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‘Drastic increase’ of violent anti-Semitic attacks in Berlin, according to figures

The number of anti-Semitic violent attacks in Berlin more than tripled in Berlin in 2018 compared to the previous year, according to provisional police statistics.

'Drastic increase' of violent anti-Semitic attacks in Berlin, according to figures
A man wearing a kippa in Berlin. Photo: DPA

The German capital’s first commissioner for anti-Semitism, Claudia Vanoni, who took up her post on September 1st last year, said seven violent anti-Semitic attacks were recorded by police in 2017, compared to 24 incidents which were recorded between January and mid-December 2018.

Vanoni described it as a “drastic increase” in an interview with the Berliner Zeitung published earlier this week.

These are provisional figures  which may change if, for example, more crimes are reported.

When it comes to non-violent anti-Semitic crimes, according to Vanoni police recorded a total of 305 incidents in Berlin in 2017. Last year, 295 cases were recorded up until mid-December.

“Considering that cases are usually reported later, there will probably be a slight increase in the number of cases in 2018,” said Vanoni, regarding these figures.

The majority of these cases involve offensive language against others and damage to property, such as hate-filled graffiti.

SEE ALSO: Are refugees to blame for a rise in anti-Semitism…or are they being scapegoated?

'Anti-Semitism is becoming louder'

When asked why Berlin’s prosecution office needs a commissioner dedicated to anti-Semitism, Vanoni said there had been an “increase in hatred against Jewish citizens”.

“I have the impression that anti-Semitism is becoming louder, more blatant and more aggressive,” she said.

Vanoni said Berlin law enforcement authorities wanted to take a stand and focus on “combating anti-Semitism”.

She said one reason why hate crime against Jews is higher in Berlin than elsewhere could be down to more people reporting it due to community organizations like the Anti-Semitism Research and Information Centre (RIAS). RIAS has an Internet platform so those affected can report crime this way.

High profile incidents, including a young Syrian migrant who admitted to lashing out at an Israeli man wearing a Jewish kippa skullcap last April in the Prenzlauer Berg district of the capital, have renewed fears among the Jewish community in Berlin and Germany.

A video of the attack, filmed by the victim on his smartphone, sparked widespread public revulsion as it spread on social media, and later triggered large street rallies to show solidarity with Jews.

The defendant, a 19-year-old Palestinian from Syria, was sentenced to four weeks' juvenile detention.

After the belt attack, the head of the Jewish community in Germany, Joseph Schuster, said that Jews should avoid wearing religious symbols in big cities due to a heightened risk of targeted attacks.

The incident had coincided with another public outcry, over a rap duo who made light of Nazi death camp prisoners but went on to win the music industry's sales-based Echo award, which was subsequently axed.

In the interview with the Berliner Zeitung, Vanoni said that perpetrators of anti-Semitism come from all social groups.

She said the crime falls under the category of 'politically motivated crimes' and in many cases, although not all, anti-Semitic crimes are marked down by police as having been committed by far-right perpetrators.

When it comes to anti-Semitism among people in the Islam community, Vanoni said: “In my work, I often hear in conversations with Jewish organizations that Jews regard anti-Semitism among Muslims as an ever-increasing problem in Germany.

“Statistically, this cannot be proven unequivocally. But I take this concern very seriously.”

'Anti-Semitism is attack against democracy'

Despite the increase in recorded crimes, Vanoni said Germany is on the whole a safe country for those belonging to the Jewish faith.

She added that anti-Semitism “is not only an attack on the victim, but also on our democracy and our values, and must therefore be fought vigorously”.

The German government created its first country-wide commissioner post for anti-Semitism last year.

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WILDFIRES

‘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

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