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Stop the train: The U-Bahn characters who make you want to bail

It's not just the U8, all of Berlin's U-Bahn provides a host of quirky characters. These are some of them.

Fashionistas, party tourists and stressed mums are some of the U-bahn characters you might have spotted on your travels. (Symbolic image) Photo: Imago/Lichtgut

Riding the U-Bahn in Berlin is always an experience. Sometimes, it’s too much to handle (we’re thinking of you, the U8) but, no matter which line you’re on, all Berliners know these underground characters the minute they board the train. The only question is: do you get off, or ride with the vibe? 

The Fashionista

For the fashionista, even the underground platform becomes a catwalk. (Symbolic image) Photo: Imago/imageBROKER/Unai Huizi

Balenciaga sneakers, Prada sunglasses, Fendi bag and a trench coat from the latest Off White collection. Fashionistas rarely leave the house unstyled; to slay is the order of the day. After all, you always want to be Insta-ready, even if you are only browsing Berlin’s high-fashion boutiques or drinking a matcha latte at Zeit für Brot. 

These preened peacocks can usually be found on the underground lines that run through Mitte. The last stop is Rosenthaler Platz in 9 out of 10 cases. Besides a brand-heavy outfit, you can recognise them by a reluctant, slightly repulsed look. “I should have taken an Uber instead,” say their pursed lips. 

The Döner Gourmand

Döner tastes best underground! (Symbolic image) Photo: Imago/Sven Lambert

It’s morning rush hour: you quickly grab a pretzel stick from the bakery because once again you’ve chosen the snooze button over homemade porridge at your own kitchen table. But a kebab with extra onions and garlic sauce, at 6pm, in a packed U7? Only the U-bahn gourmand would dare. 

They don’t let annoyed looks, wrinkled noses and the empty neighbouring seat disturb them, let alone their appetite. Even common table manners are suspended in the U-bahn – lip smacking, slurping, chewing, even finger licking adds insult to injury. And every now and then, a little soy sauce from the udon noodles splashes onto the surrounding seats. 

Why wait until you get home when the gourmand can enjoy their chicken wings underground?

The Unruly School Class

They look harmless and maybe even cute, but schoolchildren can turn any underground ride into torture. (Symbolic image) Photo: Imago/Zoonar/Zoonar.com/ArTo

It’s Monday morning, you’ve got a seat in a quiet carriage, subdued background noise is essential at the start of the week. Some Berliners are still hungover from Sunday night in Berghain, others found getting up today particularly difficult after two days of Mimosa brunches.

But what’s the worst that could happen? A class trip, that’s what. Surrounded by an inescapable hustle and bustle of thirty squawking children and a frazzled teacher, you surrender to your fate. Ayla and Laura enact their favourite TikToks of the week at full volume, Nina and Emre are loudly amused by Nico’s new hairstyle and Simon and Paul push each other down the carriage. When the pack finally gets off at the Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag or the East Side Gallery, you already long for the weekend. This harrowing experience reminds you to buy condoms on the way to the office.

The Stressed Mother

Babies – all sweetness and light, until they start screaming. (Symbol image) Photo: Imago/Hulu/Courtesy Everett Collection

After the mother has finally fought her way into the underground, equipped with an extra large pram, it begins: the screaming. Babies usually find crowded, noisy and stuffy carriages just as annoying as the next Berliner. But there is one thing between them and us: they are not yet socially conditioned. That’s why they don’t hesitate to voice their displeasure. Under angry and reproachful glances, the stressed mother tries to calm her child, without success. Despite rattles, cuddly toys, dummies and fruit squeezers, there is no end in sight to the screaming tirade which is slowly ramping up in pitch.

Sometimes passengers flee the compartment as soon as they get the chance. And every now and then an older woman lets out a disapproving tut. Just a tip: get a good pair of noise-cancelling headphones the next time you have to cross Prenzlauer Berg by U-bahn.

The Party Tourists

Every summer they make a pilgrimage to the capital in droves: party-mad tourists who find Berlin “sooo special”. (Symbolic image) Photo: Imago/Addictive Stock/Manuel Ruiz

All Berliners know and hate them: the party tourists. They are the type that can strike at any time – you can’t mentally prepare for them, as you can if you’re travelling by U-bahn on a Friday or Saturday night. Tuesday at 4 pm is a reasonable hour for these party animals from Spain, Italy, England, France or worst of all the USA. The alcohol level of the party tourists is usually off the charts. After all, you’re only in Europe’s party metropolis once, it would be a shame to remember it. 

Equipped with bad beer and Berliner Luft, they talk loudly about how amazing Berlin is. If you’re unlucky, you’re sitting right next to them in the four-seater and they ask you where you can go for a drink in Kreuzberg, or who sells cheap cocaine or what time you’d recommend to get in the Berghain queue. It’s best to send them to Spandau, Köpenick or Reinickendorf – we hear that’s where it’s really happening…

The Panicked Pushers

The U-bahn is full. Why not take the next one in three minutes? Not an option for the panicked pushers. (Symbolic image) Photo: Imago/Lichtgut

The pushers are a-buzz with stress before alighting and leaving every train. Will they make it out of the carriage in time? What if they no longer fit into the U-Bahn? To prevent such horror scenarios, ensuring they are the first to board the train is of the utmost priority.

Clearly, they consider the rule of waiting at the side and letting everyone else off as nonsensical. Perhaps a granny gets knocked over or a petite 10-year-old gets pushed off the train; they should have been quicker. It’s every man for himself in this hinterland, where backpacks are rammed recklessly into other people’s bellies and sweaty armpits are too close to peoples noses.

The Boom Box Kids

Teens in the U-bahn with a boom box at full volume are immune to reprimanding looks from people over twenty. (Symbolic image) Photo: Imago/Sven Lambert

Yes, young people should have fun – puberty is shitty enough. But it has to stop somewhere. At the very latest when the Modus Mio Deutschrap playlist is blaring at full volume through a mini JBL box in an U-bahn carriage. The kids usually rap along to the lines from their favourite tracks, irrespective of whether they can spit a single bar. Perhaps a future in music is not meant for them.

The Boom Box Kids consist of a group of at least four. In keeping with their music, the rest of their appearance is also very, shall we say, obvious. Cue a lot of laughing and jeering. Warning: boom-box kids in combination with alcohol are particularly exhausting. If you see a half-pissed kid with a speaker in one hand and a bottle of vodka-fanta-mix in the other, maybe move seats.

The Wegbier Drinkers 

Having a beer or three on the U-bahn is popular with young Berliners. (Symbolic image) Photo: Imago/Müller-Stauffenberg

While we’re on the subject of alcohol, we can’t forget the drinking Berliners in a party mood, because the U-bahn is full of them. Especially on Friday and Saturday evenings or on the beloved summer Feiertage, there’s a group of young, pissed Berliners in almost every U-Bahn and station alike. Berliner Kindls clink, outrageous toasts are made, maybe you need to dodge the odd Rottkapchen cork flying in your vicinity. 

When the grand declarations end – how much they love each other and how beautiful today is, maybe they resort to other options. God forbid it’s a drinking game. The mood is boisterous – and when you’ve already had a beer or two, you’re not fussed that you’re screech-renditioning a Brutalismus 3000 song, not to mention trying to involve far too many people in the carriage. Cheers!

The Pick-up Artist

“Hey, I forgot my way home, can you show me yours?” (Symbolic image) Photo: Imago/Sven Lambert

Berlin, the city of a thousand possibilities, amongst which is meeting your next dream girl. In a bar, a club, at the next WG party or, for the shyer amongst you, on Tinder, Bumble, OkCupid etc. Of course, you can also try to chat up someone on the underground. But you shouldn’t. The pick-up artist sees it differently. No opportunity goes unwasted. After all, in the U-Bahn, his objects of desire can’t run away. He will stare for several minutes and no doubt make the unlucky recipient of his attention feel uncomfortable. Sooner or later a snappy remark wanders across his lips: “Pretty crowded today, isn’t it?” or “What kind of music are you listening to?”. The pick-up artist’s first rule: even if the woman only answers in monosyllables, remain persistent regardless. To his shock she switches carriages.  

The Manspreader

Certain Berliners with fragile egos need twice as much space in the U-bahn. (Symbolic image) Photo: Imago/Westend61

Here, we have a manspreader in his natural habitat: a single man takes up an entire U-bahn bench designed for three full-grown people. He needs the space, after all, he has a pronounced need for freedom of his crotch. Yes, men cannot cross their legs as comfortably as women for anatomical reasons. But no man has such large organs in his trousers that he needs half a metre of space between his legs. The crowded trains might not be such a problem if the correct number of people could actually sit on a four-seater and not two men, making space for their  overgrown egos. A tip for the ladies: sit next to the most wide-legged person you can find then pull a Rihanna and sit just as wide-legged. Lo and behold: suddenly even the biggest offenders can sit normally. 

The TMI Phone Caller

“Yeah, I have time, I’m on the train anyway. Let’s have a chat!” (Symbolic image) Photo:

Among the callers are mainly women between 25 and 30 with agony aunt-worthy relationship problems. Numerous people crammed together in a rattling U-bahn – what better time is there for an intimate thirty-minute conversation with our best friend. The TMI caller thinks much the same, even if you do have to shout a bit so that the person down the phone can understand you. It’s not that deep if the whole carriage hears the content of the conversation in real-time. It’s only about the arsehole who ghosted you again, the latest disappointing Tinder sex date, or the resistant gonorrhoea you caught at the KitKat a month ago. Afterall, privacy is overrated. Even irritated or embarrassed passengers don’t faze these annoying underground characters. They clearly don’t know how to handle modern and liberated women.

The Snoozer 

How often do you have to meditate and go to yoga to reach a state of inner peace that lets you fall asleep even in the U8? (Symbol image) Photo: Imago/agefotostock/Fotosearch LBRF tommaso79

While some people can’t get a wink of sleep without earplugs and a sleeping mask, nothing can faze this underground character. The sleepyhead takes a restful nap even in the midst of children’s screams, singing boozers and the rush of commuters. With their head leaning against greasy window panes, they miss a lot of things – a feast for nimble hands. Some fellow travellers have better intentions: “Should we wake him up?”, “The poor thing will surely miss his stop” – as they watch the person in a peaceful slumber. If you’ve already woken up several times at Spandau underground station, even though you wanted to leave the U7 at Mehringdamm, you might want to try setting an alarm. Or just take a nap at home on the couch like any other normal person. 

This article was adapted from the German by Annabel Wood.