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German MNers help needed

(5 Posts)
Notreally1 Tue 30-Jun-15 16:29:09

Apologies if this is not the right place to post this.

We just came back from holiday in Berlin and on our last day there mistakenly bought Berlin Zone AB tickets rather than ABC to go to the airport. OH and I don't speak a word of German and it was an honest mistake, bearing in mind that the ABC tickets costs 60 cents extra each. A train inspector came along, checked our tickets and fined us for not having tickets at all (80 Euros for the both of us) despite us trying to explain over and over that it was an honest mistake and offering to buy new tickets at the next station. Even everybody on the train started arguing with him that it was not fair. He insisted on issuing us both fines, we didn't have cash on us so they took our address to post us details to wire the money to them. We intend to pay the fines, but I was hoping somebody could help us dispute it with DBahn as we are clearly tourists and did not evade buying tickets. Is there a way to do so? and if there is, is it likely to be fruitful?

All help much appreciated.

serenmoon Tue 30-Jun-15 16:36:17

Have you actually received the fine yet? You might find they never actually bother to send it to overseas addresses. In which case I'd not do anything. In my experience the inspectors are usually good with tourists, it sounds like you got a horrible one. Was it actually Deutsche Bahn? Or was it a local service?

serenmoon Tue 30-Jun-15 16:40:51

You could email them. You can do it in English, www.s-bahn-berlin.de/en/contact
But, I'd wait to see if a bill ever does turn up first. It's fairly standard for people not to pay on the spot and instead give their details. When it gets processed someone may well sift out the non-German ones. You were technically in the wrong though so I'd be apologetic in the email, say it was a genuine mistake, you won't do it again, you love German trains etc etc.

Archfarchnad Tue 30-Jun-15 16:59:04

Hi not really, I've lived in Berlin for many a year and had plenty of dealings with the local transport people over the years. Sorry your experience fo Berlin ended so badly.

If you were supposed to have ABC tickets you will have been going to Schönefeld Airport (presumably to get an Easyjet flight back). Can you remember, were you on an S-Bahn local train or a proper Deutsche Bahn regional train? Was it the express train from Friedrichstrasse? That's almost all tourists going to the airport, isn't it?

In all honesty, no, they're unlikely to let you off. The train inspectors on the S-Bahn have been utter buggers in recent years, perhaps they're on a bonus system. My DD has an AB season ticket for travel to school and recently visited a friend in the C zone, bought a B-to-C converter ticket but forgot to stamp it to make it valid, and they still fined her (even though she'd bought the right ticket). The difference is that if you have a season ticket and get something wrong they only fine you about 7 euros - a sort of loyalty reward. The real punishment is that you have to go in person across town to pay that 7 euros. If you have no season ticket they whack you with the full 40 euros per person, no exceptions. There are huge numbers of tourists in Berlin and if it got round that tourists were claiming ignorance and being let off fines, nobody would ever buy a ticket.

They have a call centre if you want to have a rant, but good luck on getting through to someone who speaks good enough English. They have enough trouble speaking proper German [that's a sly dig about the dialect spoken here]. Try pointing out that you didn't understand the ABC system at all because the explanations given on the machine were so poor. It won't help you personally, but it might help some poor sods in the future if they improve the signage.

The other thing is what they're going to do about it if you don't actually pay. I have no idea if or how they chase it up when foreign tourists in other countries don't pay a small fine. What I do know is that they keep records of non-payers and if they ever catch you again will actually attempt to prosecute. I know of one American resident who was hauled off to prison and then deported because of a series of unpaid travel fines. So I think you're right to just pay as planned and chalk it down to bad luck that you didn't interpret the stupidly complex system properly. Sorry!

Notreally1 Tue 30-Jun-15 21:41:46

Thanks a lot serenmoon and Archfarchnad!

No, we haven't actually received anything yet but I'm guessing it'll show up soon as I've done a bit of googling. I think it was DBahn because I actually asked the guy who I can contact to dispute this, and he dismissively said contact DBahn. I was so disheartened at the thought of 80 Euros for buying tickets 1.20 Euros cheaper.

Yes, Archfarchnad we were on the express train to Schonefeld to catch an Easyjet flight! Sorry to hear about your DD, that does sound like very harsh punishment to another clearly non-ticket evading person.

I think we were very unlucky with our inspector, it was actually a couple of inspectors - one more sympathetic than the other. I wouldn't blink if we had indeed not bought a ticket or forgotten to validate ours but I thought we were very clearly just clueless tourists with a small child! It's probably not worth evading the fine, as they also scanned our passports and mine is a non-EU passport so will definitely be scrupulously checked at Border control/Visas etc.

I might drop DBahn an email and hope for a response!

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