Anyone who criticizes poverty may be ignorant. That is why the CDU hopes that its agitation against the poor will succeed beyond its own electorate.

Tents and table with a teddy bear under an S-Bahn bridge

Under an S-Bahn bridge in Berlin-Charlottenburg Photo: Matthias Reichelt/imago

Recently I was able to receive a large number of visitors: mother, father, two children. In my last apartment there was only room for one guest, today there is a whole family. Since good hospitality means more to me than simply accommodating people, we set out to explore the capital. The children were glad that the distances in Berlin are long, because for them every additional public transport means another adventure.

On the first S-Bahn, the elated four-year-old sat next to a man who looked sick, wore worn-out clothes and smelled of alcohol. Just when he was about to tell the parents to move him somewhere else, the man reached into his pocket. Then he patted the boy, who was fascinated by the numerous construction sites in this city, with as much attention as a dangerous drunk person would not, and handed him a yellow action figure.

After the boy accepted it somewhat shyly, the man took out another surprise egg from his pocket, and another, and something else. The boy, who couldn't carry that much, smiled more with each toy. His initial reluctance disappeared and in the remaining stations a kind of dialogue developed between the two, who gathered the contents of the eggs. Seeing the man's dirty hands, I fought the urge to rip the thing out of the boy's hands.

Less than five minutes of travel and I have already known for the first time: that is also Berlin, I thought later. What I also thought: How unfortunate of me to have made it almost impossible for my young guest to meet him because I thought the alleged homeless man was a danger. How unfortunate of me to have recently dodged another man at an S-Bahn station, where people often ask for money, with a friendly no before he could say a sentence. If he had let him finish, he wouldn't have had to embarrass me when he didn't ask me for money but for directions.

The CDU also trusts my lack of empathy

I had to remember that now I change cars when someone boards the train and asks me for money because I don't want to expose myself to visible and olfactory anguish.

It sounds banal, but maybe I forget it because I take it for granted and that's how I end the argument: one thing is to denounce poverty theoretically, for example in this column. It is another thing to relate to this poverty in practice.

The fact that the Council of Europe criticizes Germany for poverty “disproportionate to the country's wealth”, that it explicitly problematizes homelessness and that Finland is successfully combating it with “Housing First” is something I can agree with sure on the right path Stepping aside, writing a lot. I can also get angry at the CDU, which wants to deprive people of even the minimum subsistence level.

But doesn't this CDU expect its agitation to succeed because it is based on resentment that extends far beyond its own electorate, as demonstrated by the cuts to citizens' money due to the traffic lights? Also to my lack of empathy and ignorance, which the four-year-old has not yet caught.