Free concert tickets, a cup of coffee, even a telephone guardian angel: five little ways to get the most out of life in Berlin.
Walk me home
Berlin's not exactly a hotbed of crime, but it's easy to forget that when you're walking alone at night through the streets of upper Wedding or lower Neukölln. Feel at ease with Heimwegtelefon, a free hotline run by Berliners Anabell Schuchhardt and Frances Berger with the tagline, “Take me home (safe)!”.
Frances, a 31-year-old with an exceptionally friendly, calming voice both in German and English, asked us where we were and where we were going, plotted our route on Google Maps and assured us that if anything happened she'd be able to call the police. Then she chatted with us as if we were an old friend – “Oh, you were at a concert? What kind of music was it?” – until we reached our door.
There’s a catch: since it’s just the two women answering phones right now, you can only call on Fridays and Saturdays between 10pm and 2am – hardly “coming home” hours for Berlin. But they’re looking for volunteers to expand the programme, so if you’re the caring type and feel like sacrificing a weekend night every so often to soothe anxious strangers, consider signing up. RG
Tel 030 1207 4182, www.heimwegtelefon.de
Have one on me
You might've seen the viral Facebook post in which a bystander at a Naples cafe sees a wealthier patron order one coffee for himself and one ”suspended”, the latter of which is redeemed by a homeless man.
The tale tugged at the heartstrings of Jule Eisendick, owner of Neukölln's Cafe Jule, so she registered on the German site suspendedcoffee.de, becoming one of just six Berlin cafes to do so. when a customer orders a suspended (aufgeschobener) coffee, she hangs up a paper heart on a string by the cash register; when another asks for one, she takes a heart down.
Since Eisendick first put the Suspended Coffee sticker on the door in November 2013, approximately 70 people have bought extra coffees, but only about 20 have claimed them. Those remaining cups could go to anyone who walks in, no questions asked... although if you're asking for one just because you don't feel like breaking a €100 bill, you're really expected to ‘pay it forward’ some other time. RG
Share the ride
Hate paying €5.20 just to get to the Kino and back? There’s now a way you can go for free – sort of. In a simple, elegant and perfectly legal strike at the extortionate BVG, NaturFreunde Berlin recently launched the Ticketteilen campaign, which exploits a loophole in BVG guidelines allowing owners of the normal weekly or monthly ticket, the Umweltkarte, to share it with one adult and up to three children free of charge after 8pm on weeknights and at weekends.
All they have to do is put one of the bright yellow campaign buttons on their collar so potential freeloaders can identify them. They’ve distributed an initial amount of 5000 buttons all over Berlin – mostly in lefty bookstores – and so far they’ve been going like hotcakes. We gave it a try, but after a weekend of flashing the button, we were only approached by two people, so it seems that many are still unaware – or maybe just afraid to ask.
But if you have to get somewhere and you’re not in a rush, just take a good look around the platform (legally speaking, the connection must be made before you enter the train). Maybe you’ll find someone kind enough to let you ride along. MH
The cheap seats
Being broke but sophisticated has belonged to the Berlin lifestyle for as long as we can remember, but it's now more possible than ever thanks to Kulturloge, a three-year-old service that gives away free tickets to Berliners who make less than €900 a month.
Registration is surprisingly easy: all you need is proof of low income (the last three months of bank statements will do), a German phone number and an application form, available online or at the organisation’s Pohlstraße office. When signing up, you just cross off the boxes indicating your interests and preferred languages. Once you're registered, volunteers will call you every four to five weeks offering a pair of tickets. If you accept, your name goes on a guest list at the door. It's non-patronising, and even feels a little VIP.
With 270 partner institutions and a whopping 2500 giveaways per month, Kulturloge offers admission to everything from football matches to concerts to kids' programmes. The actual selection’s a bit of a crapshoot: you could get tickets to the Deutsche Oper, or you could be stuck with the “Fuck Hornisschen Orchestra”. Either way it’s free, so call it an opportunity to broaden your cultural horizons. BW
You wake up in a morning-after haze to find your kitchen in disarray, empty Sterni bottles strewn around the room. You’re due yet another trip to the supermarket to get rid of it all, but you're not sure you can move. Berliner Jonas Kakoschke found himself in that position back in 2011 when he came up with Pfandgeben, an online platform that connects bottle owners with local deposit (Pfand) collectors.
Three years after its launch, the site lists hundreds of contact numbers for bottle collectors in every district of Berlin. The collectors – usually students, job seekers or pensioners feeling the pinch – register via SMS with their phone number, neighbourhood, and a nickname. Pfand-owners then browse the online directory to pick a recipient.
If you're a suspicious type you can simply leave your bottles outside your building, but then you'd be depriving yourself of the chance to meet someone like “Der Lange” Peter, a smiley older Neuköllner who came within half an hour of our phone call. AM
Originally published in issue#125 March, 2014.