Internet dating, speed dating and singles parties are starting to look old hat. In Germany, the public transportation services are becoming matchmakers and the demand has been overwhelming.
Berlin commuters looking to contact a beautiful stranger they saw on a train or a bus can now use a free online service called Augenblicke (Moments) to track them down in what organisers call an international first.
AdvertisementThe site, www.bvg.de/augenblicke, clocked more than one million "page views" between its launch last Valentine's Day, February 14, and the end of December, with demand growing daily, Berlin Transit Operators (BVG) said.
The rules are simple. Passengers left lovestruck after a stolen glance on the subway can use a pseudonym and post a message, which BVG then lists according to metro, tram or bus line where the encounter took place.
If visitors to the site recognise themselves in the description, they can respond by opening a private online mailbox with the other passenger in which they can exchange messages, away from the public bulletin board.
The public postings range from hilarious to heartbreaking.
"You looked like a dreadlock fairy -- I can't describe it any other way," a passenger calling himself Kurzhaarstino wrote.
"A light blue headband/headscarf, dressed in black from head to toe and a briefcase (!?!?!?). What an entrance... I was the one with a khaki-coloured jacket, strange glasses and closely cropped hair half a carriage away. I have to know what was in that briefcase! That is at least one of my three wishes...;-)"
Cupid's arrow pierced "Greeneye" on a commuter train.
"You were carrying a bouquet of flowers," the smitten rider wrote.
"We both got on at Friedrichstrasse in the direction of Bernau and while I was sitting there I suddenly felt your gaze which held me as I looked at you. I couldn't look away nor could I keep my eyes on you and I had to smile. Those were magic moments, unbelievable."
A passenger signing "Seeking Cute Ticket Salesman" had high hopes after a ride on the number 7 underground.
"A shy smile at the ticket widow. An eye-opening encounter at the end of the line. It often only takes a single, magic moment to seal a connection for a lifetime," she wrote.
BVG spokesman Klaus Wazlak said that because all communication on the site is anonymous, the company knows little about the demographics of who is using the site or their rate of success.
But he said the writing style pointed to a younger crowd and the number of mailboxes used for private communication indicated that dozens of would-be lovers were actually connecting.
"People told us that when two people smile at each other on the subway and then one gets off, the chance to meet disappears. We as a company saw that as an opportunity," Wazlak said.
Although magazines have long featured "lonely hearts" advertisements in their pages, Wazlak said BVG believes it is the first public transportation company to offer its own matchmaking service.
"We have had a lot of interest from abroad," he said, saying several companies had expressed interest in trying out the programme in their home markets, recognising it as a potential boon to their public image. "By offering passengers the chance to meet friendly people, we make ourselves a more attractive company."
The service seems to appeal to a wide range of passengers.
"You were reading an English book. I hope you can even understand me," Phil1919 wrote in German. "Please get in touch."
Lolarennt found her heart's desire on the S41 train.
"You got off at Treptower Park and unfortunately I did not run after you even though you were so cute," she said.
"You (female, black cap, lip piercing) with a newspaper, I (female, black jacket) talked for a bit in French on my mobile and hopelessly tried to focus on my class notes."
El-gog was kicking himself for not seizing the moment.
"White skull earrings, beautiful blue eyes and although we both got off at Potsdamer Platz, I was too cowardly to talk to you. I hope I get a second chance," he wrote.
A few entries verge on creepy.
"Our paths conjoined: We both got on the U6 at Friedrichstrasse Station, we both went to Leo, we both went shopping at Karstadt and I stood behind you in line at the register," Christoph wrote.
"But you drank your bottle of wine alone and I drank my beer. Maybe we could do it together next time?"
Wazlak said BVG allowed users of the site to blacklist anyone posting abusive, pushy or obscene messages.
The spokesman, who described himself as "over 50", said the Augenblicke service was a sign of how the younger generation approaches dating.
"It takes courage to chat someone up and the Internet can help bridge the gap," he said.
Meanwhile Germany's state-owned rail operator is getting in on the act.
On Valentine's Day, Deutsche Bahn will start "Flirt Express" trains in 15 cities including Berlin, Dresden, Frankfurt and Hamburg.
The two- to three-hour-rides will work like speed dating, with singles seated across from each other changing seats and conversation partners every five minutes.
If the sparks fly, participants can continue flirting at cafes and restaurants near the station where the rail company will have tables reserved a and the candles lit.