“Everyone should be able to celebrate carnival in Cologne without danger,” independent mayor Henriette Reker said on Monday at a press conference to explain the security measures.
But both she and new police chief Jürgen Mathies – who has replaced Wolfgang Albers, the officer who stepped down after apparently covering up the events of New Year's Eve – said there was no such thing as 100 percent security.
Cologne mayor Henriette Reker is under pressure to make this year's carnival a success. Photo: DPA
“Cologne is taking action” to prevent a repeat of New Year's Eve, mayor Reker said. “The global public will be watching very closely to see how Cologne manages this challenge.”
After New Year hundreds of women reported being surrounded by groups of men “of north African appearance” in and around the main train station, who groped or pickpocketed them.
Two cases of sexual assault so serious they qualify as rape in Germany were also reported.
Authorities and national media were widely criticized in the following days and weeks for failing to inform the public about the crimes.
Massive police presence
Around 2,500 police officers will be on the streets on Thursday evening for Weiberfastnacht – the traditional first night of the carnival's busiest weekend that will end on Monday next week with the Rosenmontag parade.
That figure is double the number of police who were on duty at last year's carnival, police chief Mathies said.
City authorities are spending around €475,000 on personnel costs and new equipment to cover the carnival weekend.
A federal police officer wearing a body camera patrols Cologne main train station in January 2016. Photo: DPA
As well as the police, around 830 firefighters and paramedics will also be in attendance.
And the Cologne Carnival organizing committee will post more than 200 observers with radios along the length of the Rosenmontag parade, as well as providing extra floodlights.
History of sexual assaults
Mathies acknowledged that sexual assaults have always been a problem at carnival time.
Problems with petty crime and sexual assaults against women have long been known at the Rhineland carnival and at other large German events such as Munich Oktoberfest.
Roughly 50 reports of sexual crimes – up to and including rape – have been reported every year at carnival, he said.
At this year's carnival, a “Women's Security Point” with experienced advisors will be set up on the cathedral square.
North Rhine-Westphalia minister-president Hannelore Kraft told the Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger that more women might report sexual assaults this year because of increased sensitivities.
The sudden explosion of domestic international and outrage over the Cologne New Year's Eve assaults prompted some German feminists to found the “ausnahmslos” (No Exception) movement.
They are pushing for changes to the law to make sexual harassment a crime, improve advice and support for victims, and improve awareness of sexual violence among the public, police and justice systems.
But they also aim to make clear that sexual violence is not a phenomenon that has been imported with refugees or Muslims.