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    Der U-Bahn (die Geschichte)

    Der U-Bahn (die Geschichte)

    My friend, Steven Samols, is studying abroad in Berlin. Though I attended the same program in the fall of ’09, Steven has learnt from my mistakes and has been graciously keeping his observations written down. This small passage reminds me that the Berlin subway system (U-Bahn) is one of the more fascinating aspects of the city:
    The Berlin U-Bahn system allows for a fair amount of small personal freedoms but still retains some creepiness of its German past. In one sense, it reflects the socially liberal culture of the city.
    There are, for example, no turnstiles. It is the individual’s responsibility for buying an U-bahn ticket and calculating the risks for not buying one. In the same spirit, drinking any type of alcohol on the U-bahn, at any time of the day or night, is also permitted.
    Surprisingly, this system seems to work. When random ticket checks do occur, nearly everyone seems to have one. Most people who drink on the U-bahn are usually in control of themselves (at least when there isn’t a soccer match going on).
    But there is still something disturbing about the way this system is made to work. The official ticket checkers are always disguised, in plain clothes. So it could be anyone around you. Then when the under-cover official makes his move, by flashing his badge, it looks like a mugging is taking place. Everyone rushes furiously through their bags and wallets to get out their tickets. It feels like a quick race to prove yourself innocent of a crime.
    Looking around me as I get on the train, I usually try to play the game of trying to figure out which person could be the undercover ticket checker. I remember that one in eight East Germans were secretly spying for the state police (Stasi) against their own citizens. The historical comparison of the secret Stasi officers with the secret U-bahn officers has an obviously amusing ironic quality. But then again, maybe the idea of Stasi’s effectiveness is why a remnant of it still exists here.
    What do you make of this?

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    sort of runic rhyme | March 6, 2011 at 4:16 pm

    Highly recommended:

    Nimrod Antal's Kontroll

    about Budapest ticket inspectors who troll the underground rails in teams suddenly faced with passenger suicides and a hooded figure down in the highway catacombs.

    It's good bleak fun about the contradiction of control: to over-control is to be out of control, mostly. Some people succumb to unknowable motivations that compel and propel them to exert it over others, while others don't know why they accept it– or even that they do.

    The psychological is political.

    When I was in Berlin, in the early-mid 80s, before the wall came down, American military personnel were allowed to ride free when in uniform.

    When I was staioned in Mannhiem thay had the same system, though I never heard of the tickets bening checked, but everyone bought one. The multi-language sign explaining this translated the leaglese German word for word into English. Actully the English said, if you parced it to see what it said, was any one found with a validated ticket would pay a 20 mark fine. No one ever tested that.

    When I was in Paris it was obvious that such a system would mean free metro rides

    It's been a long time since I left Germany. Glad to hear they still have the same system. Is the DC Metro for example a preferable system? Ever tried to get a ticket refunded when the turnstile can't read it for some inexplicable reason? Good luck! Perhaps Berliners are not more honest. Perhaps they feel well served by their U-Bahn. Makes it much harder to rationalise cheating.

    Hah. Dude, right. I was there and was clueless and had a ticket but did not stamp it. Everyone on the train was really nice … they were telling me to get off because the undercover cops were there. "You're black," they said (illegal). I said "auslander" to the cop and he said OK. Then I did get it stamped and saw the same cops on my connecting train and they checked and saw I did stamp it. [Without stamping it, it remains like new.]

    Beautiful women in Berlin, maybe a lot of E. Europeans explains it. It really is like some vision of Paris in some era that really never was. Anyway apartments are cheap and the city is nearly as walk-friendly as NYC or Boston. Everyone is artsy or sciencey or just cool.


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