Once you’ve wrapped up the kids, packed snacks, nappies, and clothes and are finally ready to leave the house, it’s time to embark on your next adventure: mastering public transport.
After all, public transport in Munich is easy, right? Well, sort of. It is certainly worth learning the ropes because how else are you going to take part in amazing mom dates, go on a girls’ night out or get away from that endlessly running dish washer? You could drive but parking is not your friend.
Getting a timetable
Editor’s note: Google Maps might not give you all possible routes and information about cancellations or delays might be limited. It’s probably best to have both!
Getting a ticket
Depending on where you start, where you want to go, and how you’re getting there, you will pass through a number of different zones and as a result you need to stamp so many stripes on your Streifenkarte – unless, of course, you’re trying to buy a weekly or monthly ticket… then it’s rings instead of zones and those are different. You get it? Me neither.
I swear that whoever is responsible came up with the most confusing ticketing system just to annoy the tourists. So once you figure it out, have a heart and the next time you see a couple with matching back packs frozen in horror in front of the ticket machine, at least show them how to change the language.
Fortunately us locals, unlike the tourists, just have to figure the zone/ring thing out once so we can get from home to town/work/Krippe – and then never move house or change jobs or schools ever again. Seems doable.
Depending on where you live and how regularly you use public transport, consider getting a weekly or monthly pass called an IsarCard. Some are issued based on which rings you want to travel and some have broad zones – the Innerraum covers the city centre all the way to suburbs like Ottobrunn and Karlsfeld. You can buy a pass online or at almost any ticket machine (not all the ones on buses and trams sell these). Discounts are available for students, those willing to only travel after 9am, and senior citizens. Kids under the age of six ride for free and so does the pram.
It’s true: some buses and most or perhaps all trams have ticket machines on them. It’s a genius idea, but they’re not rolled out consistently – some take cards, bank notes and coins, some don’t take cards, some just take coins. Some sell all kinds of tickets, some just singles or returns. So if you’re running for a tram, you can get a ticket on board – just maybe not the one you really wanted.
Choosing your route
Next up, pick your game. There are buses, trams (overground), U-Bahn (underground/metro/subway trains) and the S-Bahn (also a kind of light rail, which covers greater distances both underground and overground). Oh, and if your mom date runs super late, there are night buses which run on their own special schedule. You can find a PDF map of the U-Bahn and S-Bahn network and a separate map showing the tram and bus routes. Or, again, have a look on GoogleMaps or similar – some online and app mapping services now show public transport routes as an overlay.
Getting on board
Now to the most important question: how do I get this monster of a pram inside the vehicle without facing police charges for causing public uproar?
- Buses – use the second door. There is a spot reserved for people with prams. Some super-duper new buses have another space in the rear, so keep your eyes peeled for the pram symbol by the door.
- Minibuses – the Kleinbus that run on less-travelled routes often have a wheelchair space at either the back or the front but no designated pram space.
- Trams – take either first or last door, again there is a spot for you. There are also some fine modern trams (the 19 route has them often, if you want to go see one) where – hurrah! – every door leads to a pram sanctuary.
- U-Bahn and S-Bahn – get on at any door. Just use your pram as a tank and mow through there.
Getting in and out of stations
Since the U-Bahn and S-Bahn trains run underground in the centre and are often elevated in the suburbs, you need to find the lift in order to get to the platform. Usually there are several exits to a stop and there is only one lift so it might take you a while to locate it. At bigger stations, the lifts tend to also double as public loos, so hold your breath at Marienplatz.
Technically, prams are forbidden on escalators but nobody seems to care much. Should you get caught by the Omapolizei, as Munich’s famous army of interfering grandmothers are known, just mutter “Lift kaputt” which means ‘the lift is broken’ – and in truth, they often are.
Remember: you have the right to be here too
Munich is a big city and it’s also full of Germans. People are in a rush, they’re having a bad day and public transport gets crowded at times (like rush hour and, for some reason, Saturday afternoon). Usually you and your pram are the last ones to get on which means everybody has to move again to make room for you. Stay calm and friendly but know this: you have the right to use this goddam piece of public transport just like everyone else.
There’s one exception: don’t mess with anyone in a wheelchair. Most of the pram spaces are actually priority spaces for wheelchair users so if they need the spot you need to move or get off. Don’t ask, don’t argue, just do it. In trams, the wheelchair spaces are typically at the front; in buses the spot is the one with that back rest thing (that’s what it’s for).
Other than that, be a bit sensitive about not being a total nuisance and obstructing the way. This is a tricky one. Usually a bus fits three prams, a tram fits 2-3 depending and U-Bahn and S-Bahn kind of depends on how full it is as you can cram as many as 4 prams in at one set of doors – as long as no one ever wants to get off. People with prams will often get on even if there is no more room for them. While it’s understandable that you don’t want to wait in the cold for another ten minutes it is technically verboten (forbidden) and the driver might tell you so. Listen to the driver.
It’s also worth knowing that bike trailers are allowed, but again it is ultimately at the driver’s discretion to actually let you on. Most of the times they will give you permission but be prepared to be sent away again.
All in all, the Munich public transport system is a great and efficient way to get around so do use it. Once you’ve started it’s easy enough – I promise!
Karina worked as TV producer before being cursed with two kids. In her previous life she was used to writing. She’s been in Munich for ten years now but still doesn’t undertstand the menu and probably never will. As a German herself, with close ties to the expat community, she provides LMBB with a different angle on life in Munich.
Photo credit: Jessica Gales van Maanen is a family and portrait photographer that frequently gets sidetracked by shooting the world around her while satisfying her wanderlust. Find her here.