It concerns the evolution of huge no-go zones in various German cities. You’ll notice that the construction of the largest mosque in Germany inside one of these areas did nothing to alleviate the problem. It’s also notable that the immigrant groups that are causing most of the trouble are not the Turks — who are the traditional foreigners in the area — but the more recently arrived and “stateless” Arabs:
In enemy territory- - - - - - - - -
In several German cities the police barely dare to enter certain districts, because they are attacked immediately. A visit to a “dangerous place” in the Ruhr District.
Just take another step across Viehofer Street, and a border has been trespassed. It’s invisible; there are no warnings in the available maps of the city of Essen. But behind the line other laws are enforced. At Viehofer Street the “danger zone” begins. That’s what the local police calls the Northern part of the Essen downtown.
Every other week some dozen policemen in olive-green coveralls enter the area in company with employees from the city’s civil services. The exact number is secret, “so that the foe can’t adjust”, say the police.
The “danger zone” encompasses three dozen streets. The civil servants enter gloomy tea-houses and oriental cafés, normally disguised as “cultural societies”, kiosks, telephone shops, internet cafés. It is a twilight infrastructure of the Lebanese “community”, holding around 5,000 persons in Essen. The civil service demands lists of employees and licenses. They are met with little courtesy and sour expressions as if they were entering alien territory. The city of Essen tries to counter a phenomenon well known to other German cities. Policemen talk of “parallel worlds” and “rooms of fear”. When confronted with such terms, the immigration-politicians cringe. But the experienced civil servants can’t come up with better terms. They don’t dare to enter such areas without protection, otherwise they risk riots and physical assault.
In the northern downtown of Essen trouble and crime are the agenda of the day. Robbery in parks, drug trafficking, fencing of goods, fights, black-market workers. “It is unbelievable that such a lawless place has evolved” said the Essen chief police inspector, Ditmar Jensen, in April 2007. That’s why the area was designated a “danger zone” by the Nordrhein-Westphal police. Since then, the police have authorized harsher control.
This is an unusual strategy in Germany, but no longer a breach of taboo, due to the resistance the almost 270,000 civil servants from state and local police have to confront on a daily basis in many regions. “The problem with violence against the police has escalated in recent years. The police have to concentrate increasingly on self-protection” says national chief of police Konrad Freiberg to Die Welt. “When a fellow policeman goes on duty, he never knows what might happen to him”.
According to the National Police, the number of violent episodes is 26,000 on a yearly basis, which means 60% more than in the 1980s. “People used to think that what the police did was all right. Today it’s automatically assumed that it’s wrong” says police commissar Stefan Kircher, who is in charge of the central precinct in Cologne. Kircher says that unauthorized persons interfere when papers are checked or arrest are made, and oppose the police. For some time now, the police have been trained how to behave in crowds of people. When a patrol enters a bar in order to arrest a criminal, another patrol of equal strength is needed to control the crowd. The police regret that many people seem to have developed a deviant understanding of law and order; increasing aggressiveness toward the police can be observed in all age groups and social classes. “It is not a problem limited to Berlin or the Ruhr district, it’s visible everywhere” says police spokesman Rüdiger Holecek.
Although native Germans dominate crime statistics, the police complain of increasing numbers of foreigners. “Some people, especially young foreigners, don’t respect the law-enforcement service,” says Freiberg. The experience with immigration makes the police feel an obligation to specify every incident in order to avoid accusations of bias against foreigners.
However, from the Berlin Police one can still hear the traditional, evasive language. There, not even when asked will the police admit the existence of special problem areas. “You can’t be so categorical,” they say. But police spokesman Holecek stresses that “in fact, the red alert is on all over Berlin”. Just look at the Marxloh district in Duisburg: “When a shield becomes a target” — a headline of the May issue of the National Police magazine “German Police”. In the article Holecek describes the flammable situation in Marxloh. “You have to talk about this, even if it’s not politically correct”, says Holecek.
Two policemen from Duisburg told him that when they tried to settle a dispute between some Turks and Lebanese at a road intersection in Marxloh they were suddenly surrounded and cut off from their patrol car. Drivers in the blocked line had to call police reinforcements on their cell phones.
Marxloh is officially designated “a district with a special challenge for renewal”; others call it “a social furnace”. Out of 18,000 citizens, a third are of foreign descent, most are Turks, and unemployment is high. With an enthusiastic city council and private initiative enormous efforts are being done to promote mutual understanding, and the biggest mosque in Germany is being erected without any conflict. At the same time, nevertheless, enormous differences in the perception of German law show up. Holecek quotes a Duisburg civil servant as saying, “what has been going on here for three or four years is a ticking time-bomb.”
Chief Inspector Andreas de Fries is all too familiar with the hunch that makes the little hairs on his neck start to rise when in the middle of the night he wants to see the papers of a suspect and suddenly, as from nowhere, he is surrounded by two dozen people who push and yell. “The voices come from all over, and suddenly you feel a stab in the back. So fast you can’t even see it,” says de Fries.
The 45-year old chief inspector is a big guy with a self-confident attitude. But in Duisburg-Marxloh a police uniform isn’t worth much. “ It was a development that sneaked up,” says police lieutenant Hans Schwerdtfeger, who worked with the traffic police at August Bebel Square for eleven years.
Both witnessed the Kurdish conflict in the nineties. They know a lot of the Turkish businessmen; they buy groceries from them. They adore the bridal attires on display in an exotic fashion-outlet in Weseler Street and they have personal friends within the community. All in all, Schwerdtfeger and de Fries like the people of Turkish descent in Marxloh.
But they worry about “stateless” people from Lebanon, Iraq or the Kurdish part of Turkey. “With the Turks and the Albanians the parents are helpful,” says Schwerdtfeger; usually, if a youngster makes trouble, a talk with the parent can solve the problem. But the youngsters who call themselves “Arabs” don’t acknowledge any borders or respect. There may be some hundreds in Marxloh and their behavior tends to engender a disgust for all foreigners. Eight-year-old boys kick old ladies, sexually harass women, throw water balloons at business windows, ignore traffic lights, and create havoc at road intersections. “They constantly provoke incidents, even in proximity to patrol cars,” says de Fries. As soon as you try to calm down the younger ones, the older, aggressive brothers show up. “This is our street,” they yell. Then it becomes dangerous. The Police President of Duisburg, Rolf Cebin, calls the problem by its name: “The gathering of various communities when the police show up is an increasing problem. One can’t avoid a sense of hostility towards the police.”
The National Police credit Cebin for her courage to say so and underscores that this gives inspiration to ethnic colleagues. She considers it her duty to change their social- and integration politics.
Meanwhile, in the neighboring city of Essen, the Northern downtown once again turns into “danger zone”. Just in the first four months since the new regulations came into force, 1,000 persons were controlled and 200 crimes registered. For half a year no more serious crime has occurred. Police spokesman Ulrich Fassbender is proud of this success, but dryly adds: “If we as police were less present, it would escalate immediately.”
An afterword from the translator:
Hmmm, typical Die Welt. As Blaise Pascal would say: “This letter is so long because I did not have the time to make it short.”
Hat tip: Steen.