Night after night they are out on the streets of Berlin saving lives – the teams from the Berlin City Mission’s cold bus. I once needed their help too.
I have already dialled the cold bus number once. That was three years ago. It was January, late in the evening and bitterly cold. I was on my way home. Then I spotted a figure, motionless in the corner of a bus stop. I approached and was startled. The man with the thick beard and the bobble hat had only a few cardboard boxes as a base, and only a thin cloth blanket against the cold. Next to him were three full plastic bags. His belongings.
I looked carefully to see if he was still alive, if perhaps he was awake. He was. I asked him if he was all right, if he needed help. Almost in a whisper, he said he was terribly cold. But he would not make it to a shelter. Should I call the cold bus, I asked. “Yes”, he said, apparently he already knew what it was.
Many thousands of homeless people live in Berlin. What may still be somewhat bearable in summer becomes torture in the cold, wet winter. To alleviate the greatest need, there are emergency shelters, soup kitchens, medical assistance and also the cold bus of the Berlin City Mission. For 26 years, it has been driving through the streets of the city from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. in the winter months.
In 1994, a homeless man froze to death on Berlin’s streets because he no longer had the strength to seek a warm place. This must not happen again, said staff members of the City-Station, a restaurant of the Stadtmission, with counselling services and pastoral care. The next day, they had organised a VW bus and a small team to drive the streets of the city. The first cold bus was on the road, looking for homeless people who needed help. Today there are even two cold buses of the City Mission and currently also a soup bus. This bus is also on the road because the homeless shelters are no longer allowed to provide as many beds as usual because of Corona. The biggest difference from back then is that today there is a so-called cold number. You can call this number if you are worried about a homeless person. Like I was back then.
I typed the numbers into my mobile phone. A man answered. They would be here in a moment. I sat down on one of the bus stop’s waiting seats and spoke to the man. Thomas was his name, he was about 45 years old, he didn’t know that well. He had been living on the street for a while. The bus stop here was not so bad, he said. Shelter from the wind and rain, but cold. He had had a lot of bad luck in life, he said. Just recently someone had stolen his sleeping bag, he was angry. But he was actually a peaceful guy and didn’t want to get into trouble with anyone.
After 15 minutes, the blue VW bus was there. Two men got out. They introduced themselves to Thomas in a friendly way. Asked him if he would like some tea. Thomas liked. Then they asked him if he might like to sleep in the warm tonight. Thomas nodded. Then a tear rolled down his cheek, I remember that well. The two men do this work on a voluntary basis, as do all the members of the cold team. Once a week or every fortnight, depending on capacity, they are there.
They would now drive Thomas to a shelter. The fact that he let them take him at all was not a matter of course, one of the helpers told me. Some simply did not want to go to a shelter. They would offer them a good sleeping bag and a warm jacket “to get them through the night alive”, he said. Thomas had picked himself up. I carried his bags into the car. The two men supported him. He was weak on his feet. Door closed, engine started, they disappeared into the night of Berlin.
The Charlottenbogen team has supported the cold bus with a Christmas donation. If you would also like to donate, simply send a bank transfer to this bank account:
Verein für Berliner Stadtmission – Kältebus
IBAN DE63 1002 0500 0003 1555 00
And if you include your name and address in the subject line, you will also receive your donation receipt immediately. It’s that simple.
Phone number (cold bus 1):
+49 178 523 58 38
The cold bus can be reached by telephone between 8.30 pm and 2.30 am. Thank you for your commitment!