The Berlin public transport experience

… is one of the city’s most popular attractions! For as little as €2.90 you can see for yourself what all the hype is about!
If you live in Berlin chances are that you heavily rely on public transport. The public transport network here is pretty good. In fact, it’s quite similar to that in Tokyo in that there usually are several connections that get you from one place to another, though some might be substantially more convenient than others. There are not many locations within city limits that you cannot reach by bus, tram, subway or train and a brisk walk of usually less than ten minutes – on a day without outages or cancellations, that is. Sure, you might have to change several times – the duck and I sure do – but that just means more opportunities to acquaint yourself with the Berlin-exclusive public transport etiquette (that definitely needs some getting used to, especially if you come straight from Tokyo). When two years ago we would walk around with our phone on permanent silent mode (because we were constantly taking trains and not disturbing your fellow passengers is rule #1 in Tokyo), now there are hardly any days that the duck and I do not get to witness some heated interpersonal drama on the train. Sounds seem to multiply here. I still vividly remember an instance when, in Tokyo, I sat opposite a Japanese businessman whose phone started to buzz. He quietly answered it (which in itself is not a typical reaction by Japanese train etiquette standards), hand in front of his mouth, telling the caller that he is on the train while he hectically bowed in all directions to apologize for the disruption. Because that was such an unusual occurrence he had a big curious audience. Compare that to a train ride the duck and I had two weeks ago where the standard noise level of casual conversations was drowned out by a person who had a Skype chat with their toddler who was watching TV rather than talking to them, all of that with the speakers at max volume! I turned up the volume on my ear-phones, ignoring the warning that pops up whenever you exceed the ‘safe levels’, and still couldn’t understand half of what was said on the podcast I was listening to.

Podcast duck

That’s Berlin public transport for you. Throw in the regular delays and cancellations (my favorite reason by far is wire theft, though the wire problem that initiated the duck and my Ikea odyssey last year was pretty interesting, as well) and the occasional wet seat and you have the ‘Berlin train experience’. The best part of it, at least if you ask the duck and me, is that the BVG (the main public transport company of Berlin) gladly embrace their reputation, as you can tell by some of their humorous commercials.
But all that isn’t really what this post was supposed to be about. Before getting lost in this long exposition, the duck and I actually wanted to share our latest discovery on a Berlin bus that made it truly fancy in our eyes (and I think that after reading about the image that Berlin public transport has you can understand why we were so excited): Continue reading

We’re in the zone

Zone B, to be exact. And that’s exactly what the duck and I want to write about today. Do you remember how we briefly mentioned the zone thing waaaay back when we still were the kind of people/ducks/youknowwhatimean who got lost on their way to Ikea? Well, we are proud to announce that we have graduated to getting lost trying to get from the suburban train platform to the regional train platform at the very. Same. Station. Go us! But that is not the kind of being lost that this post is about. Instead, we want to focus on how you sometimes feel lost when you first try to make sense of the public transit system in a new city (at least the duck and I do. Every time).
In the last few months (during a time that brought you such gems as “yeah, let’s write about salad, that’s, like, totally interesting – newsworthy, even!“) the duck and I could add quite a few trips to Brandenburg to the definitely real book of all our train journeys (for those who are not familiar with German geography: Berlin is one of three city-states out of the 16 German federal states and as such it is located right in the middle of Brandenburg, one of the 13 area states). Since the duck and I aren’t very keen on accidentally dodging the fare, we had to do some research before we moved here, so that now we can pretend to be experts on zones and fares and all that stuff!

zone duck

Look, here’s a picture of the duck studying the zone map, totally understanding what it means!
If you are not as good as the duck is at confidently posing for photos even though you are actually not sure what exactly you are looking at, do read on for an attempt at at least some kind of an explanation of the zone thing:

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Some trains of thought

It’s been a while since we published our last train post. You must think that we’ve lost some of our fascination for Tokyo’s public transportation system, that we’re now used to everything and therefore have stopped wondering.
Well, actually we are pretty used to taking trains in Tokyo and around Japan now; we’ve even experienced our first ride on a Shinkansen! In fact, I fear that we’re too used to how smoothly everything runs here so that our first few train journeys outside Japan will be utterly terrifying. We might even find ourselves missing the warmth that we always feel when we enter a seemingly full train, wondering how the many people who are standing in line behind us are possibly going to fit – until they do, pushing their way in, moving us from our standing space right at the open door all the way to a standing (non-)space with just one or two people between us and the opposite door. In those cases we used to feel a bit uncomfortable. Now, however, we are grateful for the removal of the need to hold on to the handles that, in this area of the train, are far too high up for us to comfortably grab anyway.
Those packed-train-situations make us feel a certain closeness (eheheh) to the usually so distant and anonymous residents of this metropolis and some sort of safety knowing that, in the case of a sudden hard brake, we won’t fall over. Yes, we are weird like that.

Leaving train duck

Because there’s no way I’m taking a photo of the duck in a packed train (I doubt that that would even be physically possible) I attached yet another one of those wonderful duck-poses-at-the-train-station-in-front-of-a-train-photos!
As you might have figured out by the increasingly longer time spans between posts, we’ve gotten rather lazy (and there’s just sooooo much that we want to do before we leave) so that this post has become a rather long one (because my laziness forbids me  to even try and edit it down to a more acceptable length):

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(T)rainy days

After our celebration of spring earlier this week the weather thought that it’d be hilarious to punish us for our optimism by presenting Tokyo with lots of rain and even snow(!) in the past few days. Even though the duck and I usually only like rain when we don’t have to leave the house, sitting on a train (right now), watching and listening to the constant patter of curious raindrops against the wide windows does have its charm and is inspiring us to assemble our favorite train observations from the past few months while we’re sipping at our imaginary cup of hot matcha latte. Today, I thought I’d share some of them with you – only in text form because I’m not that much of a creep that I take photos of random people (well, I do take pictures of their shoes sometimes) – but first, feast your eyes on yet another duck train selfie, this time with a rainy spring backdrop (which also serves as the general theme for today’s snapshots)!

Spring Station Duck

Because rainy weather turns me into a low-key romantic (add the duck and my love for train rides and you have a huge pile of cheese), please proceed at your own risk:

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Tokyo! Snow us what you’ve got!

Snow. It happens about once a year in Tokyo and then lasts for about a day or two, if the duck and I believe the accounts of the people we’ve been talking to. This year, however, seems to have been colder and whiter, at least than the past four (or 48). And, because Tokyo has an efficiently interlinked railroad network, things can get a bit crazy if it snows.

Tokyo Snow 3

Monday, January 21st, Chiyoda City: The sun has set but the snow has kept on falling.

On Monday, the fateful day of all that snow, for example, the duck and I sat on a stopped train for almost an hour. Let me give you some of the backstory first:
It had started to snow in the late morning and kept on snowing until the evening.
Because of that lots of companies sent their employees home early to avoid any potential snow chaos due to worsening of the weather (and, at the same time, they created their own chaos that manifested itself in jam-packed stations in the afternoon with station staff having to turn people away for a few minutes because the platforms had hit capacity). Because of that, when we got on our first train out of three, hours after the advanced rush hour, we were pretty optimistic (there were some delays, but no long-term halts on our lines). However, somewhere close to our destination things slowed down a lot and finally ceased to move at all
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No, the title does not come from sweating. I think. But, the more I think about it, it could…
See, now that we’re in the middle of winter, it’s freakishly cold outside most of the time. But that does not always hold true for your average train journey. Of course, if you are standing right at the doors you should prepare yourself for a metaphorical army of snowmen vigorously attacking you for the duration of the train’s halt at each station. If you have managed to snatch a seat, however, and the train is so crowded that you begin to literally see yourself and the other passengers as sardines in a mobile can – first of all, congratulations! You got a seat! Second of all – you’ll soon feel like a sardine that has been cooked to its buttery perfection because the heaters on the train outdo themselves in attempting to counteract the cold from outside.
As a result you will usually find yourself weighing your options: dressing lightly and freezing on the way to and at the train station (good if you spend more time on the train than outside) or wrapping yourself up and feeling toasty warm outside but like a burning toast on the train (good if you’re going to walk around outside a lot and if the trains are not too crowded so that you could potentially take off your outer layer and ignore the weirded out stares that you might get). What shall it be?

Warm duck

Anyway, that’s not what the title is alluding to. Instead, this post is all about the duck and my on-train entertainment:

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Keeping up the training

Trains. They are still the love of our Japanese life! Since the duck and I take trains pretty regularly now, we’ve had lots of opportunities to make mistakes to learn from and to assemble a rather random set of experiences (and photos of the duck posing at train stations. What a weirdo).


In fact, we have enough individual notes on train-related ideas, observations and experiences to fill a whole feature length screenplay – for the most boring movie ever made.
Anyway, this time, let’s focus on a few of the mistakes and educational experiences the duck and I have made and had in our earlier train days:

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Adventures in train jumping

No, the duck and I haven’t become action heroes (yet), though I would love to think that. Unfortunately, (for now) our only skills consist of powerful jumps to the side when we think we’ve seen a spider or cockroach from the corners of our eyes and fairly good food-catching reflexes if we or someone else dropped something (because food is precious). Those are quite impressive skills but unfortunately not exactly what you seek in an action hero. This post is, instead, about changing trains very fast and inconspicuously. Again, we have also not become super villains, not even regular ones (I hope), we just do not want our lost looks and confused behavior to give us away as the clueless foreigners that we are.


In a previous train post I mentioned that the duck and I always plan out our train journeys so that we end up paying the cheapest fare possible. Well, there also are other reasons that make planning out your journeys and actually looking at all the details, not just the departure and arrival times and transfer stations, important – that we had to learn the hard action-heroes-in-training-way! This is why: Continue reading

Lost in trainslation

Trains. There are lots of them in Tokyo. And by that, I mean LOTS (= so many that you can only get your point across by implying that you are shouting the exact same word you used in the previous sentence to emphasize it – because that’s how language works)! Generally speaking, that’s a great thing because a good rail system means that traveling about by using only public transportation is totally doable. However, this rather good train network, well, networks, also comes with disadvantages: primarily, the the-duck-and-I-will-get-lost-factor is instantly multiplied by ten (minimum). Well, getting lost frequently at least gives the duck more chances to pose for photos because the world really needs to know what the duck looks like, elaborately reading looking at a station map.

Are we lost? I don't know... duck

There are so many things to be said about the Tokyo train system, but in order to not write another exhaustive blog post about transportation, I am going to focus on only a few things that we have noticed so far (well, I tried): Continue reading