walking in to a bank in person is your thing, then you’ll have to choose a traditional bank. You will of course get an online bank as well … and you probably have to pay fee every month. There are a lot of banks to pick from, and some of the more popular include Berliner Sparkasse, Postbank, and Berliner Volksbank. When you choose it’s important to check that there is an office close to where you live or work, and where you can withdraw cash from ATMs (read more below).

Don’t forget…

When you’ve got your account and girocard you might think you’re good to go. But think twice before you withdraw money from an ATM. If the particular ATM is not affiliated with your bank, you might get charged a fee of up to 8 euros for a single withdrawal. That can be some expensive 20 euros… Check with your bank where you can get your cash safely.

A few German banks have their own iPhone apps, but if your bank’s not among them you can probably use the free app OutBank. There is a lite and a pro version, but if you just have one or two accounts you’re fine with the lite version.

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The original version of this article was first published on 2012-02-16.


How to: Get around


Metro, Train, Bus, Tram and Taxi in Berlin


BVG, the public transport company’s homepage in English. Plan your journey and find other useful information.

This map covers the entire U-bahn and S-bahn network.

A tourist flyer for visitors. Find your way to that museum.

The tram network is covering the old East Berlin. On this map you’ll find all lines.

You’ll find all lines, regardless of means of transport, on this map.

The iPhone app Fahrinfo is a perfect travel companion. You can easily check when the next train or bus arrives, find the closest stop, or plan a journey.

The Adenauerplatz metro station in Berlin. Photo: Esbjörn Guwallius/Berlinow

The best way to get to know Berlin is by using it’s public transportation. Learn the metro system by heart, and you’re on your way to mastering the German capital.

This content is also available inSwedish

Berlin has an extensive subway system, known as the U-bahn, as well as the suburban train network S-bahn, along with buses and tram lines. If you know your way around the system, you will get to your destination much faster than by taxi or driving your own car.

A single ride is 2,30 euros. The ticket allows unlimited travel within two hours. You can make as many connections as you need, though return and round trips are not allowed. If you’re just going a few stops you can travel even cheaper. The short distance journey ticket (Kurzstrecke), which is 1,40 euro, takes you three stops with U-bahn or S-bahn or six stops by bus or tram. Connections are allowed between U-bahn and S-bahn. If you’re traveling a lot during one day you might want to go for the day ticket (6,30 euros), and if you’re staying for a whole week you can travel unlimited for 27,20 euros with the seven day ticket. All ticket prices are for Berlin zone A+B.

Ticket controls

If you’re used to the metro system in other large cities around the world you might get surprised when you find out that there’s no turnstiles at the stations. Berlin relies on the honor system, and frequent ticket controls on board. There are both plain clothes and uniformed inspectors that can demand to see your ticket: “Fahrausweis, bitte!”. If you can’t present a valid ticket you’ll have to pay a fine of 40 euros.

And don’t forget to validate your ticket in the small yellow or red boxes on the platform before you board the train, otherwise it’s not valid for travel. You only have to do this once for each ticket.

Get a cab?

If you prefer to ride by yourself, it’s relatively cheap to go by taxi in Berlin. For example, a ride from Rosenthaler Platz to Tegel Airport will cost you around 19 euros, or around 8,50 euros to Berlin’s Hauptbahnhof. A great app is myTaxi, where you can order a cab or get an estimate on how much the fare will be.