Berlin tourism has increased by a staggering 275 per cent since the fall of its infamous Wall 25 years ago. Among foreign visitors to the city, Brits top the bill. At 1.18m they made up the largest number of non-German tourists last year – an increase of 18 per cent over 2012. The vast majority arrive courtesy of budget airlines such as easyJet which uses the increasingly shabby former East Berlin airport Schönefeld (pictured) as its base in the city.
Schönefeld lies on the south-eastern edge of Berlin and it takes roughly three-quarters of a hour to get to and from the city centre by rail. But now Berlin’s rail operators have come up with a new ruse with which to nobble unwitting tourists who use it. Anyone caught without the right ticket for Schönefeld, irrespective of whether they can speak German or not, can be subjected to an immediate and heavy spot fine. A standard Berlin rail ticket covering the city centre’s AB zones costs €2.60 (£2.10). But as the airport lies one stop outside the AB area in zone C, the ticket price goes up to €3.20. Failure to have paid the 60 cents difference results in a €40 fine. There are no signs in English warning of this eventuality. A group of six British students fell victim to this draconian ticket rule the other day.
They found the joint bill for their weekend trip to Berlin suddenly increased by €240. A humourless train guard demanded instant payment. Protests that they were ignorant of the rule cut no ice at all. Berlin relies heavily on tourism for its income. Biting the hands that feed the city is hardly a good idea.