Beggars on the Ku’damm

The following video takes a look at the beggars on the Kurfürstendamm, a major avenue in downtown Berlin. It contrasts the plight of a genuinely homeless man — who lost his job and ended up on the street — with a different type of beggar, those who might be called “corporate mendicants”. Women with tiny babies, men with pitiful disabilities, etc. Yet they seem to be working together as a group, and at the end of the begging day the men take up their crutches and hustle away, the women carry their children with them, and they all meet in a parking lot to climb into the same expensive-looking vehicle. And it comes as no surprise to any Central European that the car in question has a Romanian license plates.

Back in 2008 when I went to a Counterjihad conference in Vienna, I happened to go up a stairway on the wrong side of the S-Bahn platform. On the way up I passed a pitiful young woman sitting on a landing with a begging cup and a baby in her lap. When I realized my mistake, I went back down the stairs and crossed to the stairway on the opposite side. Halfway up, on the landing, was an apparently identical woman holding an identical baby. I did a double-take — had I accidentally gone up the same stairway twice? No, this really was the other platform, and it was a different woman.

Those were gypsies on the Ku’damm and on the stairways in Vienna. They’re professional beggars (among other things); it’s how they make their living. They’re often identified in the media as “Romanians” because that’s where they come from, but that’s an insult to actual ethnic Romanians.

Many thanks to MissPiggy for the translation, and to Vlad Tepes for the subtitling:

Video transcript:

00:03   Organised bands of beggars from East Europe driving in luxury cars that play on people’s sympathies.
00:08   The scam with poverty has a system and where nothing is as it seems.
00:12   Between pleading beggars and fake cripples, Berlin’s professional beggars
00:18   work on the sympathies of pedestrians and earn very well.
00:24   Those who fall through the social welfare safety net in Germany hit bottom quickly and land on the lowest level of
00:30   society. Without a permanent address it is not possible to receive welfare benefits. No support in any form.
00:37   The free fall into crime or prostitution is difficult to avoid.
00:41   The only alternative is life as a beggar on the street.
00:50   Almost three years ago is when the 28-year-old Sebastian started his free fall. Today he is one of the 8,000
00:57   homeless in Germany’s capital Berlin. Everything he owns fits in a couple of bags and broken trolly suitcase.
01:08   So… this is everything for underneath. First, here are a bunch of jackets and sweaters.
01:22   I don’t want to take everything out.
01:28   Here are so more jackets and underneath there are a bunch of T-shirts, socks and stuff.
01:37   So basically, everything is in there that I need.
01:41   After the trained cook became unemployed, the social services refused to pay his rent for his apartment
01:45   which was too high, he landed on the street.
01:50   From the government I receive absolutely nothing. I live from what I get begging.
01:54   I live from what people kindly donate to me. Otherwise I have nothing.
02:00   Sebastian depends on the charity and support of his fellow man. His regular place is at the entrance of
02:08   the subway station on the Kurfürstendamm across from the famous Café Kranzler. It has been three years.
02:12   Every day he has the same routine. At the moment, being homeless on the street is his only perspective.
02:16   I try to scrounge enough money during the day, by sitting on the street, so that by 7 or 8pm I can pay
02:26   the fee to stay in a facility overnight. I hope that by that time that I have enough money to be able to pay.
02:34   The attempt at persevering with some form of dignity in a life that is turned upside down costs €20 a day. For this
02:41   amount he is able to sleep in a hostel nearby until 7am. He has access to water, a toilet and a hint of privacy.
02:50   Begging for this sum is not easy even at a hotspot like the Ku’damm. The last few days have been good.
02:56   The holiday season makes a difference, even for Sebastian. —Yes, people are more willing to give in the
03:03   time period in December before Christmas, but after Christmas in January and pretty much the rest of the year
03:11   it is a struggle. It isn’t like it is now. At the moment I know I will be able to afford to stay in a hostel this evening.
03:19   Otherwise you have to fight for a spot in a facility. When I don’t have enough money by the evening, then I have to
03:25   sleep outside — that’s not nice. Actually it is really miserable.
03:29   It is Friday, just after noon. The Ku’damm is highly frequented by shoppers, tourists visiting Berlin and
03:35   the Christmas market. Ideal conditions for professional beggars. Everywhere along the Kurfürsten they
03:40   suddenly appear. Primarily it is women. Sometimes women with children.
03:48   We wanted to get a closer look at the professional beggar on the Ku’damm. With a hidden camera we blend into
03:52   the pedestrians. Right in middle of the Christmas shopping season. Within the first steps we are asked for a donation.
04:03   A man with a crutch is preparing his begging performance. His crutch is strategically placed. His legs are covered.
04:10   In a twisted posture he presents himself shirtless, shivering, moaning and drawing attention his scarred arm.
04:18   He remains in this position for the next few hours begging for money. Systematic begging.
04:31   Most people don’t understand the intention of the man with a hat. White faced like the pantomime Pierrot,
04:37   he doesn’t even need to ask for money. Whoever shakes his hand is prompted to give money.
04:51   For years they have been a part of the cityscape, the women begging with children. This topic is a reoccurring
04:57   cause for debate. Children begging on the streets is forbidden. Most see this ploy as unacceptable,
05:03   especially when the children are being used for begging to increase the compassion factor.
05:09   Two years ago we reported on the methods of the professional beggars here and these two women told
05:15   everyone they came from Bosnia. They were in Germany temporarily, needed money for medicine and food.
05:22   When we compared the recordings from then with now — it is clear these women aren’t transient visitors
05:26   in an emergency or in need of help. Both women are still working on the Ku’damm.
05:37   This isn’t news for Sebastian. His usual place for begging is sought-after. He’s in a constant struggle with the
05:42   East European profi-beggars. —The last two years, since I have been homeless, I just see the same people
05:48   with same children. The same people with the same routine. It isn’t going to change and I don’t expect it to.
05:53   I’m pretty sure it is organised, because in the evening I see a group of them meeting up. Then they all get into
06:01   a Mercedes Benz. About ten people usually, going home. —Beggars that drive home in a luxury car after begging
06:08   all day? That is considered a myth. The existence of organized beggar structures can’t be officially confirmed
06:14   by the various European police dealing with the issue.
06:19   The two women begging on the Ku’damm are still busy in the evening even though they have been walking
06:25   up and down the boulevard the entire day. Collecting change in tandem for hours.
06:29   It is estimated that these women rake in somewhere between 70 and 150 euros per day per person.
06:35   At Christmas time, in a city like Berlin, that amount is significantly higher.
06:41   As the evening traffic begins, the man with the crutch ends his shift. His suffering seems to have disappeared
06:51   and he suddenly doesn’t need his crutch on the stairs. Then he starts talking on his cell phone.
06:55   The man that was just shivering in the cold on the ground for hours doesn’t really seem handicapped at all.
07:01   You can see for yourself. At the ticket machine there’s another opportunity to slip back into his role
07:10   as crippled beggar, but if you want a seat on the train during rush hour in Berlin — you have to hurry.
07:25   Above ground on the Breitscheidplatz, next to the memorial church, the Christmas market is where most
07:29   of the people are during this time on the Ku’damm. You won’t have to search long to find the professional beggars.
07:36   They are everywhere. Standing among the visitors of the Christmas market asking for money.
07:41   They have been grazing the whole day, asking hundreds of passers-by. Right around 6PM, as if by command,
07:50   the woman have disappeared. We had a tip from Sebastian to look at the parking lot of a grocery store.
07:59   There the beggars meet to be picked up. So we had a look. What happened next couldn’t be more clichéd
08:06   and leaves a lot of room for speculation.
08:10   For years now, the beggars have been moving through the shopping streets and pedestrian zones of the capital.
08:15   As starving or crippled they collect money in groups on a daily basis in a commercial manner.
08:20   Begging in Germany is their career. Their place of employment is the Kurfürstendamm.
08:25   When the minimum income per professional beggar per day is €70 in any major European city, then that is
08:34   an enormous sum of tax-free money being collected on the Ku’damm. Ten minutes later, two young men show up
08:45   who don’t really look like beggars. They disappear in the white SUV with Romanian license plates.
08:57   At the end of the evening, homeless Sebastian is still sitting on the Ku’damm. He doesn’t have the €20 yet,
09:03   that he needs to be able to stay in the shelter. Just the cost of filling the white SUV’s gas tank once
09:09   would give him a roof over his head for several days.

11 thoughts on “Beggars on the Ku’damm

  1. Actually, we have the same 2 classes of beggars here in Colorado: truly homeless and the much cleaner beggars with signs that walk around the block or to the close parking lot to drive away. One can usually tell the difference.

    Our city government, along with the local sympathizers, count both as homeless in any type of census, and urge more taxes to pay for that many services, of course. The organizations, aside from the Salvation Army and the RD soup kitchen, never answer anwhy tens of beds are empty on even some of the coldest nights! (Could this possibly be a money grab, or am I just making a conspiracy?)

  2. Disgusting, this are Roma Gypsies , they always begging, since I remember, they have big houses in Romania and driving luxury cars , Germans are stupid enough to allow to this organized crimes by this leeches, what’s wrong with Germany today nobody knows anymore..

  3. Begging is the most benign form of these Gypsies. For the more active, they actually teach their children to pickpocket, and steal, and then embark on extended tours of Europe, pick pocketing everyone in reach.

    I had a friend who was indignant that the Romanians do not allow gypsy children in the public schools. She mentioned it was because the gypsy children stole regularly from the other children, but my friend didn’t think that was sufficient reason to deny them their right to a public education.

    Perhaps someday the police will actually put pressure on these criminals: put them in prison for pick pocketing, and enforce begging and vagrancy laws strictly. The definition of vagrancy is, I believe, is to be in a place with no means of support. I would presume Gypsies are heavy users of welfare.

  4. We have these people in Britain, though many are involved in the ‘Big Issue’ scam – they sell a magazine called Big Issue that focuses on homelessness, they claim self-employed status and this allows them to claim top-up state benefits.

    • Indeed, though the “Big Issue” does, I believe, help some homeless people re-establish themselves.

      A greater problem is the Irish “traveller” community (ironically, many live in settled caravans/cabins on sites provided by the local authority). When I last worked for a living in department stores (up to 2009), especially in Lakeside, Essex (a few miles east of London), they were easy to spot: women in short skirts and tight tops, buying one item and stealing a duplicate, then returning one for a refund, with receipt, all the while teaching their children to do likewise.

      One thing they seem to have in common with the “Roma”, who I guess are genuine “gypsies” (and of whom I saw many when touring Europe in 2013, especially begging around railway stations), is the assumption that they’re entitled to live off the rest of us; this is not the only parallel with some muslim migrants- apparently abuse of women is particularly common among “travellers”.

      • The song ‘Travelling People’ by the Dubliners is a well crafted and pleasant song but certainly paints a picture of these bums as admirably independent and innocuous. Based on what you say, the song will no longer sound so enjoyable to me.

        • My Dublin born-and-raised mother was afraid of the “Travellers”. Unlike many of her sibs, she was slightly olive-skinned and had dark hair, grey eyes and classic features. Because of her complexion, her brothers and sisters used to tease her that the travellers had taken the real baby and left her in its place. Sibs can be cruel…she said that stepping off the gangway and onto NYC asphalt caused “the weight of all those shadow stories” to fall off her shoulders.

  5. I do remember last time I visited Budapest, there were groups of these working the underground road crossings at major intersections and the subway. At all of these points there were usually a couple of blond haired well built policemen with kalashnikovs in plain view. At one time one of these beggars tried to beg from me whilst a “child” attempted to pickpocket me. All of a sudden I heard a shriek, a thud, and the kid got the butt and of the weapon smacked in the side of his head and the other cop beat the first beggar with his kalashnikov. I was rather shocked, but the cops immediately turned to me when the rats ran off and asked if I was okay ( in English), I replied in Hungarian that I was and asked why they did that. They replied that gypsy scum were not welcome in Hungary any more since the fall of communism. Mind you this was back in 2006, so I do not know if the same treatment is meted out to them now.

  6. We were in Dublin several years ago and there were tons of Roma begging. One healthy and very beautiful young woman came up to me with a sleeping baby in her arms. She held the baby out to me and said that he was “so hungry, so hungry, no food, no food.”

    I almost burst out laughing. If the baby had been hungry he would not have been peacefully sleeping. Not only that, he was the fattest most healthy baby I had ever seen. Definitely he was neither hungry nor starving. I gave her a Euro anyway for having the chutzpah to walk around with such a chubby rosy cheeked baby, thrusting him under people’s noses and saying he was hungry.

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