Although Frances Berger and Anabell Schuchhardt have been fortunate enough not to experience any bullying or harassment on their way home, they know plenty of women with bad stories to tell. Mulling over their personal anxiety-fighting strategies, the two colleagues discussed fake-calling friends, pre-set cell phone rings, or even Sweden’s excellent scheme: a direct hotline to the local police with on-call personnel to provide phone guidance. Upping the security ante, some US universities even have a dedicated team on staff that escorts students home at night.

Anabell Schuchhardt and Frances Berger, founders © Frances Berger
Anabell Schuchhardt and Frances Berger, founders © Frances Berger

“We decided that we didn’t just want to grumble about what was available elsewhere, but instead do something ourselves,” states Frances, a photographer and management consultant. Together with Anabell, managing director of a back pain center, she launched Heimwegtelefon in December 2013. Their goal and mission: to provide phone guidance and a sense of security – and actual help in case of emergency. At the start of each interaction, callers state their destination and then stay on the line until they reach their home. During the current pilot phase, the hotline is open Friday and Saturday nights (10pm-2am) with two female operators on call to talk apprehensive souls through their route and fears. “Right now, we get around ten calls a night,” adds Frances Berger, “and counting. We often staff the line ourselves or get friends and family members to help out who love the idea.”

While most of their calls come from Munich, Hamburg, or Berlin, the hotline also receives calls from rural areas – or men who test the service for their girl-friends or find themselves in need of a friendly voice. “We always ask the caller where they have been and that often segues into a nice chat. Talking tends to distract people and helps to dispel any bad feelings they might have,” explains Frances.

Potential helpers are met in person, trained by the founders, and guided through a number of test calls. Eager to expand their service, the duo is currently in the process of setting up a company to involve further volunteers, cover potential liability issues, and expand hotline hours. Their laudable scheme reinforces our sense of security and community – and ensures that a fun night out ends on a high note after navigating the urban playground at night.

Text: Romy Uebel
Header image: nurmalso / photocase.com