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Wednesday, July 19, 2006


Even if you don't speak much German, if you use the U-Bahn or S-Bahn a lot in Berlin, there's one word you'll come to know and hate: Pendelverkehr.

Probably the best translation would be something like "shuttle transport", though I don't think there's an exact translation in English. Basically what happens is, that a stretch of line requires repairing (which happens more often than one would like, but is understandable in a network more than a century old, and which has suffered from decades of neglect).

Rather than completely close the affected section, the powers that be closed off one of the tracks for repairs, and run a "shuttle train" (Pendelzug) along the other track. So if you're going from A to Z, the train will run normally until S, where you have to get off, go over the platform and board the train continuing towards Z but running on the wrong track. This will run as far as say P, where - if you're lucky another train will be waiting to take you as normal to Z, or if you're unlucky it too will be a Pendelzug which will take you to G. If you are very, very unlucky there'll be a third Pendelzug, but this is very unusual and I can only recall suffering it once.

Pendelverkehr usually happens late at night from about 10pm, and typically from Sunday to Thursday evening (leaving Friday and Saturday evenings free for nightlife). Or sometimes all weekend. Or in the summer for an entire month or so. Mostly - but not always - ongoing connections are fairly smooth.

Sometimes though it happens like it did last night: all I wanted was to go from Alexanderplatz to Schönhauser Allee, a modest distance of four stops. Waiting at Alexanderplatz I was slightly dismayed to notice that Pendelverkehr was in operation from the next station, Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz, but figured it'd be an over-the-platform-job with no significant delay. Alas I failed to notice the discrete notice mentioning a "20-Minutentakt", e.g. the Pendelzüge were running at 20 minute intervals. Of course this meant there was about a 15 minute wait at Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz, not an attractive option in a hot, stuffy station with nothing to drink. I ended up walking up the length of the Schönhauser Allee, which only took about 10 minutes longer than it would have done with the U-Bahn if I'd waited the 15 minutes. And it was a nice night for a walk too.

Ironically I would normally have taken the tram, but this was suffering a far more evil fate than Pendelverkehr: Schienenersatzverkehr. I'll describe that at a time when I'm feeling more predisposed towards off-season public transport.

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