Since the New Year’s Eve riots in Berlin, the problem district of Neukölln has been discussed again. As City Councilor for Youth and Social Affairs, Falko Liecke (CDU) knows the conditions there only too well. Especially in a run down settlement. Here is an excerpt from Liecke’s book “Focus on Germany”.
The High Deck development is located at the southern end of Neukölln’s Sonnenallee, just outside the S-Bahn ring that marks the boundaries of downtown Berlin. Six thousand people live here on an area of twenty hectares. The settlement is the concrete architectural sin of the social housing construction of the 1970s and 1980s. That was also the reason why Leander Haußmann’s film Sonnenallee was not shot here, in the immediate vicinity of the border crossing that gave it its name, but on a specially constructed film set in Potsdam-Babelsberg. The typical Berlin block development shown in the film simply cannot be found here.
The dominant color in the settlement is gray. Elevated walkways – the “high decks” that give the settlement its name – connect the mostly five to six-storey blocks of flats and give the entire site a winding, confusing impression. The cars are parked under the “high decks”. Lots of dark corners where rubbish is left lying around and dreams of fear arise. The fact that large parts of the settlement were placed under monument protection in November 2020 is a bad joke and another blow to the neck for the residents.
Poverty, violence, neglect – Neukölln is just the beginning
Because this means that the already planned renovations of the partially dilapidated apartments are only possible to a limited extent, if at all. To this day I have not understood what exactly is supposed to be worth preserving in this concrete desert. A cerebral decision that completely ignores the reality of people’s lives.
More than half of the residents live on Hartz IV or other social benefits. The proportion of immigrants is similar to that in the far north of Neukölln, the neighboring elementary school has a 98 percent migration background. Hardly anyone really wants to live here, but most simply have no choice. Those who can afford it move away. Those who stay usually find no reason to identify positively with their neighborhood.
It’s been brewing here for a long time. In 2020 the situation exploded. The district also became known through the first scenes of the television series 4 Blocks, in which a police operation against drug-dealing clans escalated massively. How dozens of residents gather on the high decks in a very short time and throw garbage and other things at three lonely police officers while shouting loudly will remind many an officer of his last shift in the neighborhood today. Fiction is rarely as close to reality as it is in these first few minutes of the series.
Since then, at least, the settlement has been cited and mystified again and again in the German-speaking gangster rap scene. In the profitable rap business, it’s easy to settle in with the image of the ghetto kid who made it. The situation was already crappy before 2020 – as the Neuköllner says. During the corona pandemic, under the Green Justice Senator Dr. Dirk Behrendt made the decision to release criminals who were already in prison early. Since the prisons were simply overwhelmed with protecting their inmates from infection, space should be created. So the tough guys came back.
After that, the situation in the High Deck settlement escalated immeasurably. We in the district administration, police and volunteers on site could only shake our heads in horror. The (paraphrased) quote from the Prussian Minister of the Interior Gustav von Rochow († 1847) has never been more appropriate: “The subject is forbidden to apply the standard of his limited insight to the actions of the authorities.”
So we Neuköllners shake our heads, symbolically puke in the corner, take a deep breath and just keep going. In many video conferences to exchange information about the situation and possible solutions. But above all with both feet on the street and in direct contact with children and young people who are slipping more and more and earlier into the hard-hitting criminal scene. The senator for justice, who likes to distinguish himself through constitutional lawsuits against pig farming – admittedly without ever having seen the inside of a conventional pigsty, which does not exist in Berlin anyway – is obviously not interested in the conditions on the street.
His ideology has prevailed, we in Neukölln have to take the rap for the mess and clean up the shambles with unbelievable exertion. In 2020 there were 1,220 crimes in the High Deck development alone. There were burglaries more than three times a day, the hardest drugs are traded, people are maltreated with knives and iron bars. And while in the pandemic year 2020 crimes were declining across Berlin, youth group violence even fell by nineteen percent, they have increased massively here, especially since October 2020.
There were two robberies with firearms on the last remaining shop in the neighborhood, and police officers and law enforcement officials were regularly threatened, attacked and spat on. There are attacks with bottles and stones, as is otherwise only known from the left-alternative neighboring district of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg.
Falko Liecke is a German local politician who has held various positions in the Neukölln district of Berlin since 2009. Liecke has been district chairman of the CDU Neukölln since 2015; since 2019 he has also been deputy state chairman of the party. He has been City Councilor for Social Affairs in the Neukölln District Office since November 2021.
Young people set up veritable stone depots and roadblocks with burning car tires in order to ambush officials who venture into “their neighborhood” and injure them as badly as possible. Such street battles are not the order of the day. These are spectacular acts by youth groups in everyday life in a neighborhood shaped by crime, drugs and violence. But with every single operation in the High Deck settlement, the men and women of the Berlin police have to reckon with such or similar attacks and hope that they can return safely to their partners and children at the end of their shift.
When the section head of the police assures me that there will be no “no-go areas” with him, then I believe him. If only because I take the determination in his eyes seriously and this attitude is exactly what Neukölln needs. I see that the highly armored Berlin focus unit is on its way. I know the State Criminal Police Office is investigating undercover.
I appreciate the increased traffic controls in the area. But I also see that reality is catching up with us all. When almost an entire neighborhood spits on our society and its rules, it becomes difficult. The claim to power and dominance of the dominant youth groups and their families is formulated openly and to the faces of the men and women in uniform: “These are our streets, piss off here. I fuck your mother, you son of a bitch. Allahu Akbar”.
I was told by security sources how the hateful rejection and contempt of our society was smashed in the face of a police officer when arresting a suspected criminal who was about to rob a parcel delivery man:
“You motherfuckers, I’ll finish you all. Cocksuckers, nobody takes you seriously, fuck off! Come alone, then I will kill you, I will fuck you, hurt you, I will remember your faces, I will take you, one by one, I will do bad things to you, I swear to Allah, God is my witness. If you ever come here again, I’ll throw a stone at you and your fucking car. I’ll take a stone slab for you and destroy you. Believe me, I’ll throw a stone at every policeman who comes into my neighbourhood, you have no business being here. A 40-ton truck will run over you, and if I have to do that, by Allah! “
It is the pure hatred, the sheer contempt and the clear reference to religious terrorism that had shaken Berlin just a few years earlier. When a semitrailer attacked the Christmas market on Breitscheidplatz in 2016, thirteen people died and sixty-seven were injured, some seriously. It was the most serious Islamist terrorist attack on German soil up to that point.
In the High Deck settlement, even when the Berlin fire brigade is on rescue missions, the police force has to be called in regularly, as the residents generally know better how to save people and hinder, insult and attack the emergency services. Anyone who dismisses this as a pure mentality issue and excessive concern for loved ones is more part of the problem than the solution. There are no longer any routine rescue operations in this neighborhood.
The entire human and social depravity is revealed when you look at the details and even I, as a really hardened Neukölln original, have serious doubts as to why we are actually still making such an effort. Admittedly, the thought occurred to me: “Every effort is in vain, these young people, these families, this neighborhood is lost.”
At some point, even youth clubs were attacked, social workers were publicly attacked and their car tires slashed. Luckily, this did not result in a serious traffic accident, with no fatalities or injuries. What also amazes police officers is the audacity involved in burglaries, all of which take place in the immediate vicinity of the perpetrators. They literally steal from their neighbors, whom they grin dirty in the face in the stairwell the next morning.
And those are just the acts we know about. The number of unreported cases is enormous, especially when it comes to drug-related offences. Simply because, unlike property crime or violent crime, none of those involved in drug trafficking have an interest in prosecution. Narcotics crime is therefore a so-called control offence. The more you check, the more you uncover. A high-ranking police officer once told me that when it comes to drug trafficking, North Neukölln is no longer a focal point, but a focal point. If you look too closely, you won’t make friends.
One eruption of violence particularly struck me. On May 27, 2020, two children rang the doorbell over and over again at a tenant’s doorbell in one of the High Deck development’s apartment blocks. It’s not the first time he’s had to endure these pranks. This time he catches the two children and holds them to confront the parents about this behavior. Up to this point, this scene could take place in any other neighborhood in Germany. The reaction to be expected in the majority of society: the parents pick up the children, maybe there is an excuse, maybe not. You get along or just avoid each other.
Things will be different on May 27, 2020. On this sunny day, around a hundred relatives, friends and acquaintances of the children’s families flock to the scene within a few minutes. The ability to mobilize via social media should by no means be underestimated when the majority of the extended family in the two-room apartment, overwhelmed with raising the children, is hanging out in jogging pants in front of the flat screen at the end of the month anyway, just waiting for such an opportunity to distract themselves. It’s also a matter of honor – from whoever it is – and it must be defended to the last. By any means.
In this case, that means beating the black neighbor so badly that he never even looks at an Arab child again. The man survived badly injured, but got the message. A short time later he moves away with his family. Far away. All of the perpetrators that the police were able to identify were known. It is the so-called “neighbourhood-oriented multiple offenders”, “threshold offenders” and intensive offenders who led the pack and were incited by it. There is a system.
In the settlement, children who are under criminal responsibility are specifically introduced to crime and used by older adolescents and young adults. From those who were able to celebrate their release from Tegel early. Here a theft, there a piece (a piece of hashish) or a small commercial credit fraud. Up to the age of fourteen, the dear offspring is not to be prosecuted for this at all. Very useful for the backers. And the entry for children into crime, as it is exemplified and played down in glossy series, music videos and every day on the street.
They grow with their crimes. You don’t know any different. The boys are sent to rob the courier who is supposed to deliver high-quality electronics ordered under a false name. The girls are abused as drug couriers or sent into prostitution. If you don’t want to take part, you live dangerously. Like the fifteen-year-old, who didn’t want to carry drugs through the neighborhood and had to endure sexual assaults up to and including attempted rape.
This is an excerpt from the book “Brennpunkt Deutschland” by Falko Liecke, published by Quadriga-Verlag