Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Playing chicken...in Berlin

No, not that kind of chicken!

One of the interesting cultural phenomenons I have found in Berlin is that giving-way-on-sidewalk-body-language is quite different than what I am used to in the US. This has become of those expat experiences that one takes for granted in their home country because it happens so naturally that one no longer has to think about it.

I can't even count how many times I (or even my small preschooler!) have been knocked over while walking on the sidewalks. The same cues that work in the US don't seem to work here and hence, I have muttered undesirable words like Q-bert under my breath numerous times while being bumped around.

me after walking around Berlin for a few hours minutes

I decided to do a little investigative work and pay close attention to what the people around me do. If you don't want to get bumped on the sidewalk, you can follow my rules but a better bet would be to Ask-A-Berliner!
  1. Don't make eye contact! Eye contact seems to signify you are weak and will give the right of way.
  2. Decide at the last minute. In the US, we step out of the way much earlier to decide who will win have the right-of-way. Don't be fooled by people who you think aren't paying attention! If you watch closely, they never bump anyone!
  3. Only take a small step out of the way at the last minute. No one makes any real effort to move. Everyone only moves the bare minimum just to slip on by.
  4. The old grannies will never move out of the way so just step aside young whipper snapper!
Hopefully, this will keep you free of bumps and bruises but I don't make any guarantees.

Is this the case in the rest of Germany? I could easily see this being just a Berlin thing as they seem that they would (mostly) enjoy bumping into poor unsuspecting foreigners!

What about other countries?


Sarah said...

It's the same in Stuttgart! My worst nightmare is navigating the main shopping (pedestrian) street downtown with the stroller on a Saturday. Because no one moves out of the way for the stroller, so I end up with an arm workout that I did not want from moving the stroller at angles for which it was not constructed, all to get out of the way of others.
I now have a "when in Rome" attitude and do not move out of the way for anyone except the elderly and handicapped people. And have yet to be run over.

sarah1976 said...


Good tips there. Coming from a smaller, far less crowded city, I've never had such a strategic mindset about pedestrianism. I'll give this another once-over next time I'm coming to Berlin.

christina said...

Same where we live too, Yelli. My kids even notice it and they're half German. :-)

AstroYoga said...

Definitely a bit different in Regensburg. It is different here, but there is some eye contact that happens. I have often been given the go ahead by old men who tell me 'Beauty before Age' (in German, of course). I have also noticed that having a child strapped onto my body tends to not only get people to notice me, they also tend to step out of my way more often.

Once on the way up a ramp to a bridge, an old man was approaching at the same time with his bike as I was with the stroller. I backed down and offered him the go-ahead because I was new to getting the stroller up the ramp. He insisted I go first, and when I told him that I needed a little extra time, he said something to the affect of 'Time is something we all should take.' Then he patiently waited while we went up.

But, generally, even the Regensburgers will knock you around on the street.

Expats Again said...

So glad to know it wasn't my imagination or that I had gone invisible here in Munich. I will use your tips.

C said...

One other thing I noticed: saying Entschildigung (Excuse Me) is actually an apology for having bumped someone, not a cue to get out of the way.

IGP Media Group said...

I muster up my breath and let it outta my Southern lungs and say, "KOMME MAL DURCH!!!"

That usually does the trick, except in Neukolln.