Feargus O'Sullivan is a contributing writer to CityLab, covering Europe. His writing focuses on housing, gentrification and social change, infrastructure, urban policy, and national cultures. He has previously contributed to The Guardian, The Times, The Financial Times, and Next City, among other publications.
Don’t even think about copying them, says the city’s transit authority.
Taking part in a picnic may be pleasant, but you wouldn’t normally rank it as an activity of any special risk or excitement. A video that emerged from Berlin during the past week might change that perception, however. It shows young Berliners tucking into a light meal and a glass of wine while sitting on benches at a fully laid café table. Their al fresco meal comes with a twist: they’re enjoying it on top of a speeding train.
Released six days ago from the Berlin Graffiti Vimeo account, the footage has understandably caused a stir. The combined boldness and stupidity of it beggar belief, as does the attention to detail—note the flower vase sitting on the table. Clearly, the masked surfers (billed as the “Berlin Kidz”) planned ahead. They chose a less busy suburban station (Grunewald) where they could clamber easily enough onto the platform’s roof in order to jump onto the train. They also knew that the train would then pass through a long forested stretch largely free of houses, where they would not be so easily spotted.
As you would expect, the Berlin S-Bahn, which runs the train service shown in the video, is completely horrified. They’ve strenuously warned anyone watching the video from attempting to imitate it. They’re absolutely right, of course—this is potentially deadly behavior. According to comments from an S-Bahn spokesperson in the newspaper Berliner Zeitung, a 19-year-old man died attempting such a stunt in 2014, killed when the train went into a tunnel. More broadly, the Berlin transit authorities must be getting a little sick of hosting other people’s stunts, after a mysterious unauthorized secret room was discovered in a tunnel there earlier this year. The local media has taken a dim view as well. A commentator elsewhere in the Berliner Zeitung damned the stunt as an example the “life-threatening a stupidity of bored middle class children afflicted with excess with testosterone”—though quite how he assessed their class background is a mystery.
The thing is, much of Berlin’s transit system is relatively easy to access illegally, simply because many stretches are at ground level and has long, fairly unfrequented platforms. But if the Berlin Kidz have shown up some of the system’s vulnerability, at least they haven’t given the false impression that their stunt was safe. The video opens with one of them hurting his leg after jumping onto the back of a train: There’s no mistaking the fact that they’re skating pretty close to the edge.