The Berliner Reading Trains

Good morning Europe

It is 6:30am. Millions of alarm clocks go off throughout the Old Continent. Some people in the major cities got up even earlier not to be stuck in traffic jams. Everyone gets ready for a new day. Parents prepare their kids’ breakfast, students take a coffee to endure three hours of macroeconomics, and salary is the incentive for workers to get out of bed.

Amongst twenty-seven european capitals, one has a distinctive feature. From Monday to Friday, thousands of books will be started and thousands will be finished. To observe this phenomenon, you need to wake up at early hours.


Every morning on the way to work or to university between 7 and 9am, the public transportation becomes a gigantic reading platform. Thousands of Berliners are cozily settled with all sorts of reading material: 600-page books, e-books, i-Pads, smartphones, newspapers or magazines. This is my favorite time to take the U-Bahn (Berlin’s tube). This is a beautiful scene that I could never be tired of watching. Students, workers, and business people with completely different dresses and hairstyles are sit next to each other. For those whole two hours, you are in the common department of the Humboldt library and the BVG (Berlin’s transportation system). That could explain why books are sold in the vending machines on the platforms – which is something I have only seen in Germany so far.

Unfortunately after 9am the tourists start taking over the city. This is Disneyland all around. Adding to the terrible atmosphere, fake musicians invade the quietness and sing words they do not even understand: “Hit the road Jack“. Regular readers know they cannot read until the next station and they stare at this band as if they wanted to emphasize “don’t you come back no more, no more, no more“. Sadly, the receivers do not properly decipher the message as they keep coming day after day. They are terrifying for your ears. If you want to avoid that, do not take the U2. The real musicians are to be found in the corners of U-Bahn stations and in the S-Bahns. They have real instruments, sometimes unsual ones, and play them like if you were in a concert. They are the ones who really deserve your coins.

Then comes 5pm. Tired tourists get on trains to go back to their hotels whilst Berliner workers go back home. The gigantic library opens again. Believe me, this is a spectacle you want to see. I am amazed at how German are always so practical in everything they do. Instead of using their commuting time to daydream, talk out loud on the phone about nothing or flirt with the cute girls, they read! This is sad that tourists do not comprehend this. If you are also a book-fan, you understand how good it feels to wait for the end of the working-day to keep on reading what happens in the next chapters. You want your quiet, private and adventurous moment.

Dear non-Berliners, if you ever plan on coming to visit the city, I beg you to please respect these open-libraries. Take a book yourself or your tablet computer to read my newest posts, and join the Bahn-readers community!

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Oh, reading on the U-Bahn… one time I was on the U9, quietly reading my book. This strange old man who was sitting next to me tried to strike up a conversation – quite unsuccessfully, as I really wanted to be left alone reading my book. He then commented: “Don’t you think reading on the train makes people kind of unsocial?”
So glad you understand :))
Beautiful post, thank you!!


Hi Nat, ionce looked at one of the bad abd musicians with so much anger that he lost his mojo and decleared: “I cant sing anymore”. I was very proud. i like your U-Bahn library observations.


I love this because it is so true! I myself have read at least 5 or 6 books just from sitting on the bahns and buses. Its a good use of time. You’d be surprised how much you can get done in transit.


A girl told me exactly the same thing yesterday. I myself regret to have only 3 stations to my school – I should think about moving. Berlin misses you. xx


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