Feeling safe in Berlin: KREUZBERG IS MY CASTLE!

4 Jan ’17 by Sara Other, Street Life
After the terrorist attack and the release of vicious crimes in the U-Bahn caught on video, people are talking (again) about the safety of Germany and Berlin in particular. Do we need more local video surveillance? More policing? Politics seem to agree. And I only have some loose thoughts about it.

The other day I looked out of my office window and idly watched the comings and goings at the mosque next door. This mosque has been under construction since forever, but every Friday, you can already hear the hypnotizing Athan. I can see the Turkish and Arab guys from the street ask each other kindly about their families – Salam Habibi wie geht’s der Familie – then move on with their lives. For many, the mosque is only associated with terror, fear and suicide bombs. For me, the mosque is a distant memory of my childhood.

Well, our mosques never looked like this. The mosques we went to were badly carpeted backdoor sheds for lowly immigrants. But their effect was still great: my parents found a community of like-minded people. A community that didn’t shun them for their accents, beliefs or strange food. My parents were Syrian, but the mosques we used to visit were Turkish or North African. I never understood a word, but I understood the food and the prayers.

What the mosque was for my parents, Berlin was to me: a home. A community that accepted me with open arms for what I was and what I wanted, with no questions asked.

I’m not particularly religious. My faith has seen better days. But I do believe in Berlin.  I believe in the people who live here.

The Berlin community isn’t a bunch of friends who are holding hands. But in a treacherous, thundering river of bad realities, Berlin is a bubble that floats on top of it.

This city is historically built on the premise of difference. The outcasts of the world have united here to build a tolerant, safe space for everyone. I’m not sure if that still exists today, but the illusion still works. It doesn’t matter if it’s just a myth. People like Berlin because it stands for “being who you are, as low class and poor as that may be”. Many identify with it, and have learned to live with other outcast cultures and misfits.1

That’s the spirit that keeps giving Berlin its reputation. After the attack on Breitscheidplatz, the media was glorifying the people here for their coolness. That was a bit much, in my opinion. But in all honesty, what else is there to do? Shit happens a lot. And this city’s scars can tell a long and winding story about shit that happened here. You have to have faith in people in order to overcome your fears. Berliners have a lot of faith in their people. I know that. I see it every day.

The other day, I was running in Görlitzer Park and tripped over my own damn feet. Without hesitation, two drug dealers ran up to me, helped me up, asked if I was okay and made sure I had a good laugh before I humbly ran off.

And you know, my Späti guy always cuts me some slack when I’m lacking change.

A while ago, a woman gave a homeless guy in front of Penny a whole pallet of canned raviolis, and he started crying, and she started crying too.

And now all this talk about video cameras. No video camera is going to help me up after someone kicks me down stairs.

If anything, seeing a vicious and violent attack on every media outlet made me feel sad for the people who posted it. Why are you so scared? Why do you keep looking at this, asking for vindication? Obviously I condemn actions like this, but the collective focus on troublesome news is just asking for more trouble. This isn’t Berlins reality. Every day you got out on the street, you face a cheerful, nice city. A place where people live peacefully next to each other. This video distorted reality.

If you don’t feel safe, it’s important to talk to people and take care of each other. Why would you want to give up this sort of safety to virtual surveillance and police. I mean, police: literally people who are only doing their job. Have you seen people doing their job? I appreciate the work of police, but not to the extent where I would want to put my feeling of safety in their hands.

Of course there’s a political agenda behind this video (I’m not going to post or link it, you can find it yourself if you’re out of the loop) and others that have been released recently. Center-right politicians have been pushing for more security measures and surveillance. With those videos released (and not to forget the attack on Breitscheidplatz), even the center-left has to agree. This is a measure to make concessions to the political right. But even my left-ish friends are nodding in agreement.


Until now, everybody was just scared of an abstract threat. Terror and war, nuclear explosions, etc. But a rogue youth who viciously kicks someone down the stairs? That’s tangible! And now your fear is confirmed: this is reality.

And so what if it is?

Reality can be harsh. That’s why a place like Berlin exists: a social utopia – even if it’s just an illusion – where non-conformity and displacement have been transformed into tolerance and freedom. That doesn’t mean we have to ignore the facts. Berlin isn’t always in a comatose, peaceful dream-state. But reality isn’t battled with fear.

What’s that surveillance and policing gonna do when the monster under your bed comes to get you? Random acts of violence are supposed to be prevented, but random acts of violence can’t be prevented exactly because of what they are: random.

If there’s a monster under my bed, I really do not want to know.

Kreuzberg is my castle. Everyday I see those construction workers, the families, the moms and the youths in that mosque. And they are just getting on with their lives as usual.

But nobody shares and posts videos of that. It always either has to be glory or gory.

But Berliners aren’t U-Bahn-Treter, Obdachlosenanzünder and Attentäter.

There’s the odd psychopath. But these videos are still being shared and discussed on my timelines. People are more and more talking about the dangers of Berlin, and how they can’t walk alone at night anymore. They ask to “cut this mans balls off” and to “close the borders”, like they’re scared for their lives. They’re asking, demanding for more safety, and they’re willing to pay the price of hate and bigotry. As if Berlin is a riot zone – in perpetual danger of blowing up. Always on the brink. A hotbed of Nazis and terrorist refugees.

Every day you leave the house and come back unhurt. I’m not even going to bother with the statistics – we know it’s not about numbers anymore. Just let the fact sink in that everyday of your life, your whole existence depends on interactions with others. And lo and behold, every day, you are doing pretty fine. The bus driver didn’t smash the car, the Späti guy didn’t rape you in the back, the mother didn’t put her baby on fire, and the BSR are already salting the icy streets so you don’t trip.

Of course, if people keep living in a virtual reality, then Berlin – our exile of tolerance and freedom and legendary warehouse raves  – is going to be replaced with another bubble: the filter bubble.

Call me a hopeless urban romantic, but I think most of our fears could be managed if people would just talk to each other. I mean you’ve got neighbors, right? Ask them how their family’s doing. Be nice to cashiers. Get up for the old lady in the bus. Don’t park your car like a twat.

I also recommend watching a Holocaust documentary or two. It’s not fair to compare anything to this gruesome part of human history, but maybe if humanity can overcome terrors on unimaginable scales, then maybe – just maybe – we should be optimistic about post-2016.

  1. To some extent, being a misfit is nowadays a competition - something to strive for. That's not what I mean.