There are diverging opinions on this topic. Most Berliners or Germans I have talked to so far have declared themselves quite appalled by the behavior of Berlin’s inhabitants. They found them either rude, paranoid or careless. Similar to the stories going round about the Paris underground system,I have even been advised not to make eye contact with people on the S-or-U-bahn, because they might go crazy on me thinking I have something against them. Others have said they felt that people here rarely smile or are polite.
On the other hand, most other people from outside of Germany –myself included – have discovered the exact opposite. Maybe this has something to do with the fact that I have only been in Berlin and have never travelled to other German cities to get the sense of the difference. Of course, not everyone is nice; there are plenty of negative examples, but I won’t focus on these just yet.
The fact is that simple gestures such as letting you go ahead of them in line at the supermarket, or helping you carry very heavy luggage up the stairs, or patiently helping you arrange a package at the post office even when there is a queue behind you, such gestures could only put a smile on my face and make me forget how home-sick I am. When I lost my way in the city, I always found someone to help me out with precise information (sometimes too precise). For instance, one time when I couldn’t find a path through a forest, a lady even offered to accompany me to the right path, while another time a stranger carefully analysed the map of the surroundings in order to help me out. And they will do all this in such a nice sweet way, that it makes me want to give them a hug.
This is probably a policy of the supermarket, but I am still in awe of how the cashiers retain their calm and composure when a customer starts acting out or demands to withdraw some items from the list or, as in my case, realizes that the debit card doesn’t work to pay at counters and is forced to leave everything. Another time, they offered to replace a bag of potatoes because they smelled rather funny, a fact I hadn’t even noticed.
But probably the thing that has amazed me the most here is how people react when someone has dropped something behind them. I have witnessed several similar situations and the response was always very quick in returning the item to the person who had lost it. The other day, a girl who was getting off the U-bahn accidentally dropped her wallet inside the train. This was noticed by an older lady who was sitting inside and who quickly got up in order to pick up the wallet and throw it back at the girl before the doors shut. Last year, I nearly lost my camera in a bar while moving from outside to inside the place. Luckily, the personnel noticed the item and asked around inside the bar who was missing it, although I hadn’t even noticed its absence. Unfortunately, not everyone is like this and theft is present in Berlin, especially when it regards bicycles.
And because there are so many nice things strangers do every day around here, I will probably come back to this topic pretty soon.