A couple of weeks ago American student Parker Spall was coming home from a club in Mitte. He tried to catch a train at Mendelssohn-Bartholdy-Park. Spall and his friend were walking along the platform of the U-Bahn station and then:
"Some guy - I don't know if he was homeless, or drunk, or on drugs or something - pushed me into the side of the moving incoming train. I was like whatever, this guy is clearly messed up on something, so I didn't really do anything about it; but then he pushed my friend and I was like that's not okay to do."
Parker confronted the guy in German and then moved on - an unpleasant ending to a night out in Berlin. Still, this incident hasn’t stopped Parker riding the U-Bahn. The only thing he says:
"Late at night I wouldn't acknowledge other people. I wouldn’t go out of my way to talk to a random stranger. Other than that, I’ve been on the U-Bahn 1000 times and never had any trouble."
Parker is not really concerned with safety issues using public transportation in the city - there is video surveillance - but a growing number of Berliners are.
Berlin Police spokesman Winfried Wenzel says, "Overall the sense of threat and uncertainty has increased in Berlin. In light of the Terror attack, the U-Bahn Kicker at Hermannstraße, the incident at Schönleinstrasse where a homeless man was set on fire. Some passengers have the impression that these incidents could happen anywhere, anytime."
The BVG, Berlin’s public transportation provider, and the police have reacted to these concerns with a new patrol.
"Two Police officers and two of the BVG’s security staff team up for this patrol. Altogether five patrols are on duty daily, so 20 people will ensure safety on Berlin’s public transport," says Wenzel.
"The presence of Berlin’s police in local transit already exceeds 160,000 man hours per year. The new patrol adds another 30,000 hours. Some stations will get more attention than others," Wenzel explains.
"The area at Alexanderplatz, with its many thousands of passengers and possibly Kottbusser Tor." "However," he says, "this is not conclusive. The police and the BVG will assess day by day, based on the current situation, where they are needed most."
Every day, 3.5 million people use public transportation in Berlin and Brandenburg. In comparison with other metropolitan cities, says Wenzel, the statistics show that Berlin’s local transit is pretty safe - even if recent incidents convey a different picture. And, coming back to Parker Spall, a native of Chicago:
"I definitely feel much safer here than in Chicago on the public transit at least."