Sophie Cullinane | Features Editor | Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Is Berlin's Tenure As Party Capital Of Europe Over?

The Debrief: Berlin’s so-called ‘drug supermarket’ Görlitzer Park is plagued by violent attacks and 24 hour police patrol. Does this spell the end of Berlin’s party capital reputation?

It’s no secret that Berlin became Europe’s party capital for most people our age internationally, who are lured by the Ibiza-worthy sound systems and line-ups on a student loan budget and the city’s famed lenient approach to drug taking. If you want to hear the best DJs play pulsating bangers under the influence of some of a strongest and easily accessible party drugs but without the £50 entrance fee, Berlin is probably already your location of choice. Its reputation precedes it and at its epicentre is Berlin’s Görlitzer Park, the 800-by-200 metre stretch park in Kreuzberg that has become known as ‘Germany’s drug dealing centre’. 

‘It’s basically become the go-to place for British tourists who, fresh off their budget easyJet and Ryan Air flights, want to score drugs before they head off to the nightclubs in the city,’ explains a slightly exacerbated 38-year-old Georgia Grace, who moved from London to Kreuzberg 15 years ago to pursue a career as a club promoter. ‘The park was originally designed on the site of an old railway in the 1990s to provide some green space for locals in the area, which has until recently been densely populated with some of the city’s poorest people. Now it’s filled with non-local hipsters and tourists, which is a bone of contention for a lot of local people, but especially so in the park. I used to be able to walk my dog there but now it’s too dangerous because of the throngs of people scoring and taking drugs at all hours of the day. It never really stops. It’s known to everyone, but I feel like it’s getting much worse in the last few months. I’m now too scared to go into a park a stone’s throw from my flat! I don’t know why anyone would go to Görlitzer other than to sell or buy drugs because it’s grotty as hell and getting more and more seedy every day.’ 

 

The purchase of marijuana, ecstasy, cocaine, methamphetamines and opiates is generally prohibited in Germany, not that you would have been able to tell on a particularly freezing November last year when I entered the park and, after walking less than four metres, was surrounded by at least 20 drug dealers, plus a further 40 odd in my peripheral vision, offering to sell cannabis, hashish and cocaine at ‘the best price in the city’. The dealers carry small amounts of drugs on them for you to ‘sample’, but the vast majority of their stash is kept in the shrubbery that surrounds the park, fiercely guarded by ominous looking and densely packed groups of men. 

‘I used to be able to walk my dog there but now it’s too dangerous because of the throngs of people scoring and taking drugs at all hours of the day’

For the most part, this was fairly typical scene, and one I have become familiar with in the dozen or so times I’ve visited the city in the last decade. The traditionally left-wing Kreuzberg neighbourhood has long had a reputation for allowing dealers, locals and police to co-exist in relative peace – but before long what started off as a minor irritation was beginning to take a pretty terrifying turn. When I said I wasn’t interested in one dealer’s drugs, he indicated at a group of 15 or so men who began to circle me and my male friend like sharks, later pawing at my breasts in an attempt to separate me from my friend, who was a local to the area. Suddenly aware of what was happening, he made a dash for me grabbing my arm and removing me from the group but not before one of the dealers was able to take both his watch and wallet. When I tell Georgia about what happened, she is unsurprised: ‘I hear a new story about locals and tourists alike being assaulted on an almost weekly basis.’ 

‘I’d read online that it was relatively safe to go into the park and pick up,’ 21 year-old student Vicky, who visited Berlin this weekend with friend for the first time to sample to city’s famous night life, tells The Debrief. ‘It was a freezing day and I wasn’t expecting anyone to be in the park, but we met several dealers within minutes of entering. When my friend said he thought that the weed he’d bought was under loudly in front of another group of tourists, the dealer became incensed that we might have lost him some business and took a knife out of his jacket. Obviously, we just ran. I would have reported it to the police, but from what I understand the police are aware of the problems in the park, so what’s the point?’

In the last few months alone, there have been local reports of a sexual assaults in the park, multiple tourists targeted thefts, children and toddlers finding bags of cocaine in the park’s playground and several violent incidences between dealers and local business owners in the area. In November, two teenage hash dealers were badly injured in a stabbing incident outside a local shisha bar after its owner complained about them standing outside his premises. The bar was later attacked and wrecked by men known to the dealers. An upmarket local restaurant called Edelweiss was recently torched when he complained about bookings being cancelled because of the number of dealers in the area. 

‘You keep hearing reports of violence and many shop keepers are now keeping weapons behind their tills. If I was a tourist, I wouldn’t want to be caught in the crossfire’

‘If the drug dealers themselves weren’t another of a concern to tourists and locals, there is definitely a palpable energy between the local shopkeepers and the dealers themselves and it’s beginning to feel like a race war,’ explains a local shopkeeper who requested to remain anonymous. ‘There has been a record influx of mostly African refugees into Germany in the last year and none of the new arrivals are legally able to work, which has created an influx of street workers in the park selling drugs. There is violent competition amongst the dealers themselves, but also against local Turkish business owners in the area, frustrated by the police’s lax attitude towards selling drugs. They are attempting to take matters into their own hands which is why you keep hearing reports of violence and many shop keepers are now keeping weapons behind their tills. If I was a tourist, I wouldn’t want to be caught in the crossfire.’

 

Locals believe that the problem has been compounded  by political authorities in the area keen to keep the local, liberal, alternative voters on side. The district is traditionally administered by the Green Party, who have been accused of being too soft on the problem so as not to appear to be clamping down on immigration. When a a coalition of Kreuzberg residents launched an initiative to introduce multicultural street workers into the park to help alleviate tensions during conflicts with tourists, other deals and local shop owners they were lauded as racists by many of the left-wing activists in the area. Some local leftist fear that, by cleaning up the park, you will be accelerating the gentrification of the area and pushing out locals in favour of wealth expats and tourists. A strange oxymoron, considering how many tourists have been pushed out of the area from fear of being assaulted in the park. 

If that weren’t enough to keep tourists away, Berlin police have recently begun patrolling the parks in an attempt to stem the problem of crime and violence, sometimes in 100-strong groups. ‘I went there at 6am after leaving Panorama bar and was immediately met by police officers asking what I was doing in the park,’ explains Ben, a 30-year-old teaching assistant from London who has in Berlin on a stag do. ‘I won’t be going again. To be honest, one of the main reasons we came to Berlin was for the party atmosphere and what we were met with was something much darker.’ 

Georgina agrees with the sentiment. ‘The police presence hasn’t really done anything other than intimidate tourists – when the police arrive the dealers just scatter and return within the hour. They’ve cut down the shrubbery to stop people hiding drugs in the bushes, but people will just find another place to stash their drugs. It’s hopeless and I don’t see a solution other than providing other legal work for the asylum seekers and refugees in the area – without that, the violence will only get worse. If it continues, I doubt Berlin will have the party reputation for much longer.’

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Pictures: Eylul Aslan

Tags: Around The World, Longish Reads, World News Wednesday, Germany