Currently there are officially 7 danger zones in Berlin, although there were more than 20 when their existence was still secret. In these zones the police have more rights and patrol much more intensively than in the rest of the city. But is this really happening to counter the “dangerous” threats in these areas? From whom do these dangers emanate? To whom are they a danger ? And what does such an area mean for its inhabitants?
A foray through the city.
Let’s start from Alexanderplatz. The central square of east Berlin, a place to hang out, shop and socialize. But only for those who do it the “proper” way. As a shopping area and site of distanced touristic admiration of the eastern bloc architecture from hotel rooms. Marginalized people found in this area a way of making some money by offering shows, music or by begging. Alex for them is home, where they eat, sleep, create networks and build relationships. Besides them young people from all over Berlin gather there in order to have fun and socialize in a place where they can party and hang out away from state or their parents supervision. Incidents of rasists attacks from various groups to homeless people are often in Alex, accompanied also from the rasist cop’s policy. As this social group is also less profitable and uses public rather than private space, they are also a focus for the cops. Different social groups, one common state strategy- keep those who are usefull or necessary for the interests of capital and displace or control and repress whoever is not.
The main goal? To present a clean and perfect image of a popular tourist attraction. For this they have even built a police station in the middle of the square, symbolizing the power and strength of the state. Whoever is shopping or sightseeing there is more than welcome- everyone else will in the best case suffer some sort of repression or police harrassment and in the worst be arrested.
Two kilometers to the east. Rigaerstrasse, where the BPE, Berlins special unit for danger zones the so-called hotspot unit had its only notable appearance. The fact that this troop of voluntary thugs exist only for the danger zones, and the regular Nazi scandals that are revealed in their Whatsapp groups is no coincidence. Unsurprisingly, this is one area in which the cops have more than a passive interest. Because there it is sometimes them who are the hunted. Danger here means danger for unscrupulous property investors and their chain dogs. But their presence also means danger for self-determined living and housing.
Again 600m further. The next danger zone- Warschauer Brücke and the RAW area. Similar themes, similar causes. The history of these places is inextricably linked to the development of tourism. If in the 00s dealers were still selling at Weinbergspark in Mitte, the sellers moved with the tourists to Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain. Görli even features in dozens of travel guides. But while small alternative clubs are being gentrified out of existence, the city’s marketing department continues full throttle, creating new slogans with the help of advertising yuppies “Jung von Matt” in order to position the city as a global brand. That a city is first and foremost a centre of life and not a product is forgotten. What does not fit is dealt with by the cops.
500m further is Görlitzer Park. Here the cops identify their targets mainly by skincolour. Anyone looking like that has to do with drugs, according to this simple and convincing logic. Anyone who hangs out in the park knows this: cops in uniform or plainclothes storm in and people run to flee. For some, the chase ends in handcuffs and deportation flights. As this park was also built without cooperation from cops or other experts in social control, it must now be rebuilt, and is regularly redesigned by the city planners in uniform. Bushes are removed, smaller exits are closed and lamps are added.
To protect residents from the enticing scent of marijuana? Or to complete the gentrification of Kreuzberg and offer an appropriate living environment to the clientele moving into expensive condos?
Rather than abolishing the ahuman asylum laws and legalizing drugs, restructure it and ready the batons.
At Kottbusser Tor a lot of the structure has carried over from a time when crime-preventive urban planning was not a christened concept.
Unclear, difficult to see and convoluted. Almost always Police, sometimes arresting people, sometimes searching bags. Usually this targets people who the cops read as drug users. But who should be protected? The addicts from their addiction? From themselves? A health problem is to be suppressed by means of authority, and ultimately violence. Bam, baton on the head and the problems are out of sight and out of mind.
500m to the south, another so called danger zone- Hermanplatz. And this time the narrative constructs this square as the focal point of Berlins clans. On the 8 o’clock news broadcasts on various tv channels, Neukölln is described time and again as an area full of crime, a territory under the control of criminal organizations, of which the members are of course always Arab, Kurdish and Turkish people. An area that is one of the fastest gentrifying disctricts in Berlin, Hermanplatz was the gathering point of people pushed to the margins of society, but as it became fashionable with monied newcomers, drastic measures against its existing inhabitans had to be taken. The solution was a daily market displacing the activities and gatherings that had taken place there until then, and of course increased state control.
Why is it that migration is always connected with “illegality”, police forces and raids? What does the safety of an area cost and how does the state impliment it? With racist profiling, harassment and brutality. “Safety” and gentrification always come in the same deal. Both Kotti and Hermannplatz have become a spectacle for tourists, where the real lives and struggles of a neighbourhood are described as “multi culti” and are repackaged and managed by the state to provide an exotic metropolitan experience for its chosen clientele, where any person or activity deemed unsavoury is repressed.
7 different areas but 1 political strategy. Racism, gentrification, the dogma of “Law and Order”, police brutality and omnipresence. These are some of the elements composing the narrative of a danger zone. A zone dangerous for whom? The answer would appear to be capital, since those who live in the margins of their bourgeois society are not productive nor able and willing to consume. For the state they are potential “trouble makers”, and prove that this system is based on inequality.
The narrative of the danger zones follows the line for “unproductive” sectors of society -surplus population- as they have been treated since the beginnings of capitalism. As more and more spaces in our cities are enclosed, fenced off and made inaccessible to those unable or unwilling to consume or produce. The last remaining commons of the city are threatened, the public spaces, parks, squares, squats, and social centres in which people can gather, leading to the criminilization of those who use these spaces and often the spaces themselves. Those without homes, young people, migrants or those operating within informal economies due to lack of papers or lack of options for survival, at the hands of the media these sectors of society are problematized in order for the state to justify their removal or control, allowing areas desirable to capital to be freed from obstacles while mainting the image of a healthy social democracy.
The state marginalizes the part of the population that is not useful for it, except in their role as scapegoats, those who do not belong to the productive part according to the narrative of the state. Immigrants, homeless, sex workers etc are gathered and they create these areas who are named from the state ‘danger zones’. People who don’t belong in the desired picture gather together and the police wants to control them. Because they are afraid of what these people could do all together creating this invisible danger.
Some of us are part of these social groups, some others in solidarity with them. All of us are against a system which decides who is necessary and who isnt, which discriminates and evicts, which is violent and individualizing. Today Andreas Geisel implements these policies-tomorrow another politician. Every day they will find us fighting against them, until we build a society based on solidarity, self determination and self organisation- built from below, by us.
So what is the danger to whom? The obvious double standards on application of the states law shows that they are just another tool of domination. Drug dealing and consumption in expensive clubs is tolerated it just cannot serve in supporting the lives of unwanted immigrants or any poors, that would encourage autonomy from the state and self-determination and organisation, besides the raids in the parks create the perfect opportunity to show the states strong hand. Defending a house with violence and attacking people is not a problem when it’s done by the goons of a Padovicz and to keep out the people that lived there for years and were put on the street by him but definitely not when around the corner inhabitants defend themselves from dubious ownership claims and police attacks. But who are the “criminals” ? Of course those who subvert the established powerstructures of the state and the rich, not the white collars in Mitte stealing salaries, exploiting workers, buying subpar masks to distribute to homeless and disabled.
Don’t forget that their criminal is not a moral label but a legal one, otherwise you could wear it with pride.