It was a summer day, about ten years ago, on the way home. I caught the tram at the main train station, got on at the last door and dropped onto a seat. Relieved that I made it.
I didn't realize that I was all alone in this part of the tram. Only when a group of men suddenly came to me and I looked for help with my eyes did I realize that. Two sat in the row in front of me, two in the row behind me. One in the seat next to me, in between the aisle.
They were talking, but I couldn't understand their language. They all looked at me. I wanted to get away, just get away, as soon as possible. I felt threatened.
At the next stop, the tram stopped, opened all the doors to let air in. But only when the doors were already blinking to close did I jump up and run out. Outside, too, I kept running, hiding. The fear that the group of men could pursue me was too great. I called my family and they picked me up. I didn't dare to get on the train that night.
It is an event that should shape my further perception. Because since that day, when I was still a student, I can no longer use public transport like before.
Videos on Instagram and TikTok have just made it clear to me that I'm not alone in this. There women show their "Subway Shirts". Before they get on the subway, they put on big, baggy shirts to protect themselves from harassment.
The reality for many women is that they are stared at and harassed on a daily basis. In 2020, the aid organization "Plan International" conducted a survey entitled "Safe in the City?" carried out, 1000 women took part. They should mark on a map where they feel unsafe. It was mainly about big cities like Hamburg, Munich, Cologne, Berlin.
The conclusion of "Plan International" Managing Director Maike Röttger: "Our survey shows that girls and women cannot really move safely and freely in their city. Every fourth woman has experienced sexual harassment and every fifth woman has been persecuted, insulted and threatened."
And unfortunately it's true: As a woman, you still have to adapt, hide, ideally become invisible. Because in a wagon you can also be at the mercy of others, especially when the next station is still far away.
And even then it goes on: Poorly lit tunnels, long walks to the exit: most cities are not planned for the needs of women, that many have never heard of feminist or gender-sensitive urban planning.
The approach is quite simple: there should be more lighting, no alleys that are too narrow where you could be hassled. Short distances or mirrors for better visibility. This is what happened in Vienna, for example: "There, so-called night walks helped to specifically assess and improve situations. Mirrors were attached to a poorly visible corner, for example. This makes it much easier to assess situations even in the dark," reports the NDR.
These are simple measures that could also give women like me more security. But so far I have had to use my own "survival tricks". I always wear headphones. The clearly visible ones with cables. Even when I'm not listening to music. I hope you leave me alone like this.
When the train pulls in, I already check from the outside to see if there are others in the compartment. Since the event, I have never sat down alone. I always go to other women, smile briefly, they smile back. It's like a bond: together we are stronger. If someone came and harassed us, we would defend ourselves, together.
If I'm going to a party and I'm wearing pretty tights or shorter dresses, I wear leggings underneath. Always. Because nothing should shine through. I also only put on high heels at the destination and take them off again before the return trip. This way I can run away faster if necessary.
This has been my strategy for all trips for almost ten years. When I'm out and about alone in the evening, I often make phone calls. If the cell phone battery is empty and I feel uncomfortable, I have already had fake conversations on the phone with myself.
All for protection, and for friends and family to ask, "Did you get home safe?" to be able to answer with a "yes".
That's still a long way from equality in local transport and city life, I know that. But I don't see any alternatives for me. The experience was too formative, even if it was ten years ago.
Additional source: "Plan International", "NDR"