On the platform of the U2 at Bahnhof Zoo
As soon as the subway doors open, a penetrating smell hits you at Bahnhof Zoo. The pigeon droppings, the frying fat,and god knows what else smacks your right in the face. Is it due to a lack of fresh air getting down there or because the fat in the fryers of the snack bars is particularly old is something that many have probably asked themselves. In any case, the equipment there is in use all day long.
But it’s not only underground at Bahnhof Zoo that smells strongly. At the Jebensstraße exit there are always puddles of urine that you have to leap over. Berlin does not provide nearly enough free public toilets, especially not for women. But can you really blame the homeless who have to relieve themselves somewhere. All the same, the puddles of urine and their smell will really take your breath away.
At the Seestrasse/Müllerstrasse intersection
Actually, any major intersection would fit the bill. Berlin is overflowing with cars, jamming up freeways, clogging main roads such as Straße des 17. Juni or Karl-Marx-Allee, parked haphazardly on roadsides, in residential areas. And all of these thousands of cars emit exhaust fumes. Some even leave a trail of black soot behind them, while others spew their toxic gases unnoticed. You don’t notice it that much in the car, when you’re on a bike or on foot, it’s inescapable. Add in the exertion of riding uphill, and that deep breath to get you to the top might leave you nauseated.
The Landwehr Canal after heavy rain
If there is a bit of a downpour in Berlin, then the sewer rats have a problem. The whole system fills up and the excess water is flushed into Berlin’s canals together with everything else that is in the sewers. For the rats this means an agonizing death, for the fish in the Spree and in the canals it means that they have to swim through cloudy turd water – and probably also die. For us Berliners, the negative effects are comparatively small. We just have to repress the fact that we are looking at a stinking broth when we sit down at the Landwehr Canal during the summer.
Any bush near Schlesischer Tor on May 1st
The last time Berlin was out of control on May 1st was 2019 thanks to Corona. In a political sense, though, it hasn’t really gotten crazy for a long time – the times when there was street fighting in Kreuzberg on Labor Day are long gone. There is sadly no more burning or barricades. To take the wind out of the sails of the political protest, the Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg district introduced the Mayfest in 2003 with concerts, parties and lots of food. Until the forced Corona break, popularity grew as did the number of people pissing in bushes. And if we remember that Kreuzberg isn’t always the cleanest of suburbs, it’s no surprise that those bushes can get nasty. Yours truly almost stepped on a raw chicken three years ago on May Day (while looking for a bush to pee on).
You can hardly avoid homelessness and misery in a city like Berlin – and as long as nothing fundamentally changes in our world and in our system, it is also unavoidable that people end up on the streets (anyone up for a general strike btw?). It makes sense then, that people down on their luck look for places where they can escape the horrors of life on the street. They seek places to sleep, to drink, imbibe – not to annoy others, but out of necessity. Nevertheless, the acrid smell of urine on Schönleinstrasse is one of those things in Berlin that you endure with pressed lips. It’s similar, of course, one station further on at Kotti – or Kotzi, as some affectionately call it.
Weiße See in late summer
Most of them probably learned about it in biology. An entire lake ecosystem can be disrupted if it is too warm and too much organic material ends up in it. If there are thousands of people who regularly bathe in the lake and the lake has no fresh water source, things are looking bad for the lake by the end of summer. All of the above applies to the Weißer See. And the small lake in the middle of the city smells accordingly in August. Let’s not forget the drought over recent years. Every year the lake loses volume and it’s even visible at the shoreline, which receded more and more. The summer of 2021 was still a little better than in previous years, because a deep well has been pumping fresh groundwater into the lake since June of that year.
The public toilets in Mauerpark
Mauerpark is one of the most popular in Berlin. During the week, people from Wedding, Mitte and Prenzlauer Berg come to enjoy the park. A wide variety of people with incomes that could hardly be further apart meet there. In Mauerpark, Turkish families have a barbecue, testosterone-fuelled guys play basketball, bands perform their latest pieces (or white boys with guitars bashing out “Wonderwall” for the ten thousandth time) and next to them the drummers trying to drown them out. On Sundays the whole thing goes even further downhill when the tourists come, the hustle and bustle becomes more confusing, the bands get louder and let’s not forget the flea market.
At least since the park expansion, there is now a public toilet. However, it looks and smells like swamp.
The Stadtschloss has repeatedly been a source of strife in Berlin in recent years. A rebuilt Prussian Castle in the middle of Berlin – a city that could have used a financial injection from the federal government for any number of things (immense homelessness problem, not nearly enough teachers, housing crisis, and an unliveable minimum wage to name a few). Berlin is a place absolutely not in the mood for patriotism and monarch worship. It’s no wonder that the Humboldt Forum was repeatedly criticised, not only because of the extended construction time, but also because of the explosion in costs and breakdowns. What is surprising, however, is this oddity: Apparently, the gutters under the Humboldt Forum smelled terribly of sewage.
The transition from U2 to U8 at Alexanderplatz
Getting off Alexanderplatz is bad, because even after years of BVG experience, you can’t tell the exits apart and you always emerge at the wrong exit. Changing trains is even worse, at least if you change from the U2 to the U8 or vice versa – and not just because the way is outrageously long but also because you are bothered by unpleasant smells of old fat and meat. It’s probably the same problem as at the zoo: underground fryers are simply not a good idea because of the lack of ventilation. One argument against that, however, is that the Osloer Straße subway station always smells pretty good, like falafel and fried vegetables – and they also use deep fryers there. Let’s leave that one to the scientists.
On the Oberbaum Bridge
One might think that it smells fresh on the Oberbaumbrücke, maybe of the river or simply of nothing at all. But that’s not the case. It smells like piss. The homeless who sleep in the archway can’t be solely to blame, firstly because there are not that many of them, and secondly because there are night clubs at either end of the bridge, both of which attract large crowds of drunks. Quod erat demonstrandum, it is the ravers and tourists who pee on one of the most beautiful sights in Berlin and thus cause a stench.