A series of brawls at outdoor swimming pools in Berlin has fueled the immigration debate

Outdoor swimming pools in Berlin have become a topic of conversation across the country, concerned with the decrease in violent incidents that have been recorded since the start of the season. Fights and clashes with workers, harassment of women and LGTBI people, disregard for the basic rules of coexistence … News of brawls in the capital’s swimming pools, an oasis of calm in a city where there are almost no homes with air conditioning, is not new, but this year the problem has jumped into the political arena. Even the chancellor Olaf Schultz spoke at his summer press conference About how to deal with hooligans in billiards.

currently, DC Mayor It has imposed new rules: ID control at the entrance and a greater police presence, with mobile patrols around the facilities. From Monday, you must present a photo ID to access Berlin’s 27 summer pools. In the notoriously squabbled ones, located in the central boroughs of Neukölln and Kreuzberg, it has become common to see rows of police vans in the surroundings. Security guards have also been hired to search bags at the entrance, which has not been done before.

Berlin’s new mayor, conservative Kai Wegner, has made clear his government is ready to impose order. “We will not tolerate lawless spaces,” he solemnly told reporters on July 13 at the Prinzenbad pool, which is one of the pools in which such violent incidents accumulate, usually carried out by young people who are referred to in the media as “immigrant”, that is, of foreign origin. That day began the summer holidays for schools. “Especially in this neighborhood, many families will not be able to leave the city because they have no money and I want them to enjoy their holidays safely,” he stressed.

A cyclist walks through the entrance to the Columbabad swimming pool in the Neukölln district of Berlin on July 14. Picture alliance (dpa/picture alliance via Getty I)

The flow of events, increasingly dominated by the media, has led some parties to begin to advocate a strong hand and question the success of the integration of their young protagonists, who in many cases are second, third or fourth generation immigrant families. The new general secretary of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), Carsten Linenemann, has called for speedy trials of the troublemakers. He told her, “Anyone who attacks a person in the pool at lunchtime should sit before a judge in the afternoon and be judged, even on the weekend.” Daily Build Sunday.

His proposal does not convince the opposition, which it described as “populism”, nor the judges’ associations, who do not see any future for it, but it raised eyebrows because it is not usual for a politician to target a group directly. Added Lineman, the opposition leader’s new strongman, Frederick Merz Build: “Families who can’t afford a vacation or a pool at home have to watch as young people, often with immigrant backgrounds, get violent in the outdoor pool. They get the impression that the state is watching.”

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These kinds of statements come at a time of booming polls for the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which scrupulously defends a stronger hand against uncivilized behavior and usually associates it with young people with immigrant backgrounds. The party’s success, with a vote intent of 20%, has led to a shift to the right of the Christian Democrats, who are looking for a way to win back part of that electorate.

Vincenz Lochner, professor of sociology and criminology at the Berlin School of Economics and Law, believes these incidents are exaggerated, as figures show that cases of youth gang violence have declined in recent years, from 8,000 in 2006 to 1,800 last year. In his opinion, they may be young people of the same socioeconomic status as those who rioted last New Year’s Eve in the neighborhoods of Neukölln and Kreuzberg: they feel undervalued and marginalized by society and take advantage of any opportunity to confront authority figures. Public swimming pools exacerbate these behaviors, he explained to EL PAÍS in an email: “They use public places as a stage to show their masculinity, and by going in groups of friends, they get into violent conflicts faster if there is an individual verbal conflict because they want to perform in front of their audience.” He adds that heat exacerbates the situation by increasing aggression.

On hot days, and there have been quite a few in the German capital lately, the swimming pools fill up to the point where there are hardly any spaces to put your towel. On July 9, a new fight broke out in Columbabad that required police presence. Beatrice, a Spaniard who lives in Berlin, was there that afternoon. He couldn’t see the ruckus — the complex has three swimming pools and large stretches of lawn — but he was surprised when the facility closures were announced over the speaker system more than two hours ahead of time: “Uniformed cops started showing up to tell us we had to get packed and leave. ‘She’ll arm herself,’ I thought, but I didn’t ask. Then I saw it on Twitter.”

Columbiaabad closed and didn’t open until a week later. Its employees, who were attacked that day by angry youths, took sick leave at the same time. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Berlin newspaper The Daily Mirror Unveil a message Sent at the start of the season to the Berlin municipal swimming pools management (BBB) ​​where staff complain they are regularly subjected to verbal and physical assaults, including spitting and insults. The text describes an “unbearable juvenile scale” and specifies that the targets of abusers are employees, female users, and minorities, particularly LGTBI and transgender people.

At the end of June, the same assembly witnessed another violent confrontation. Local media described that it started because children with water guns sprayed a 21-year-old woman and her friends in line to get up the slide. They got into an argument until a man between the ages of 35 and 40, who also had a water gun, got into the fight and confronted her. The woman spat on him and he hit her in the face with the toy, breaking her nose. When the police arrived, the pool had turned into a massive commotion: a crowd of about 250 bathers harassed the security personnel and the agents themselves, who had to call for reinforcements. The pool has been evacuated and closed.

In its efforts to control violent outbreaks, Berlin’s city council has not only mandated identity checks — you must also give your name and surname when buying tickets online — but also more resources to stop “terrorism” — in the words of Social Democratic Security Council member Iris Spranger — in swimming pools. That is, more money to increase security. The current head of the police union stressed after the water pistol incident that it was necessary to hire more security personnel. He said officers are not lifesavers and they have better things to do than police bathrooms.

The events in these places, which made headlines across the country, crept into Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s summer press conference, who said he supported a police presence in the facilities and warned that the state would not tolerate such violent behaviour. Police statistics show a total of 57 violent crimes in city blocks last year. The authorities intend to veto the entry of repeat offenders, which they have already done, albeit in smaller numbers than are expected to be registered from now on.

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