Public Transport in Munich, Germany Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Public Transport in Munich, Germany

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The transportation system of Munich consists of four parts: the U-Bahn (Untergrund-Bahn or 'underground train'), the S-Bahn (Schnell-Bahn, 'fast train'), the Tramway (Straßenbahn, or 'tram' for short) and buses. The U-Bahn runs almost completely underground, and the S-Bahn only within the town centre. The system is run by the Münchner Verkehrs und Tarifverbund GmbH, also known as the MVV (pronounced emm-fau-fau), so using public transportation is often referred to as 'taking the MVV'.

The U-Bahn

The U-Bahn network was built in preparation for the 1972 Olympic Games, in order to handle the millions of visitors. Its eight lines cover most of the city's area and outskirts. The constructors placed some emphasis on giving every station an individual appearance, in terms of colours and the shape of the glazed tiles which cover the walls1.

During the day U-Bahns have a fixed schedule, with trains arriving at least every ten minutes, with shorter intervals of seven or five minutes in the morning and evening rush hours. But after midnight, everything changes (see below). A map of the U/S-Bahn lines is available online.

Some important U-Bahn stations are:

Hauptbahnhof (main railway station), Sendlinger Tor, MarienplatzThe main stations in the city centre
Goetheplatz, Poccistraße, TheresienwieseAccess to the Theresienwiese, where the Oktoberfest takes place
Giselastraße, Universität, Münchner FreiheitThe pubs of Schwabing, and the popular Englischer Garten public recreation park
Olympiapark BMW museum, stadium of the 1972 Olympics with football matches, pop concerts, etc.
Messestadt OstAccess to the Messegelände (trade fair centre)

The S-Bahn

S-Bahns have a fixed schedule where trains arrive every 20 minutes, with intervals at night and over the weekend of no longer than 40 minutes. The S-Bahn is not exactly a network, because its tracks are organized as a star: all S-Bahn lines share one common tunnel between Hauptbahnhof and Ostbahnhof (eastern railway station), a part of the so-called Stammstrecke (ie, main trunk), which starts at Pasing. From the ends of the main 'trunk', the S-Bahn lines extend in all compass directions, and never meet again, with very few exceptions.

In particular, there is no such line like the Circle line on the London Underground. This is a nuisance for commuters who, for example, live in the south and work only a few kilometres away to the east or west. They have to first go to Donnersberger Brücke or Ostbahnhof, switch trains and travel all the way back.

In summer, the trains on S-Bahns get very hot due to the lack of air-conditioning. In winter, the S-Bahn is frequently plagued by freezing door locks, causing great annoyance on the part of passengers who want to enter or leave the train. And year after year the MVV apologizes for the inconvenience. In 2000 the MVV bought in some new trains - it remains to be seen what's going to happen in the winter.

Some important S-Bahn stations are:

Hauptbahnhof, OstbahnhofMain stations
Isartor Deutsches Museum (Science and Technology Museum)
Almost all of themA beer garden within walking distance


Tram lines are confined to the inner parts of Munich, where they nearly outnumber the U-Bahns and S-Bahns in terms of line count and stations served. The tram is a good way of seeing the city. Trams and buses do not stop automatically at a station. There are lots of 'request-a-stop' push buttons in the passenger compartments, and drivers will stop if they see passengers waiting at a tram or bus stop.

There is one exception: if a tram doesn't stop as you are waiting at a station, don't worry and have a closer look at it. If it says Sonderfahrt (extra tour) on the front sign then it is most likely that this tram has been rented by the members of a student club, having fun and lots of beer on their very special city tour, and won't let you in.

In general, signs on the front are absolutely accurate on all the MVV's trains, in contrast to the New York City Public Transit System.


Well you know, they are just buses - if you understand how to use them in any other city, you'll understand how to use them in Munich.

Miscellaneous Items

The Difference between Day and Night

Sometime after midnight, the system undergoes a metamorphosis and everything changes. The schedules become different - considerably less frequent; the U-Bahn and some other lines fall asleep completely, and others change the sequence of stations they call at. An outline of these remaining Nachtlinien (night lines) is available online.

Connecting to and from Munich Airport (MUC)

For the first few months after it was open, the new Munich Airport had a reputation of being the first airport in the world which could only be reached by air. The situation improved, and today there are two S-Bahn-lines (S1 and S8) which go to the airport. However, it takes some 40 minutes to get there from Central Station (Hauptbahnhof).

Safety and Security

MVV transportation is very safe, and serious accidents are extremely rare. The platforms below the surface (U/S-Bahn) are patrolled by the security service2, as well as being under video surveillance. You can easily check the latter by lighting a cigarette on such a platform, which will instantly yield an unintelligible response over the PA system. You wouldn't want to check the response of the security services by testing them...

Travelling alone, and travelling late at night does not pose much of a risk, regardless of age or gender. This again contrasts the MVV to the public transport system of New York. However, one thing in common is the severe lack of public toilets.


After leaving a station, loudspeakers will announce the name of the next station. This is often not too useful for foreign tourists, because the acoustic quality is poor and the messages convey more information about the speaking person (Bavarian or Saxon descent, shyness, respiratory diseases) than about the train's destination. Only trams and buses have electronic displays for passenger information. The newer S-Bahn trains have displays as well, but these don't show the name of the next station.


The only thing that is always precisely on schedule is the annual increase of ticket costs. Next in the line come U-Bahns, which are generally accurate to within a minute. Tramways and buses are subject to the traffic situation on the streets, and their punctuality depends on this. S-Bahns are, in short, unpredictable. This is mostly due to the bottleneck between Donnersberger Brücke and Ostbahnhof. If anything happens there, a chain reaction occurs and the S-Bahn system stalls completely.

Information Policy

Apart from bus stops, all stations have loudspeakers distributed along the platforms. But do not expect to be reliably notified about delayed or cancelled trains. For example, when the tramway or S-Bahn employees go on strike, they do it early in the morning, and no train will leave its depot before around 10am. More often than not, passengers waiting on the platform are then being informed by taxi drivers offering their services, and not by the MVV.


A popular activity in summer is to go on long bicycle tours outside the city limits, using the U/S-Bahn for the first stage and hopping from beer garden to Biergarten on the way home.

U/S-Bahns allow a total of six bicycles per carriage, which means two per door area, but none at all are allowed during rush-hours. This makes sense, as more bicycles would severely impede pedestrians in entering and leaving a train. You need an extra ticket for a bicycle, and they are not allowed at all on buses or trams.

Prams and Wheelchairs

There are two hurdles to be negotiated in trying to use a pram or wheelchair on public transport. First, to bridge the gap between the platform and a train, and second, to reach the platform in the first place or to leave the station.

In general, the U-Bahn stands out before all the other services in terms of access. Platforms are on an even level with carriage floors, with only a negligible difference between. But it is recommended to check in advance whether the destination has a lift between the platform and the surface, because there are some that don't.

The S-Bahn has also well-matched-by-height platforms and carriages, but entering or leaving a station is a different story. You can easily become stuck because in some stations escalators only go downwards. Lifts are only found on the main trunk, where S-Bahns run underground. Apart from that, the best you can expect is a ramp with quite a remarkable slope. Prams may be shoved up these with some effort, but wheelchairs are quite likely to topple over or exceed their maximum recommended speed on the way down.

Forget about getting prams onto trams. There is only limited space available, and you must enter at the very first door, within eyesight of the driver.


The MVV offers a variety of tickets with different savings included. Among them are singles, group tickets, 24-hour and multiple-day tickets, with extra versions valid only for limited areas, and for disabled or retired people, children, draftees, and those under the age of 21. Besides, ticket fees for a group of five are also completely included in a weekend ticket3 of Die Bahn.

The so-called Streifenkarte contains ten strips for single rides4: these are always cheaper than single ride tickets.

From the above you can guess that it is not always easy to determine which ticket type is the cheapest for a given set of conditions. A rule of thumb for tourists; if your plans comprise three or more rides on a single day then the 24-hour ticket is cheaper than the Streifenkarte. If you are in company of others, check this against the group ticket (called Partner-Tageskarte which covers up to five adults) and perhaps the Bahn's weekend ticket.


Checks for possession and validity of passengers' tickets come in two varieties:

  • Plain-clothes inspectors who stroll through the trains, show a green ID card and ask everybody for their tickets. Usually some people at the other end of the carriage suddenly acquire pale faces, and an urgent desire to leave at the next station before the team addresses them.

  • Using a task force of some 20 people in security service uniform, plus some policemen, and converting a whole station into an ambush.

1A model of the construction method, as well as the tunnel drilling machine, can be visited in the Deutsches Museum.2They are nicknamed Schwarze Sheriffs, or 'black sheriffs', owing to the colour of their uniforms.3The weekend ticket is a mis-named 24-hour ticket, priced at 35DM, valid for only a Saturday or Sunday, but covers almost all of Germany's railway system, second class on regional trains, allows groups of five to freely ride from 00.00 to 03.00 of the following day, and includes all of the MVV lines.4Beginning at the bottom of the ticket, you count away the number of strips which you need to validate, bend over the rest and insert the whole thing into the validation machine. For the next ride, you start the same procedure from where the validation machine left its mark. Short rides require one strip to be validate, rides stretching over more than two U/S-Bahn stations or four tram/bus stops require two strips. Rides stretching over two or more zones require even more strips. Yes, it is very complicated.

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