Terror Response

A Reluctant Return to Boots on the Ground

Poller und Klötze – Weihnachtsmärkte rüsten auf
Return to the streets: Germany has increased its police presence in the wake of the Berlin attack. Herre two uniformed officers patrol a Munich Christmas market on Tuesday. Source: DPA

Since the 1960s and 1970s, an era of violent protest, kidnappings and politically motivated murders in Germany, the face of policing in Europe’s largest economy has been subtle, almost invisible. In most cities and towns, it’s unheard of to see uniformed police officers out walking a beat.

In some districts where the country’s radical left tend to congregate, such as Berlin’s multi-ethnic Kreuzberg neighborhood, it’s positively dangerous for a uniformed officer to appear alone. But two days after large-scale Islamic terrorism came to Germany, that is all about to change.

In the wake of the Berlin Christmas market attack that claimed 12 lives and injured 48 people, police and security officials now are ratcheting up the nation’s police presence, not just in Berlin, but at small towns and gatherings like Christmas markets across the country.

The city of Berlin is planning to install concrete pillars around many Christmas markets. Andreas Geisel, the interior minister, promised more police in the German capital plus other security measures. But protecting every large gathering will be next to impossible. This week alone there are 60 Christmas markets in Berlin, most on squares or streets around the city.

But traditional concerns about displays of martial power have taken a back seat to concerns about personal security, after a year of four, small-scale terror attacks and a mass assault on women last New Year’s Eve in Cologne by men who entered the country as refugees.

“I believe that the majority of Germans will accept this higher level of police presence,’’ said Rafael Behr, a criminologist and sociologist at the Hamburg Police Academy. “I think that most people recognize that, for the time being at least, we are living in a new era of heightened risk.’’

In the wake of the Berlin attack, the changes are coming rapidly.

Today, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cabinet decided to expand the level of video surveilliance, including the use of face-recognition software, in public places such as sport stadiums and shopping malls across the country.

Thomas de Maizière, the German interior minister, said the government will even propose changes to strict data privacy laws to enable the greater surveillance, which in itself is another taboo-break in a country that fought Google’s Street-View photographic archiving of streetfronts.

Already in Berlin, more police are being seen on the streets.

Mr. Geisel, the Berlin interior minister, told daily newspaper Tagesspiegel, a sister publication of Handelsblatt, the capital had accepted the federal government’s offer of more police. The number of officers will be raised at airports and train stations, and at events like tonight’s soccer match in Berlin’s Olympic Stadium between Hertha and Darmstadt.

The show of force – in a country once allergic to mass gatherings of armed authority — is a break with tradition, experts said, and will be controversial. But in the current climate, the mood has swung toward more law and order.

“Now, both politicians and the wider public want to see more police,” said Michael Zielasko, a spokesman for Germany’s GdP police union, which represents most of the country’s roughly 260,000-person federal force.

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