Pokemon Go has only been available in Germany as of sometime before noon on Wednesday and already it’s causing controversy.
The Foundation Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe told The Local that the Holocaust memorial in Berlin has been reported as a site where people could find and catch Pokemon creatures through the augmented reality game.
“This is a memorial space for the six million Jews who were murdered and it is inappropriate for this kind of game,” said foundation spokeswoman Sarah Friedrich, adding that she hoped the company would remove the memorial as a possible location.
A reporter for The Local did not find Pokemon at the Memorial for the Murdered Jews in Berlin, but did find two at the memorial for the genocide of Roma and Sinti people by the Nazis – one Diglett and one Jynx.
Photo: Ali Butt/The Local.
Nintendo and developer Niantic's Pokemon Go has been sweeping the world since its release last week in select countries.
The augmented reality technology allows players to physically walk around their surroundings to search for and ‘catch’ the cartoon monsters anywhere, using their smart phones’ camera and GPS location features.
But this has already caused alarm in the US as users reported finding the pocket monsters at sites like the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC and the Arlington military cemetery. Auschwitz has also reportedly been a site for Pokemon-hunting before the game was even officially released in Europe.
In Germany, filled with significant sites for mourning the Second World War and the Nazi’s genocide, Wednesday’s release raises even more concerns.
The director for the memorial at Sachsenhausen concentration camp, which had one of the highest number of deaths of Nazi camps inside modern-day Germany, told The Local that they have forbidden such games from being played on the memorial and museum site, but this can be hard to regulate.
“It is hard to control and to know what people are doing on their cell phones,” said memorial director Dr. Günter Morsch, though he didn't know of any cases of people playing Pokemon there yet.
But this also hasn’t been the concentration camp’s first experience with augmented reality games: Last summer the game Ingress – by the same developer, Niantic, as Pokemon Go – caused a stir as it surfaced that there were 70 different ‘portals’ at Sachsenhausen that players could interact with.
Morsch explained that after that, the institute put up signs warning visitors of a ban on such games, and also had the company remove the portals at Sachsenhausen.
He said that since the Pokemon game is so new, they will see what happens but hope that the company does the same as it did before because producers “should be held responsible”.
“People must know that they must respect the dignity of this site and that this offends the dignity of the people who were here,” Morsch told The Local.
“This is a graveyard and you must know that you are playing on top of people’s graves.”
Nintendo and Niantic told Vox on Wednesday regarding complaints in the US that users may report inappropriate locations to the game's support team.
Besides the Pokemon sightings at the Berlin Holocaust Memorial, social media users also reported finding that the game incorporated “stumbling blocks” (Stolpersteine), which are brass plaques laid in the pavement outside of places where victims of the Nazis used to live.
— Digital Cosmonaut (@iamkosmonaut) July 13, 2016
While the game was released in the US, New Zealand and Australia last week, its debut in Europe has been almost desperately awaited, so much so that some 2,500 Berliners signed up to start a protest planned for Saturday.
This demonstration has since been cancelled.
Ali Butt contributed to reporting