New report shows ‘Berlin is growing but crime is not’

A new report by Berlin police on Monday revealed that homicides are at a historic low as the capital continues to take in more residents, but theft still remains a continued concern.

New report shows 'Berlin is growing but crime is not'
Police in Berlin. Photo: DPA

Berlin saw a very slight drop in crime last year compared to 2015, with a 0.1 percent decrease to 568,860 crimes committed overall.

And this is still less than the amount reported 20 years ago during a spike in crime in the mid-1990s when the number of crimes reported reached nearly 600,000 per year.

“Berlin is growing, but crime is not,” said Berlin interior minister Andreas Geisel during a presentation in city hall, according to Tagesspiegel.

Geisel pointed out that between 2015 and 2016, the capital city’s population grew by 60,000 new Berliners, while 689 fewer crimes were recorded by police.

“The constantly repeated claim that it’s always getting worse in Berlin is false,” said police president Klaus Kandt.

In particular, murder and manslaughter cases fell by 18 percent compared to 2015 with 92 incidents last year. This is the first time the number of homicides has dropped below 100 in more than two decades.

There was, however, an overall increase in assault, with around 5 percent more incidents recorded last year than in 2015.

The most frequent crimes committed were thefts, making up about half of all incidents reported.

Sexual crimes increased slightly, by 2 percent, but overall such crimes have seen a decrease of 13 percent since they reached a high point in 2007, when 3,269 cases were reported.

Compared to 2015, the number of reported rapes – the most serious assaults included within the number of sex crimes – dropped by about 6 percent.

But the amount of sexual insults reported jumped by nearly 43 percent to 1,255 incidents. Police note in their report that this steep rise may be as a result of more women coming forward to report such crimes after the publicity surrounding the mass sexual assaults committed on New Year’s Eve 2015-16 than a huge rise in the number of incidents themselves.

Greater immigration into the city contributed to the figures showing a larger number of suspects being either refugees or undocumented immigrants.

This group made up about 7 percent of all suspects, or 9,614 suspects compared to 6,780 in 2015. Still, the report noted that the criteria for placing a suspect in this category including asylum seekers and undocumented immigrants had been expanded since 2015, and therefore the the figures cannot be exactly compared.

Politically motivated crimes highest in decade

The number of politically motivated crimes rose by 8 percent over 2015, with 4,112 incidents reported. This is the highest number of such crimes recorded since 2003 when authorities first started recording these cases as a distinct category.

Violent political crimes, though, sank by 5 percent, down to 664 cases.

Right-wing motivated crimes fell by about 5 percent to 1,588 crimes, making up the largest proportion of political crimes at nearly 40 percent of the total.

Left-wing associated crimes rose by 16 percent to 1,226 cases.


‘Unprecedented’: How explosions and fires have rocked Berlin’s Grunewald forest

An "unprecedented" fire broke out on Thursday around a German police munitions storage site in a Berlin forest. Here's how events unfolded and the reaction.

'Unprecedented': How explosions and fires have rocked Berlin's Grunewald forest

What happened?

Emergency services were called out after explosions were heard in the ‘Grunewald’ forest in western Berlin in the early hours of Thursday morning. 

It then emerged that a fire had broken out near a police munitions storage site, all on one of the hottest days of the year when temperatures were forecast to reach around 38C in the German capital. 

As explosions continued at the site, sending debris flying into the air, firefighters weren’t initially able to get near the flames to extinguish it. Emergency services set up a 1,000-metre safety zone around the area.

This aerial photo taken by the Berlin Fire Brigade shows the fire in Grunewald.

This aerial photo taken by the Berlin Fire Brigade shows the fire in Grunewald. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/Berliner Feuerwehr

Later on Thursday afternoon, Berlin fire brigade spokesman Thomas Kirstein said the situation was “under control and there was no danger for Berliners” but that the fire was expected to last for some time.

No one has been hurt by the fires. Around 250 emergency workers were deployed to the site.

READ ALSO: Blasts ring out as forest fire rages in Berlin’s Grunewald

How was the fire being tackled?

The German army (Bundeswehr) was called in. They sent a tank aimed at evacuating munitions at the affected storage site as well as remote-controlled de-mining robots, while drones circled the air to assess the emergency.

Water cannons were also deployed around the safety zone to prevent the fire from spreading.

Berlin mayor Franziska Giffey interrupted her holiday to visit the scene, calling the events “unprecedented in the post-war history of Berlin”.

Giffey advised people in Berlin to close their windows but said the danger was minimal as there were no residential buildings within a two-kilometre (1.2-mile) radius and so no need to issue evacuation orders.

Berlin mayor Franziska Giffey speaks at the scene of the forest fire on Thursday

Berlin mayor Franziska Giffey speaks at the scene of the forest fire on Thursday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Wolfgang Kumm

“It would be much more difficult if there were residential buildings nearby,” she said.

What caused the blaze?

That’s still unclear. Police say they are investigating what started the fire exactly. 

The store in question holds munitions uncovered by police, but also unexploded World War II-era ordnance which is regularly dug up during construction works.

Giffey said local authorities would “have to think about how to deal with this munitions site in the future and whether such a place is the right one in Berlin”.

Is Grunewald a popular site?

Very much so. The sprawling forest on the edge of Berlin is home to lots of hiking trails and is even near some popular lakes, such as the Krumme Lanke. It’s also near the Wannsee and Havel river. 

Map shows where the fire broke out in Berlin's Grunewald

Map shows where the fire broke out in Berlin’s Grunewald. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa Grafik | dpa-infografik GmbH

Authorities appealed for the public to avoid the forest, which is regularly visited by both locals and tourists.

Deutsche Bahn said regional and long-distance transport was disrupted due to the blaze.

A part of the Avus motorway between Spanischer Allee and Hüttenweg was also closed in both directions, as well as Kronprinzessinnenweg and Havelchaussee, according to the Berlin traffic centre.

Aren’t forest fires and strong heat causing problems elsewhere?

Yes. Authorities on Thursday said no firefighting choppers were available as they were already in use to calm forest fires in eastern Germany.

However, they also said the 1,000-metre safety zone applied to the air, so there was a limit to how useful it would be to drop water on the fire from above.

The German capital is rarely hit by forest fires, even though its 29,000 hectares of forests make it one of the greenest cities in the world.

Brandenburg, the region surrounding Berlin, as well as parts of eastern Germany have for days been battling forest fires.

Parts of Germany were also recently hit by forest fires during heatwaves this summer. 

Temperatures were expected to climb as high as 40C across parts of Germany on Thursday. However, it is set to cool down on Friday and thunderstorms are set to sweep in from the west.

With reporting by AFP’s David COURBET