Don’t Panic: It’s just a pickpocket

I decided to visit Museum Island the other day (see this post for details about the museums), and before I got to the first one I had more adventure than I bargained for.

Everyone always give you tips about how to avoid being pickpocketed in big cities, and how important it is to be self-aware, etc. I have traveled to 15 countries without much incident over the past 8 years, but Tuesday was the first time I had a problem with “street-people” harassing me.

I was walking down the sidewalk and there was an awning near a construction area. It was nice to walk under because it was raining, but as soon as I walked under it these 4 guys with clipboards started trying to talk to me. I ignored them and tried to keep walking, but they closed in around me. I took my hands out of my pockets to be in a better “defensive” position, but then they all fell away as I got to the other side of the awning. I walked about another 10 steps and realized…

they had stolen my phone-wallet. My iPhone case has my credit/debit card and my cash so I don’t have to carry a purse all the time. They had all of it.

So I turned right back around and walked under the awning asking, “What were you all trying to talk to me about?” only to see my phone case behind them on the ground.

Clever. They must have dropped it as soon as I turned around. I opened it to find…

all of my cash was gone (but my cards and driver’s license were there). So, I faced all four of them and said in a very clear voice:

“My money. NOW.”

They all seemed panicky, and called over to another, older man who was standing nearby. They weren’t speaking German, so I didn’t understand. He walked over and started trying to talk to me and I cut him off. “THEY have my money and I want it back NOW.” So they all kept shouting at each other for another 30 seconds and then one of them took the bills out of his pocket and put them in my hand.

Now, I was pretty angry with them at this point, so I raised my voice, “The rest of it! In my hand. There’s a tax on stealing, and I want extra money for having to deal with you.”

At this point, they start to back away because other people are starting to watch me and they’re stopping under the awning, too.

As they were backing away, I yelled, “You stole my stuff! How dare you?”

And then they all walked (read: scurried) out of the awning and across the street away from me.

Now, I realized when I got to the museum how scared I was, but I was too angry in the moment of the altercation to feel any of it. I do NOT endorse taking on pickpockets in the way I did, but it worked for me in this situation.

ALWAYS make a police report (that’s what the locals told me; they were quite upset that I didn’t phone the police even after I got my stuff back), and make sure to take stock of when people get close enough to touch you.

Being street-wise doesn’t mean nothing bad will ever happen to you while traveling, it just means you will have the skills and level-headedness to handle when something goes wrong (because it will, at some point).

Thanks to everyone who has been supporting my writing throughout this trip. I believe the next post will be about FOOD (with pictures).

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