Trains, planes and public transit systems are at a standstill across much of Germany after unions called a one-day strike over salaries in an effort to win inflation-busting raises for their members.
The 24-hour walkout also affected cargo transport by rail and ship, as workers at the country’s ports and waterways joined the walkout.
Many commuters opted to drive, causing delays on the roads, while those who could worked from home.
Unions are seeking a pay increase of at least 10.5% and have dismissed offers from employers of 5% in two stages plus one-off payments.
“We have recorded drops in real wages and these need to be balanced out,” he told reporters in Berlin, adding that some of his union’s members in larger cities are having to apply for state benefits to afford rent.
Mr Silberbach said that he hoped employers would increase their offer in upcoming talks – otherwise, unions might have to consider an open-ended strike.
Rail company Deutsche Bahn called the union’s demands exaggerated and warned that millions of commuters would be affected.
“The environment and the climate will also suffer in the end. Today’s winners are the oil companies.”
Train tickets that could not be used because of the disruption will remain valid and travellers should check the company’s website for updates, he said.
Labour strikes are a regular occurrence in Germany and normally end in a compromise deal between unions and employers.
The walkout already caused disruption and delays on Sunday, as travellers scrambled to reach their destinations early.