Why the Berlin U-Bahn attack video has gone viral

A clip of a man kicking a young woman down a flight of stairs in Berlin has spread across the world. But what is it about the video that has drawn so much attention?

Why the Berlin U-Bahn attack video has gone viral
Screenshot from the video shared by police.

Since the video was released by police last week, the original post on Facebook has been shared thousands of times and gained the attention of international media, as police continue the search despite having identified the culprit.

But especially given the multitude of other shocking and violent videos to be found online, why has this one gripped the public so strongly?
“The video has characteristics that make it attractive to viewers – even though it is of course a horrible scene,” explained Professor Martin Emmer, who specializes in media and communication studies at the Free University of Berlin.
“It shows a very typical, everyday situation that we all could be in. Therefore we feel personally very close to what happened. And that is not only as Berliners. This feeling of ‘that could be me’ affects people as well as fascinates them.”
Emmer added that the fact that the woman, fortunately, did not suffer more tragic consequences – such as death or being maimed – also made the video more shareable.
“If [something worse] had happened, its reach would have been limited because people would rather avoid it and not watch it again.”
The video was unique for the high quality of its images – you can clearly see the face of the perpetrator and his companions. Emmer said that this then provides viewers with a definite person onto which they can project their anger.
The video also played into certain stereotypes of young, drinking men as the attackers, and women as the victims of their violence.
“With such sharp images, we also then have similar images in our minds: ‘Aha, boys with beer bottles.’ This activates stereotypes. It lets us quickly classify the events. These schemas are always easier for our brains to understand – and also stir our fascination.”
Another part of the video that drew outrage from viewers online was how several other young men – who are reportedly relatives of the perpetrator – watch as their comrade attacks the woman. They then walk away, with one of them stopping to pick up a bottle as others near the fallen woman come to her aid.
The reaction of the attacker’s companions has something “unintentionally funny about it, as horrible as it is,” Emmer said.
“That can likewise contribute to the appeal of the video.”
The video has also drawn the ire of some German celebrities, calling for the perpetrator to be hunted down. Two Berliners – including a former bodyguard to stars like Angelina Jolie – offered to pay of thousands of euros in reward money to find the man.
“It is simply the kind of issue that people can gather around. Almost everyone finds something like this to be outrageous. There is no risk in saying: ‘find the culprit!’” said Emmer.
“With celebrities it is also perhaps part of a self-marketing strategy, that they want to be the good ones.
“But I think that this is not strategic, rather it is also something visceral like what other internet users do. There is a construction of a digital ‘I’ – ‘I am good and am helping in the manhunt’. When private people then are offering ‘bounties’, I find this to be an extreme form of such self-glorification.”
Sharing such videos, though, can also have its downsides in that it can make people perceive greater danger in the world than there actually is, Emmer explained.
“Our perception of reality is also shaped by media. It can definitely be that feelings of insecurity, which are bolstered by media use, can influence our view of the world. That plays a part in the ongoing debate about post-factual, because actually violent crime in Germany has for years been on the decline.”
Interview with Martin Emmer by Ulrike von Leszczynski of DPA.

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EXPLAINED: Berlin’s latest Covid rules

In response to rapidly rising Covid-19 infection rates, the Berlin Senate has introduced stricter rules, which came into force on Saturday, November 27th. Here's what you need to know.

A sign in front of a waxing studio in Berlin indicates the rule of the 2G system
A sign in front of a waxing studio indicates the rule of the 2G system with access only for fully vaccinated people and those who can show proof of recovery from Covid-19 as restrictions tighten in Berlin. STEFANIE LOOS / AFP

The Senate agreed on the tougher restrictions on Tuesday, November 23rd with the goal of reducing contacts and mobility, according to State Secretary of Health Martin Matz (SPD).

He explained after the meeting that these measures should slow the increase in Covid-19 infection rates, which was important as “the situation had, unfortunately, deteriorated over the past weeks”, according to media reports.

READ ALSO: Tougher Covid measures needed to stop 100,000 more deaths, warns top German virologist

Essentially, the new rules exclude from much of public life anyone who cannot show proof of vaccination or recovery from Covid-19. You’ll find more details of how different sectors are affected below.

If you haven’t been vaccinated or recovered (2G – geimpft (vaccinated) or genesen (recovered)) from Covid-19, then you can only go into shops for essential supplies, i.e. food shopping in supermarkets or to drugstores and pharmacies.

Many – but not all – of the rules for shopping are the same as those passed in the neighbouring state of Brandenburg in order to avoid promoting ‘shopping tourism’ with different restrictions in different states.

2G applies here, too, as well as the requirement to wear a mask with most places now no longer accepting a negative test for entry. Only minors are exempt from this requirement.

Sport, culture, clubs
Indoor sports halls will off-limits to anyone who hasn’t  been vaccinated or can’t show proof of recovery from Covid-19. 2G is also in force for cultural events, such as plays and concerts, where there’s also a requirement to wear a mask. 

In places where mask-wearing isn’t possible, such as dance clubs, then a negative test and social distancing are required (capacity is capped at 50 percent of the maximum).

Restaurants, bars, pubs (indoors)
You have to wear a mask in all of these places when you come in, leave or move around. You can only take your mask off while you’re sat down. 2G rules also apply here.

Hotels and other types of accommodation 
Restrictions are tougher here, too, with 2G now in force. This means that unvaccinated people can no longer get a room, even if they have a negative test.

For close-contact services, such as hairdressers and beauticians, it’s up to the service providers themselves to decide whether they require customers to wear masks or a negative test.

Football matches and other large-scale events
Rules have changed here, too. From December 1st, capacity will be limited to 5,000 people plus 50 percent of the total potential stadium or arena capacity. And only those who’ve been vaccinated or have recovered from Covid-19 will be allowed in. Masks are also compulsory.

For the Olympic Stadium, this means capacity will be capped at 42,000 spectators and 16,000 for the Alte Försterei stadium. 

3G rules – ie vaccinated, recovered or a negative test – still apply on the U-Bahn, S-Bahn, trams and buses in Berlin. It was not possible to tighten restrictions, Matz said, as the regulations were issued at national level.

According to the German Act on the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases, people have to wear a surgical mask or an FFP2 mask  on public transport.

Christmas markets
The Senate currently has no plans to cancel the capital’s Christmas markets, some of which have been open since Monday. 

According to Matz, 2G rules apply and wearing a mask is compulsory.

Schools and day-care
Pupils will still have to take Covid tests three times a week and, in classes where there are at least two children who test positive in the rapid antigen tests, then tests should be carried out daily for a week.  

Unlike in Brandenburg, there are currently no plans to move away from face-to-face teaching. The child-friendly ‘lollipop’ Covid tests will be made compulsory in day-care centres and parents will be required to confirm that the tests have been carried out. Day-care staff have to document the results.

What about vaccination centres?
Berlin wants to expand these and set up new ones, according to Matz. A new vaccination centre should open in the Ring centre at the end of the week and 50 soldiers from the German army have been helping at the vaccination centre at the Exhibition Centre each day since last week.

The capacity in the new vaccination centre in the Lindencenter in Lichtenberg is expected to be doubled. There are also additional vaccination appointments so that people can get their jabs more quickly. Currently, all appointments are fully booked well into the new year.