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Superheroes reclaim Berlin

Attention Berlin crooks, thieves and other urban evil-doers: Beware! A powerful, unexpected force is taking over the city and has bad guys shaking in their boots, says DW's Leah McDonnell.

Civilian superheroes and their spontaneous acts of valor are becoming as abundant in Berlin as pigeon poo on park benches. These self-appointed, high-minded proponents of good are fighting to maintain our fair city.

Any day of the week you can read in the paper about the latest super-citizen deed. Having witnessed numerous acts of breathtaking cowardice - like when a woman was attacked by a crazy person in the subway and healthy, full-grown men turned and ran the other way - you can imagine my joy these days to see such spineless behavior becoming a thing of the past.

Beyond Batman and Robin

The heroic feats executed on Berlin's streets entail everything from small, thoughtful gestures of kindness and compassion, to stunts suited to Hollywood action flicks. Typical for a more modest super-citizen is this recently reported feat: Two guys held up a teenage girl on an isolated foot bridge and took her mobile phone. Two do-gooders who witnessed the scene chased the fleeing crooks, tackled them with graceful body dives, and pinned them down until the cops came.

A more dramatic stunt reported involved the security guard at a leather goods store, who saw two men grabbing a bunch of expensive coats and making a beeline for the door. A chase ensued, but the detective was unable to stop the crooks before they reached their get-away car.

Instead of letting them get away, he jumped onto the windshield and held on tight as they sped away - with the security guard in tow. The bad guys were so freaked by this daring feat they threw the stolen coats out of the car window to get him to end his pursuit. Seeing that the goods had been abandoned, the security guard rolled off the car onto the road - miraculously without losing his life. 

Heroism can be harmful to your health

Such superhero stunts may bring a sense of personal fulfillment, but they can also be quite painful. A while back, a young man tried to stop three men from harassing a young woman in the subway. The men stopped bothering the woman, only to beat the brave objector senseless and throw his unconscious body on the train tracks. Fortunately, he was rescued by a subway staff member.

Listen up my dear, daring, fellow Berliners. As inspired as I am by your well meant intentions, goodwill alone doesn't cut it. Even superheroes must respect the limits of their physical prowess. Otherwise they wind up seriously injured or even dead - and there's nothing super about that.

Despite their tendency to overestimate their abilities, Berlin's real-life action heroes are endearing. In one unique stunt I read about, the hero chose words as his weapon of choice.

Two masked men entered a video store in Neukölln, a close-nit neighborhood with a large Arab-speaking population. They approached the counter, put a gun to the clerk's head, and demanded the money.

A masked man stages an auto theft

Villains, beware!

Instead of doing what any sensible, underpaid, part-time worker would do - hand it over at lightning speed - the clerk responded with a torrent of insults aimed at the men's honor, or rather lack of it. Realizing that news of the robbery would destroy their local reputations, the thieves quickly aborted their plans, fleeing the store as the clerk flung more insults at their backs.

Dealing with the real-life villains

While I'd like to attribute the superhero trend to a growing sense of responsibility and desire to change the world, I can't help but acknowledge a less-lofty factor: the average citizen's over-indulgent intake of action movies.

But where there are superheroes, villains inevitably turn up as well - and Berlin still has its fair share. A classic Berlin scenario experienced by anyone who has lived here for more than three months is running for the bus, only to have the driver shut the door in your face, stare you in the eye with a mean-spirited glare, then ignore your pleas.

Next time that happens to me, however, I'll simply raise my eyes skyward and wait for Superman to descend, right arm raised and cape flowing, and tackle the bus driver.

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