Allow me to tell you about my evening.
It started off like any typical Friday night for me in Berlin, I met up with a friend to discuss…applying for city funding!
We both run art/tech organizations and, well, the funding application deadline is coming up soon!
Exciting as our meeting was, however, this is not what my story’s about.
I wanna tell you about what happened afterwards.
So I board the U8 train at Schönleinstrasse.
I find a seat and begin to jot down notes.
I’m super excited about all my upcoming plans for the school but how to explain it to a jury.
Next thing I know, the train stops at Gesundbrunnen.
I’m only half paying attention to all the sounds and movement, mostly I’m inside my own head.
At some point, I hear a high-pitched voice yelling, “Nicht schlagen, nicht schlagen.”
(No hitting, no hitting).
Lost in my own thoughts, my reaction is slow. I finally direct my attention to the screaming only to see that just outside the train a man is being punched, and the guy who punched him is running along with another guy, while a bigger guy remains standing near him.
Let me go backwards a second.
Earlier in the day I saw two young girls sitting on a bench, screaming. I couldn’t tell for the life of me if it was something serious or if they were just laughing loudly, their long hair almost covering their faces entirely.
Eventually, they got up and left.
I also saw one kid punching another kid in the arm. He didn’t seem happy about it but at least it seemed they were part of large group of “friends” who were all being pretty rowdy.
And so this is how it is. We see things all day long we don’t quite understand. I often find myself thanking god I’m not a kid anymore. Or being glad to not have “those kinds” of friends.
Anyway, back to my story.
So the man who was hit screamed down the station at the guy who hit him, and then suddenly turned to jump inside the train just before the doors closed. But the guy standing next to him, the big guy, grabbed hold of his jacket, preventing him from leaving.
The train doors closed. Upon closer inspection (a few split seconds really), I realised that the man who was hit had dark skin, while all the others were, for lack of a better term, white guys.
For a split second I wondered if the big guy holding the man back was his friend. The train began exiting the station. I quickly calculated in my mind, something about that scene was not right.
As the train sped away, the woman who’d been screaming was speaking loudly to the man sitting in front of her about the situation, but he seemed not to care. A few girls sitting near me who’d seen at least some of what I’d seen if not more, looked at each other and talked amongst themselves. I felt overwhelmed by the feeling that we’d all just witnessed something terrible and nobody did much of anything to stop it.
As the train arrived at the next station, I looked to see how soon the train going back to Gesundbrunnen would arrive.
I got out of the train and walked to the other side.
I had to go back and see if the guy was ok. I imagined a few scenarios.
1. No one would be there. It would be chalked up to some shitty but all too common event, young people being young people.
2. The man would still be there, alone, possibly hurt.
3. The fighting would all still be going on and someone would have to intervene.
I put my notebook in my backpack so I would have my hands free.
I didn’t know what I was gonna do or if I could do anything. At the very least I thought I could use my phone to take pictures of the guys so they could later be identified.
Of course, I did also think about how ridiculous it seemed in a way.
I’m small. If they were all still in the midst of fighting, what could I really do. Maybe they would turn and start hitting me.
Nonetheless, the train arrived and I got on.
It seemed like forever before the doors finally closed. But finally the train was on its way.
I arrive back at Gesundbrunnen.
At first glance, no sign of anything out of the ordinary. I ran back in the direction of scene.
It seemed all was well again.
But then I saw people staring and following their gaze, I see there they are. Same people. They were still at it.
The tall white guy with the green jacket was still messing with the same poor guy.
What I saw next was almost like a scene in a movie.
The big guy pushes the man who then turns around to see a beer bottle on the ground. He immediately grabs it, smashes it against the wall, and then into the big guy’s arm, all the while screaming at the top of his lungs in a language I do not recognise, but a sound that I do.
I wish I could describe what I was hearing in a way that could be understood.
Have you ever felt terrorized or treated so unjustly that the horror and shock of the experience manifests itself into a brutal and sorrowful scarring sound, emanating from the depths of you? I feel like I witnessed the beginning and end of him.
Just then, the northbound train once again was about to leave. Everyone who’d been watching the scene unfold, jumped into the train. In a split second the train platform went from frenzied to desolate, with the exception of this poor guy standing alone, holding this broken glass bottle, screaming at the top of his lungs in disbelief as the fucking big guy finally ran away.
This man seemed utterly destroyed.
And now for the end of the story.
The train doors begin to close. I stand there holding the doors open, screaming, ‘Come inside the train. Come inside the train’.
Still screaming, still holding the bottle, he began moving closer, towards me.
I said, ‘Come inside, it’s gonna be ok. Come inside.’
Looking down at his hand I say, ‘Please put the bottle down.’
Well, I had to try.
Eventually he made it inside the train.
Some people were visibly freaked out.
He still held the bottle in his hand, as if ready to defend himself again at any moment.
He was still yelling a bit, still in shock.
I walked towards him and asked if he was ok. I said I was so sorry for what happened to him.
He said, “Selbstverteidigung. Nur Selbstverteidigung.” ( Self-defense, only self-defense).
In german, I said I know, I saw it happen. I said I came back to the station because I wanted to make sure he was ok. I asked him to give me the glass. He just put it in his coat pocket instead.
I put my hand on his arm and stroked it gently, like I would a good friend who’d just been hurt.
His face was a bit bloody. He seemed older than I’d originally thought. He’d possibly been drinking a little. Still that would be no excuse for how he was treated.
He put his hand out to shake my hand and said thank you to me. I continued to stroke his arm and speak with him and the two men who were standing near watching over us. I realize as I’m writing this that they were probably standing there next to me to make sure I was protected. Everyone else, when they saw the bottle, walked away.
Finally, I arrived at my train stop.
I looked at the man, pointed to the bottle in his pocket to remind him it was there and said, ‘Be careful.’ Then, I leaned over to give him a hug and said those guys were assholes but you are not.
My thoughts as I waited for my next train:
1. After all he’d just been through, how gentle his handshake felt.
2. How much I hope that he will be ok.
3. How upsetting it is that people come here, make an effort to learn german and integrate into society and still they get treated this way
4. Sometimes we see people fighting or we see something bad going on and we think “It’s none of my business.”
And really this last point is why I’ve felt compelled to write this all down in the first place. I feel the need to say from the bottom of my heart to everyone who will listen — Sometimes it fucking is our business. And when we are called to do so, we need to step up!
If you feel something is unjust, it probably is. Please do something.
If you can’t help stop a fight, at least help someone feel human again.
Let’s all be careful but please please please let’s all be brave.