There are four types of people in the streets of Berlin. The average Berliners who live in this city and just do their normal everyday life stuff when going outside. Then there are the tourists most of which even look like the average Berliner and you only recognize them once they start chatting in their native language. Next we have the beggars and street musicians, followed by the main group of this post: Young students whose job it is to talk to people in the street, trying to get them to sign something for the good of endangered animals or for being the proud owner of an American Express Payback Card.
These charming, young people generally come up to you and with a bright smile on their faces try to engage you in a conversation.
The first time this happened to me I was about fourteen years old. Someone who was giving out free newspapers in the underground asked me whether I liked swimming. I did not know what this was all about and said yes. Then came another question and then another. At some point the girl stopped and asked me how old I was.
“Fourteen”, I said.
“Oh, I am sorry I bothered you. You must be eighteen to sign anything. Sorry. Have a nice day!”
From then on, every single time someone wanted me to sign some petition or anything of that sort, which happened surprisingly often, I would just say, “I am sorry, I am not eighteen yet”, getting some big looks of surprise. One summer day, the man who came up to me said, “You are not 18 yet? Can’t be. How old are you? Seventeen? Would you take off your sun glasses for a second please?”
Of course I could have just said that I was busy and didn’t have the time but somehow it makes me feel bad to just shake them off like this. After all they are just doing their job and sometimes I even let them tell me what they are doing and why but I really don’t have the means to sign a subscription that would probably bring financial responsibilities with itself.
Up until last summer, being eighteen already, I still used the ‘I am still a minor’ excuse. “Really? When were you born”, asked a tall blonde girl not much older than me. Trying to sound as convincing as I could, I said 1996.
Now that this excuse won’t work either I had to come up with something new. On my way to the pharmacy a woman who was looking for potential subscribers for WWF spotted me in the crowd of people who just crossed the rainy street and came up to me.
“Excuse me, do you have two minutes to save the world?”
Giving her my kindest smile I said that I really had to run before the shops closed. Maybe next time I would drop by again but she wouldn’t give up so easily. Just two minutes, she told me.
“Look, I can’t sign anything for you anyways. Why should I waste your time?”, I told her straight away.
“Why can’t you sign anything?”
Now I had to come up with something quick.
“Well, I don’t live here, you know?”
“So where do you live?”
After a second of thinking about what country came to my mind first, I chose my latest ‘home’ that I sometimes refer to as ‘home number 4’ and said Saudi Arabia, pointing at the button with the Saudi flag on my bag to emphasize my point.
The face she made when hearing that I live (lived) in Saudi Arabia was priceless but for anything else I needed that day I could simply use my MasterCard.
“Good luck to you anyways”, I told her with a smile on my face and ran off towards the pharmacy. Remembering her facial expression I think she was the one wishing me luck in her thoughts…
Dear Berlin visitors, if you feel like getting away from these people, all you have to tell them is that you are just a tourist. That will save your time and their time. Otherwise they get all excited telling you about their projects and by the time they hold out a pen and a piece of paper in front of you they have to learn that you were the wrong candidate.
However, I am pretty sure that especially the animal and human rights people would be very happy about a small donation.