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Observations at Boxhagener Platz

Introduction

I carried out several observations at different times at Boxhagener Platz in Friedrichshain, Berlin. The aim of these observations was to investigate the numbers, locations and behaviours of food delivery couriers at this park.

I live close to Boxhagener Platz and had noticed in the past that there are often many food delivery couriers waiting around the park. In her research, Nora gained access to the hotspot map used by Lieferando indicating where couriers should wait while awaiting new orders; Boxhagener Platz is one of these hotspots (see image 1.).

image 1. Hotspot map for Leiferando couriers

Observations

Boxhagener Platz is a very popular park in the centre of Friedrichshain. The park is surrounded on all sides by bars, cafes and restaurants, also lying adjacent to Simon Dach Strasse, a high density restaurant and bar street. Every Saturday Boxhagener Platz hosts a farmers market where locals can buy fresh produce and prior to the coronavirus pandemic it hosted a flea market every Sunday.

Boxhagener Platz is surrounded by a very wide cobblestone sidewalk where stalls are set up between the trees during the various markets hosted there. A short stone and metal fence forms a border between the sidewalk and the park itself. The park has 3 main components: an enclosed grass field surrounded by a walking path and benches, a kids playground and a concrete square with a small water fountain at its centre (see image 2.).

image 2. Boxhagener Platz. Source – OpenStreetMap

Observation 17:00 – April 16

x – location of bicycle couriers

My first observation took place on a sunny Friday evening. Boxhagener Platz was very full with people, mostly younger people in their 20’s hanging out in small groups, but also families with young children and older people sitting on the benches along the pathway. All of the bike couriers are waiting alone, none are speaking with each other or anyone else. All but one are sitting on the stone ledge of the fence that forms the border between the park and the sidewalk. One bike courier is sitting on a bench just inside the boundary of the park. I guessed that they chose these locations to wait so that they can get on their bikes and leave Boxhagener Platz quickly once they get an order. It is a strange sight, all of the people relaxing and enjoying the park are on the inside, and all of the bike couriers are sitting just outside on the boundary as if they are not allowed to go into the park and relax.

Observation 17:15 – April 23

x – location of bicycle couriers

This observation again took place on a sunny Friday evening. The results were very similar to the first observation except there are even more couriers sitting at the boundary of the park. Again the park is very full, many people gathered in small groups sitting on the grass and on benches. There are also individuals reading and relaxing on their own. One courier is sitting on the grass inside the park. There are two couriers who are sitting together and chatting on the south side of the park.

Observation 17:30 – April 23

x – location of bicycle couriers

This is a continuation of the same observation, I walked around Boxhagener Platz once more to see if the situation had changed much over the time I was observing. There were some slight shifts, some of the couriers had left and were replaced by new couriers and some were still remaining from my initial count. This time around I noticed that there were two couriers waiting across the street north of Boxhagener Platz, one was sitting in a bus stop and one was leaning against the wall of a building, they were both in very sunny locations. Many of the bike couriers waiting around the boundary of the park were in the shade of the trees and buildings surrounding the park. Before leaving I noticed two more couriers sitting and chatting together in the shade, they both wore the FFP2 masks that Germany requires of everyone while in indoor spaces.

Observation 12:00 – April 28

x – location of bicycle couriers

The earliest observation I performed was at 12:00 on a Wednesday, It was sunny and warm outside. At the time there were 9 couriers at Boxhagener Platz, 8 Leiferando couriers and 1 Wolt courier. 5 couriers were waiting on the sidewalk outside of the park, 3 were sitting on benches on the pathway that surrounds the park, one courier was doing yoga on the grass in the park. Two of the couriers on the north side of the park were sitting together and chatting, all the others were alone. Aside from the couriers, the park was relatively quiet, there were only around 10 people sitting on the grass. Most of the people at the park appeared to be on lunch break. It felt very calm.

Observation 13:15 – April 28

I returned to Boxhagener Platz a little over an hour later that same day; the scene at the park looked vastly different. At 12 the park felt very calm with only a handful of people sitting on the grass, by 13:15 there were 60-70 people sitting on the grass, all of the benches on the path were occupied and it felt very lively. There were no couriers waiting anywhere at the park but I saw several cycling along the surrounding streets and waiting outside of restaurants.

Reflections

Boxhagener Platz is a very busy square/park in the neighbourhood. On sunny days the park is always completely full of people relaxing, taking breaks, eating lunches and gathering in groups. These groups stay late into the evening drinking and hanging out together. It is a major social hub in the area. The park is also a hotspot area where bike couriers commonly wait between orders.

The bike couriers who wait around the park seem to be excluded from the social experience that everyone else is participating in. Not only are they physically removed – by sitting on the fence form a literal border between the activity of the park and the flow of traffic on the street – but also socially, the vast majority of the bike couriers sit on their own, staring at their phones while waiting for orders; only rarely did I see any couriers interacting with each other and only once did I see a courier interacting with a non courier.

One observation encapsulated this separation; I watched as a bike courier entered the park walking out onto the grass. I was intrigued because I thought perhaps the courier was delivering food to someone inside the park. Instead the courier walked to an open spot of grass, sat down and removed their Lieferando jacket indicating that they were no longer working and therefore allowed to spend time inside the park.