Navigating Berlin’s network of U-Bahn (think of the subway or tube) and S-Bahn (a faster sort of regional train) can be daunting to the newcomer but is actually really easy once you know how.
The first thing to do is to print out a map from the BVG Website or by using this link. The stations are meant to have map handouts available but there are seldom any left and you may find yourself heading over to a ticket counter at one of the bigger stations to get a map (called a stadtplan in German).
The U-Bahn and S-Bahn network operates on something of a trust system. You have to buy a ticket and validate it but you won’t be asked to show it before you get onto a train. Be warned. Plainclothes inspectors regularly do the rounds checking for tickets. The first you’ll see of them will often be one at each end of the carriage showing a small identity card and asking for tickets. If you have not validated yours you will probably get a €40 fine. Pleading ignorance won’t save you.
To buy a ticket you can either go to a ticket office, which you’ll only find at the bigger stations and airports, or you can use the yellow machines that are found at all stations and on trams. All machines will accept coins and cards (credit cards and European EC cards are good) and some take notes. Having change helps as it is a lot quicker than using a card or putting in a note.
When buying a ticket you need to choose your zones, which you can find on the map. Usually you’ll be travelling in Zones AB and to get to Schoenefeld airport you’ll need a zone ABC.
A basic zone AB ticket will cost you €2.10. The ticket is good for 2 hours and allows you to make as many changes as you need (from bus, to tram to U-bahn etc) in a 2 hour period as long as you are travelling in the same direction. In other words don’t try to treat it like a return ticket.
And once again, remember to validate. You do this near the machine where you bought your ticket at a small upright yellow post. Insert the ticket and it will get a date, time and place stamp that starts the clock ticking.