It’s obvious to anyone arriving from a more violent or more repressive country that policing in Germany is rather relaxed. Open soft drug dealing goes on in some areas and police are nowhere in sight. A ban on alcohol and smoking on public transport is not enforced. Though video surveillance has become more widespread in recent years — all major train and subway stations now have cameras — there’s still an aversion to cameras in cities: Private individuals in Germany have the right to move unobserved in public spaces. And when it comes to a confrontation, officers hardly ever use guns, though they carry them. Last year, eight people died in shootings that involved police in Germany, a nation of 82 million.
The tendency to let people do whatever they want as long as they’re not causing serious damage is understandable given Germany’s past, when one could say that policing was at times excessive. Sometimes this preference for freedom over enforcement leads to grievous results, especially during Germany’s raucous festivals. The Oktoberfest in Munich, when beer drinkers from around the world revel on the Wiesn fairgrounds, is notorious for the crime that accompanies it. Last year, Munich police reported 20 sexual crimes including an attempted rape (and there were newspaper reports of other rapes), as well as seven robberies. That may not seem like a lot for two weeks of mass drunkenness among 6 million visitors, but activists claim a lot of the sexual crimes go unreported. Feminist Anne Wizorek has put the number of these hidden sexual crimes at 200 per year, claiming that all the talk of migrant violence in Cologne trivializes the problem of violence against women by native Germans.