Part 3 — Getting around Berlin, driving on the “wrong” side of the road & living with(out) German

Jason Markotter
10 min readApr 25, 2021


Part 3 — Getting around and about

The Continuation of Part 1Making the move to Berlin and Part 2Settling into life in Berlin: “Sprichst du Deutsch?”


  • I’m considering living in Berlin or anywhere in Germany (and applicable to Europe), and I want to get an idea as to what I am getting myself into — Spoiler alert: A totally manageable adventure.

Trains, Trams, Ubers, E-Bikes, Car-sharing and Scoooota’s (how my daughter says it). There is no shortage of means in which to get from A to B and even C.

Coming from South Africa, the notion of sharing, is regularly confused with “borrowing without paying”. For example, if I put down my phone on a restaurant table and look the other way, the ownership of that device is up-for-debate, it’s essentially owned by whomever picks it up next. So you spend an inordinate time doing the wallet, phone and keys tap dance on your pockets.

Wallet, Phone, Keys — Chamone!

You probably can easily spot a South African traveling, as they’re the ones that look like Meerkats — repeatedly and regularly looking back to see if their things are still in sight at the beach.

Hey Boet, can you still see your kit?

Coming to Europe, where let’s be fair, you should always remain vigilant, it’s just not as likely that someone will take your things the moment you take your eyes off them. We started off with one parent looking after the Pram and all our things — defender of the kit, while the other parent would look after the kids playing at the park. We’d send signals between each other, much like a baseball ear-tap or cap pull — “Yes your wallet is still here” = tug, tug, tap, tap. We’re much less concerned now, but, old habits do die hard!

I recall my colleague recounting in disbelief the story of having forgotten his wallet at a night club in Berlin, to be half-way home realising he had lost it. Thinking it was long gone, he persisted with his journey home completely sure that the wallet was long since taken. Eventually a European colleague persuaded him to go back to check… So having returned to the club, surprisingly there it was, completely untouched and on the counter where he had left it accidentally.

This isn’t normal for me — but I sure do appreciate it. And it leads to what is a sharing community within Europe that trust is implicit and the expectation, rather than a surprise… it’s rather nice.

Sharing Big Expensive Things

So imagine this. You need to get somewhere, and it’s too far to walk. Easy, you get your car keys, get in your car and drive there right?

Nope, not so in Berlin. Owning a car is just one of the many options available. This is the list of available derivatives (depending on your proximity, don’t expect an eBike in the farmlands, but you never know). And every single one has an App and in some case multiple, that allows you to gain entrance/access. Berlin feels like the birth place, or initial test-bed of IoT (Internet of things) e-mobility products!


  • Train/Tram Stations (underground/overland/tram), buses and even ferry’s— In Berlin this is BVG (see the Yellow Snake in the header picture above). Visit Berlin does a great video describing the options, and how to use the service.
  • Taxi/Uber/FreeNow or similar cab-haling services.
  • Car Sharing — unlock and drive using just an app. At least 4 major companies, backed/owned by brands(BMW [ShareNow] , VW [WeShare]) have cars scattered all over major European cities that you can rent on a time/mileage basis. ShareNow, WeShare, Miles. The premise is that you either rent a car by minute/mileage, by collecting the nearest/most sensible vehicle in proximity to you by booking it, walking over to unlock and go. You can “keep” a car for x amount of hours, so that for instance you go somewhere remote, you can ensure the car remains yours until you complete your trip. Essentially there is a plan to suit all, on the day.
Our first venture out after lockdown last year in a ShareNow BMW X2 to Wannsee.
  • eMotoBikes — electric motorbikes, in the vespa style — silently efficient, so make sure you are visible. Try Unu, Tier & emmy.
  • Bicycles — use an app to unlock the bike and get some exercise pedalling… win-win.
Jump Bikes vs. Mobike’s — mechanical doping at it’s finest.
  • eBikes — the gateway drug into suddenly having an uncontrollable desire to upgrade your bicycle to an eBike. Try a Jump or Lime bike — but be warned, you’ll shortly be lusting here , here and here.
  • eScooters — jump on the platform (Jump / Lime / Tier / Bird), twist and go. Loved by tourists, hated by (some) locals, often seen purposefully knocked over to create an eScooter graveyard in protest — still not sure why.
Go home Scooter — you’re Drunk
  • City Exploring Buses — CitySightSeeing etc.
  • Traditional rental models, Europcar, Avis, Sixt but with significantly more options available than what I am used to, and premium specced models, rather than baseline. Note, some rental company’s request 2 years of driving experience, which you may very-well have. So make sure you have a good PDF copy of your SA (or other) drivers license as proof that you have been driving for x years, as additional evidence should this be requested. Unfortunately the German drivers license, albeit valid for 15 years (which is nice), do not denote when you first received your license (in your home country), and in my case with a handwritten sticker on the back displays an issued date that reflects that I only have 15 months experience, as this is when my German license was issued to me.
  • Exotic car rentals — if you really want to experience the unlimited Autobahn, there’s a Porsche for that (a German joke).
  • And of course buying a vehicle. Leasing is popular and designed to remove the pain of “owning” a vehicle, and always having a newish car — sounds great, but of course there are costs to be aware of. You’d need to spend at least the per-month leasing value of what you spend on public/shared transport to justify that purchase (for me). Obviously this depends on your situation and needs that may make avoiding owning a vehicle unavoidable, e.g. proximity to schools, shops, entertainment etc. I am a car lover, and absolute petrol-head, so for me to be convincing myself I don’t need a car, says something for the available options!

Interestingly the one obvious (for me) omission is Electric Skateboards. They are currently illegal in Germany. It doesn’t mean they aren’t around, and also there are occasional active demonstrations (which are legal, go figure) to try and get this rule changed.

So as you can see above, your choices are overwhelming, but also in fairness to the cities efforts, the network of Trains/Trams and Buses are very efficient and thorough. The extras enhance the experience(s), and provide micro-access to the closest hub/station. It’s fun to see a city by bike, but sometimes it’s more efficient to catch an overland to get from East to West quickly.

Ready to go? OK, Open up Google Maps, and decide which is the best way to get from A to B. Google will help you pick the best options as always, with the below options neatly integrated (see screenshot for Lime Scooters), and within the timeline that suits you, and perhaps even the weather considered.

How available are these options — in short very!

Below are the three largest car-hailing services (ShareNow, WeShare, Miles), and just how many options were available within metres of my home on an April afternoon. Electric options, SUV’s, Mini’s and even Vans to help with moving or picking up a big order from IKEA.

Some of the vehicles immediately available for me to rent outside our apartment on an April afternoon.

So what’s it like driving on the “wrong” side of the road?

Initially, weird. Then quickly normal and natural. It’s not the driving on the right that is hard, it’s the depth perception and proximity to other obstacles on the right side of the car is as your brain works overtime to ensure you stay on the “right” side of the road. Once you find that rhythm, it’s really natural and quickly you get used to it.

The next hurdles’ are turning left into a “big intersection” and remembering to not naturally drive into the left lane, that’s an easy mistake to make. And in Europe you need to drive defensively to protect yourself from accidentally cutting off a cyclist on the cycle-path. The wrath you will face I have witnessed, thankfully not first-hand, and it is not pleasant. Pedestrians have the right of way, where in South Africa it’s (completely against the driving code) the opposite.

As a side-note of interest on the topic of pedestrians, “JayWalking” is very frowned upon, and as a parent I get very annoyed (as do most, and they’re not afraid to say out aloud “bad example”). How unfair it is as a parent explaining to young kids, only cross on a green-light for some doos (Ernie Els provides the perfect example) to contradict your message right in front of you.

All-in-all, it has been very pleasant driving in Germany. Traffic flows, people don’t ever sit in the “fast lane”, whether you’re in a Ferrari or Fiat, you stay right and pass left. And the unlimited Autobahn is a dream, considerate, direct, and devoid of dithering. The standards of high-speed driving too is applied consistently, even if you accidentally hold someone up, there is no flashing of lights (at least in what I have seen) and tailgating and undercutting/under-passing. I’m not delusional, and nor should you be, I am sure it happens, it just appears to not happen regularly.

Relax this picture was taken in 2019! One of the best BierGartens. Café am Neuen See in TierGarten. It’s also when I see pictures like this, I remember what we came to Berlin for, amidst this Corona chaos — just look at this place!

Ein Bier Bitte!

If you speak Afrikaans and perhaps Dutch fluently (not a problem I have), there is strong commonality in sentence forms for tense, and some similar words — I don’t know if it helps or confuses, but for my level of Afrikaans (mediocre) I think it has helped. That said this commonality is true of English too (English actually spawned from Germanic) and there are a number of commonly used words borrowed from German!

Living in Berlin, allows you exceptional freedom in getting by without being able to speak German. It’s a very cosmopolitan and international city, where they are used to tourists (before 2020). This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t learn, or at least try.

Imagine being in your home country, and a stranger came to you asking for directions and spoke German. How would you react? You’d probably default to English in the search of some common-ground, but also if you’re not comfortable in English, you’d keep it short, remove the pleasantries and hope to move on soon — in other words appear rude and abrupt…unfairly. That is no different here, there is a reasonable aptitude toward English, but ultimately, this is Germany, and rightfully it’s understandable that if you’re going to live here, you should at least make an effort.

If you can afford the time, and financial outlay (you may even be able to tax deduct) for classes, do it. If you’re with e.g. 10 other people in the same place as you, trying to learn, it’s easier to hear and pick-up words, and practice. Apps like DuoLingo are great, but unless you integrate, you quickly lose everything you gain.

So what’s the best way forward? Lead with German wherever you can. Try and not be disheartened when you do so. You will make mistakes, you will sound totally foreign and many times the person on the other side will just start speaking English as it’s so obvious. But there will be times where you speak in such great German that you’ll find your way a couple of exchanges deeper, where you actually need to excuse yourself as you’re not able to speak to that nuance… progress! The effect, is that you tried, you learned and eventually you’ll conquer — be proud of that. And if the person you’re speaking to isn’t a robot, they’ll appreciate your effort and even help you.

It’s going to take time. Make the effort to switch to German based news and tv, try not translate the German sites. Essentially… “Get Uncomfortable”, it’ll shorten the path to confidence and with practice, mastery!

One place that isn’t great for practicing your German, is in the supermarket checkout. This is non-chit-chat lane. If you were wondering where German efficiency resides — this is where. The cashiers seem to be in a race with you to see how many items they can scan per second, and put you under pressure to pack your bags before feeling the brunt of the next-in-line customer awaiting their “race”. Here is an example.

For the love of everything, if you are emigrating, and going through a huge life change, be easy on yourself, take your time to settle in, and don’t sweat what you can’t control in the learner-ship of new linguistics. Learn the basic sentences that get you out of jail free in the most common interactions — ordering sustenance.

  • Entschuldigung, können wir Englisch sprechen?
  • Nein? Ok, hast sie kaffee?
  • Ich hätte gerne ein Croissant und ein flat white ohne koffeine :)
  • Ich werde mit Karte bezahlen.
  • Vielen dank, schön Tag, tschüss! :)

(The above is my “practiced” German, unchecked and unGoogle Translated)

If you haven’t read prior, this is Part 3 in my series of stories about moving to Berlin, Germany. I hope it resonated with you, and if you’re interested in more, here is Part 1 and Part 2. If you know anyone thinking of moving to Europe Great, Germany Greater, Berlin Greatest! Feel free to share!

Part 4 will be a humdinger — Kids in Berlin! (if there is no link, it’s still being written)

✍️ Jason Markotter 📈