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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