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Living in Germany
Safety and Crime in Germany
Worrying about safety and crime in Germany is a natural concern for expats who are unfamiliar with the country. Germany is generally a safe country, and while crime in Germany exists, it is rather low-scale. Crime in Germany is not a topic the population, including expats, needs to worry about.
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Violent crime in Germany is rare. Most Germans don’t feel that their safety is threatened by terrorism; and, especially in Germany’s rural areas, they tend to regard the police as a reliable safety guarantor as well as their Freund und Helfer (“friend and helper”).
Law and Crime in Germany
As said above, it is rather unusual that crime in Germany will pose a threat to your wellbeing. The rates for murder, manslaughter, aggravated assault, rape, and serious sexual coercion pale in comparison to the high numbers of the most common forms of crime in Germany: pick-pocketing, street harassment, pan-handling, petty theft, and larceny. However, German law enforcement has been cracking down on the drug trade, mugging, and burglary. The increases in violent football hooliganism as well as grievous bodily harm involving relatively young perpetrators are some of the more worrisome facets of crime in Germany.
Of course, those incidents are also dependent on the individual situation, both the city and the neighborhood you’re in. Statistically speaking, Munich is the safest among Germany’s major cities – safer than, for instance, Cologne or Hamburg. Berlin and Frankfurt, on the other hand, tend to have comparatively high crime rates. Still, there is no city which is “infested with crime” in Germany.
As far as certain areas are concerned, you should soon start enquiring among your neighbors and colleagues, and know which areas to avoid. Generally speaking, the city blocks near larger train stations tend to be more or less seedy and are often the areas with the highest rate of crime in Germany’s cities. Public transport, such as underground trains or buses, isn’t always safe at night.
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Avoiding Crime in Germany
Here are some safety tips to keep in mind:
- Beware of situations involving large crowds, such as football games or political demonstrations. For a stranger, it’s often not that easy to tell which participants are just avid soccer fans or concerned citizens, and who is likely to act violently. There have also been occasional reports of police brutality or false arrests when demonstrations were broken up.
- The above-mentioned caution especially applies to beer festivals like the Oktoberfest. Crowds, lots of younger men, and heavy alcohol consumption do not make a good combination. Munich’s emergency rooms treat several victims of rather nasty brawls every autumn.
- Don’t go into areas where you quickly feel nervous or unsafe. Listen to your inner “safety alarm”. It takes a while to get accustomed to new surroundings and assess genuine risks properly, but it’s really better to be safe than sorry.
- If you have to go somewhere “not safe”, try to take one or two trustworthy people with you, and don’t linger.
- Licensed taxis are sometimes the best means of transport.
- Keep your cell phone at hand (emergency number: 110).
- Keep your passport/ID card with you. In Germany, police have the right to demand your papers any time.
- Make copies of all official documents and put them somewhere safe.
- Don’t take all your cash and credit cards with you wherever you go.
- It’s recommended, though, to keep a wallet with about 50€ ready in order to appease potential muggers.
However, in all likelihood, the worst you’ll see of crime in Germany will be an incident of verbal harassment on the street or a stolen bike. By the way, bicycle theft is possibly the most widespread type of crime in Germany. In places like Münster, a beautiful university town with fewer than 300,000 inhabitants in North-Rhine-Westphalia, the large student population prefers the cheaper bikes to cars – countless police reports about missing bicycles are filed every year.
If something should happen to you after all, the first and most important thing is: Don’t panic. The emergency number for the German police is 110; under 112, you can call the fire department or an ambulance. Try to speak as loudly and calmly as possible, and make it clear that you are not a German native speaker. If you are the victim of a crime (e.g. theft), you should report it to the local police.
For the most part, German law enforcement has a good reputation. However, human-rights organizations such as Amnesty International criticize a lack of disciplinary measures for officers accused of excessive violence towards demonstrators or of mistreatment of asylum seekers prior to deportation. There is no official racial profiling policy, but “foreign-looking” people are indeed more likely to be stopped and asked for their papers – even when it turns out that they were actually born in Germany and have obtained German citizenship.
When you deal with the German police – no matter whether as a witness, a victim, or a potential suspect – don’t be surprised if they don’t necessarily speak English or other foreign languages. Your embassy or consulate can not only recommend you a lawyer, but send you an interpreter as well. Explain that you are in need of one, and wait for him or her to arrive before agreeing to further proceedings.
It’s always a good idea to know your embassy’s contact details and have them in writing somewhere. The diplomatic mission of your country will be able to assist you in the following cases:
- You need a list of local lawyers and interpreters.
- You want to contact a local doctor for medical treatment.
- You have to get in touch with your family and friends back home to tell them what has happened.
- You need to safely acquire money from relatives or friends (e.g. via money transfer).
- You have lost your passport / ID card.
- You need information on the local police and legal procedures.
In other circumstances – for instance, in the case of unpaid hotel bills or hospital treatments – your embassy is not responsible for you, though.
Airport Security and Import Restrictions
Since 9/11 and similar incidents, Germany has also been increasing its airport security, although the various safety measures (metal detectors, hand luggage searches, taking off shoes, jackets, and sweaters,…) mostly apply to passengers boarding a plane, not those leaving one. However, certain import restrictions – deemed in the interest of general safety – are enforced by Germany’s Customs Administration. Therefore you should know that some articles constitute either a safety risk or are downright illegal in Germany. Even the hunting rifle you’ve had for years may be confiscated as a safety threat in Germany. Depending on the circumstances, importing the items on the following list might lead to an arrest, so just don’t do it:
- firearms and ammunition
- drugs (both narcotics and selected prescription drugs)
- pornography (especially that including extreme violence or involving minors)
- media of unconstitutional content (particularly those glorifying the Third Reich/World War Two)