• Germany's news in English

A train ride to nowhere

The Local · 28 Feb 2011, 11:21

Published: 28 Feb 2011 11:21 GMT+01:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Four youths beat a man to within an inch of his life in Berlin and the police examine surveillance video in a U-Bahn metro station to identify them. A few days later, cameras at another station capture images of thugs beating up a homeless man.

Similar images have been collected in Munich and other cities across Germany. These grainy videos document the violent excesses of everyday life on our public transportation.

We only ever see them when the brutality recorded is so excessive and unusual that the victim's testimony does not lead to the capture of the criminals.

But the underground recordings imply something else too: that the dangers you face on a U-Bahn train at night are not so insignificant anymore. Defenders of public transport will of course argue that of the hundreds of thousands of kilometres travelled by hundreds of thousands of passengers, there are very few acts of violence. And they're right, but they’re missing the problem.

Public transportation has more to lose than its reputation. You can suppress the feeling that you no longer feel safe after hours at a metro station, but in Berlin it's hard to escape the impression that the city's public infrastructure is being allowed to fall into zones of lawlessness.

The German capital’s police chief might point to figures that show that the number of violent crimes solved in Berlin is only slightly below that of wealthier Hamburg. He might also talk about the city’s successful handling of repeat youth offenders.

That might all be true enough, but the slogan "We will get you!" is no more effective than the presence of CCTV cameras in stations – they won't deter a thug from committing violence.

No-one really believes that the demand for "another thousand policemen" – which we will hear from our politicians often enough in this election year – can stop the decline of public spaces. But the old "broken windows theory" – which says acceptance of decay, vandalism and misdemeanours automatically leads to more serious crimes – didn’t apply only to New York in its own "poor-but-sexy" days decades ago. It applies just as well to Berlin now.

Story continues below…

It's become normal for the Berlin city government to ignore everything that most law-abiding citizens consider a problem. The police budget has been cut to the point where it has become impossible for officers to react to low-level infractions. And so the city’s public transportation has been abandoned to lawless thugs.

This commentary was published with the kind permission of Berlin newspaper Der Tagesspiegel, where it originally appeared in German. Translation by The Local.

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

12:37 February 28, 2011 by Simon_Kellett
By all mean fix the problem, but I would guess that public transport is a *lot* safer than private transport (e.g. deaths per million km travelled).
15:26 February 28, 2011 by Wobinidan
Wow, that's some class-A fearmongering there, especially at the end. "And so the city¦#39;s public transportation has been abandoned to lawless thugs." How do you even sleep at night knowing that at some point you're going to have to enter the sheer brutality of a Berlin U-bahn?

There is no such thing as a safe city, but in relative terms, Berlin is far safer than London, Paris, Madrid, Rome and most other major European cities. A couple of high profile cases doesn't change that, and you won't scare me.
19:49 February 28, 2011 by William Thirteen
fear & panic sell papers...
21:44 February 28, 2011 by unclesean
someone needs to straighten these punks out...Permanently

21:47 February 28, 2011 by DOZ
Congratulations are in order I see. Germany you are now just like the United States, Britian and Canada. You have officially joined the G3. I am sure Canada will build you a monument like they did for your Nazi Naval Commander.
22:47 February 28, 2011 by aussie_canuck
DOZ what the heck man you really have a hate on for canada..... were you rejected citizenship or something because you think we are nazi loving psychos but im not sure if you know we were fighting them in ww2 lol
13:00 March 1, 2011 by Talonx

Fearmongering at it's finest, if their is any way in which Germany is becoming more like the U.K. or U.S. it's with journalists fearmongering. I'm more afraid of the impact fearmongering will have than getting attacked on the Bahn in Berlin.

1.) The 'broken windows theory' has long been discredited in urban sociology and is only popular among politicians that would rather fix cheap windows than address social ills.

2.) Two attacks does not a trend make!
13:21 March 1, 2011 by Surferjoe
You don't have to be extraordinarily fearful to realize that there is a crisis in our cities with alienated youth. And you don't have to be a conservative to realize that multiculturalism is the benzine that is taking the conflagration to new levels.
13:40 March 1, 2011 by idiot
> You don't have to be extraordinarily fearful to realize that there is a crisis in our cities with alienated youth.

correct, you need to be a blind foolhead or surferjoe to realize that.
14:54 March 1, 2011 by Talonx
@ Surferjoe

The crisis is that the whinny conservative closet-xenophobes can't stomach anything that isn't a white picket fence. They are a bunch of sacless complainers that then have the audacity to blame people who aren't born into privileg.

The "benzine" and "conflagration" are not the foreigners, people who have no power, but the people mongering up fear. Please, don't you join them too.
12:09 March 2, 2011 by Angry_Ami
Well, maybe the problem would be solved already if the "do nothing Berlin senate would spend more money on law enforcement instead of all the the other BS they spend money on, for example the talking trash bins from a few years ago, to the tune of some 50,000€, in NYC they have "transit cops", they ride the trains and patrol the stations, very simple, is there still crime, yes, but the punks think twice when they see a couple cops on the beat, but over here, Germans like always, ignore the problem and hopefully it will go away, and now what do we have? the next gen of youth punk criminals who walk around with impunity, because they know no one will call for help and certainly no one will intervene, that's why you'd better carry a blade and be ready to protect yourself, because nobody else will, end.
15:13 March 2, 2011 by pacali
"the city's public infrastructure is being allowed to fall into zones of lawlessness" They are saying this because of two incidents? Anyways, doesn't this happen everywhere? It probably happens alot more on the streets, but nobody cares because there are no cameras.

I guess I'll have to stop taking the U-Bahn because of a 1 : 3,440,441 chance I might be attacked every year!
17:01 March 2, 2011 by james7
Why aren't there police or plainclothes officers WITH GUNS in the subway to give these punks what they deserve? I guess the politicians don't care because they are riding around in their cars with drivers.
08:53 March 4, 2011 by lordkorner
You can just tell that james7 above is a big dirty harry fan....
17:57 March 4, 2011 by Mark Matis
Comment removed by The Local for breach of our terms.
23:47 March 4, 2011 by Zlik
Drink permitted an all SBahn & Ubahn

Bier...,That's permitted!

Smoking outlawed but it does happen.


As far as the alienated youth, Guess their future with high cost's

as only rich will be able to afford to live in their home city Berlin, for instance.

Ask yourselves whose responsible for this, "'Dismal" Future outlook.

For the aging youth.
01:30 March 6, 2011 by Procons
It may well be time for Europeans to ease off on the ECU concept and can at least half of the so called politicians tapping the gravy train. Those remaining may get the message. Your problems are and will, as history has proven, continue to generate from the middle east and unless you all wake up and smell the roses it will only get worse. Please get some leadership to someone who will at least call a spade a spade and follow up and lead. It is no longer feasable or wise to be following the Bendover Party.
11:32 March 6, 2011 by Kiwiber
Why does The Local insist on writing stories where their evidence is only some examples? Where are the facts about rising crime on public transport?

Because there are two or more instances spaced within a short period, does not mean there is an inherent problem. Perhaps there is, but you need to dig a bit deeper than what's happened in the space of a couple weeks.
00:33 March 7, 2011 by swingCrew
Is it really that bad? I had a friend who studied 2 years in Paris in the 90's, back then I know they were having similar problems. Juveniles have the mentality and its alot more acceptable at that age; but, I haven't the patience for adults taking advantage in the same way. Everyday in the states the idea of free speach grows more transparent? See through!
12:11 March 7, 2011 by Eastard
The question in NOT is it that bad... The question should be how to prevent it from being easy to do and not get caught... If you wait till it is you that it happens to that would be foolish.. Unattended areas with people standing around not riding the train will become crime scenes if it is easy. It takes a special person to beat a homeless person for fun... I saw another comment on this being acceptable since it was a big city and should be accepted... Again, I suggest that acceptance is 95% of the problem in all cities... I would agree that it is common in big cities but strongly disagree that it should be accepted as OK..
Today's headlines
Anger as Berlin scraps 'Armenia genocide' concert in Turkey
The Dresden Symphony Orchestra. Photo: DPA

Germany's foreign ministry Tuesday scrapped a planned symphony performance on the Armenian "genocide" in its Istanbul consulate, sparking accusations that it was caving in to Turkish pressure.

Obama to visit Berlin in last presidential trip to Germany
President Barack Obama and Chancellor Angela Merkel during a Berlin trip in 2013. Photo: DPA.

The White House announced on Tuesday that US President Barack Obama will be paying one last unexpected visit to the German capital - his last before he leaves office.

Hostility towards minorities 'widespread in Bavaria'
A village in southern Bavaria. Photo: DPA.

Hate and hostility towards groups deemed to be different are not just sentiments felt by fringe extremists, a new report on Bavaria shows.

Hated RB Leipzig emerge as shock challengers to Bayern
RB Leipzig. Photo: DPA

RB Leipzig's remarkable unbeaten start to the Bundesliga season has seen them suddenly emerge at the head of the pack chasing reigning champions and league leaders Bayern Munich.

Munich taxi driver in hospital after attack by British tourists
Photo: DPA

A taxi driver had to be hospitalized in Munich on Monday evening after three British tourists refused to pay their fare and then attacked him.

German police carry out nationwide anti-terror raids
Police outside a building in Jena during raids on Tuesday. Photo: DPA

Police forces in five German states carried out raids on Tuesday morning with the aim of tackling the financing of terror groups, police in Thuringia have reported.

The Local List
10 ways German completely messes up your English
Photo: DPA

So you've mastered German, but now it's time to learn English all over again.

Iconic German church being eroded away by human urine
Ulm Minster towering over the rest Ulm surrounding the Danube. Photo: Pixabay

It will now cost you €100 to spend a penny. That’s if you get caught choosing to pee against the world-famous Ulm Minster.

German small arms ammo exports grow ten-fold
Photo: DPA

The government has come in for criticism after new figures revealed that Germany exported ten times the quantity of small arms ammunition in the first half of 2016 as in the same period last year.

14-year-old stabs 'creepy clown' in prank gone wrong
File photo: DPA.

A 16-year-old in Berlin decided he wanted to scare some friends, but his plot backfired in a violent way.

Germany's 10 most weird and wonderful landmarks
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
10 things you never knew about socialist East Germany
How Germans fell in love with America's favourite squash
How I ditched London for Berlin and became a published author
12 clever German idioms that'll make you sound like a pro
23 fascinating facts you never knew about Berlin
9 unmissable events to check out in Germany this October
10 things you never knew about German reunification
10 things you're sure to notice after an Oktoberfest visit
Germany's 10 most Instagram-able places
15 pics that prove Germany is absolutely enchanting in autumn
10 German films you have to watch before you die
6 things about Munich that’ll stay with you forever
10 pieces of German slang you'll never learn in class
Ouch! Naked swimmer hospitalized after angler hooks his penis
Six reasons why Berlin is now known as 'the failed city'
15 tell-tale signs you’ll never quite master German
7 American habits that make Germans very, very uncomfortable
Story of a fugitive cow who outwitted police for weeks before capture
Eleven famous Germans with surnames that'll make your sides split
The best ways to get a visa as an American in Germany
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd