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Ask Hans-Torsten: Dog-ownership laws

Hans-Torsten Richter answers your questions about surviving and thriving in Berlin. Write to [email protected] with all your queries.

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Dear Hans-Torsten:

I was walking my dog, on a lead, on Boxhagener Platz when a man approached me. He flashed a laminated piece of paper ID and said he was from the “Umweltamt”. Was I aware that there are no dogs allowed on green spaces that also have a kids’ play area? That if the Ordnungsamt comes, I’d be fined €120 for being in the park with my dog? The man’s German wasn’t great, and he was possibly new at his job, so I couldn’t get any clarification: is this new regulation to do with the new dog laws being implemented this year? Are dogs forbidden because it’s a fenced-in area, or does this apply to all parks that have children’s play areas? Is there or isn’t there regulation that forbids dogs from all parks in Berlin, even if they’re on a lead?


Dear Finn:

This is indeed a frustrating and confusing issue for dog owners. Nobody really knows where what is allowed. It’s a little known or much-ignored fact that five years ago, the district of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg officially banned dogs from various public squares and streets, including Weberwiese, Annemirl-Bauer-Platz, Traveplatz, and, yes, Boxhagener Platz. Presumably to get the ungodly amounts of dogshit under control. On Boxi, it’s a double Verbot: the “green” area where you were walking your dog has some swings on it and hence qualifies as a playground. For understandable reasons of safety and hygiene, there is a citywide ban on canines on playgrounds.

But there is a lot more you should probably know about the byzantine legal situation regarding dogs. Under current law, you’re supposed to have your dog on a lead on busy squares and streets (like Alex and Ku’damm) and in all parks with the green Naturschutzgebiet triangle (often hard to read thanks to graffiti). But a new law proposed by the Senatsverwaltung für Justiz und Verbraucherschutz (Department of Justice and Consumer Protection) will make things stricter. The legislation is now making its way to the Berlin state parliament, and if it gets passed (which looks likely), it could go into effect in 2016. The new Hundegesetz will require your four-legged family member to be leashed everywhere in the city, except in designated Hundeauslaufgebieten (lead free zones).

Right now a ban on canines around Schlachtensee and Krumme Lanke in the Grunewald forest has spurred anger among owners, as this was a favourite place to let dogs splash around in the lake and roll in the mud. Citing dog crap polluting the water and endangering the health of bathing children, the officials forbid dogs from swimming or frolicking on the banks. In Grunewald, that’s only possible in the Grunewaldsee – which is already polluted as hell anyway, according to the city’s website! Speaking of pollution, next year you’ll feel the full force of my new favourite German word: Kotbeutelmitführpflicht (doo-doo-bag-carrying-duty). When out with your dog you’ll have to always have poop baggies with you. Always have an extra unused one in case you get “controlled” by the Ordnungsamt. And beware, the Senat is hiring two additional people per district just to monitor dog compliance. They’ll be checking that your pooch has its mandatory collar tag proving you’ve paid your dog tax. (That’s €120/year for the first dog, €180/year for each additional one! Pay it at your local Finanzamt, if you haven’t done so already.)

The new law will bring in a bunch of new intrusive measures. There’s the controversial silly sounding “dog driving licence” which will exempt you from keeping your dog on a lead everywhere (Leinenzwang) if you pass a test, the details of which are still murky. Professional dog walkers will be required to carry a similar certificate. And the near future will bring a database of every registered dog in Berlin containing data like their embedded chip number, pedigree and whether they’ve bitten someone. Yes, big data control has even reached the world of pets. All this is intended to get the city’s estimated 20,000 unregistered dogs into the system. But for the 100,000 law-abiding dog owners in Berlin, it sounds like the bureaucrat killjoys just want to dissuade you from having an animal.

Originally published in issue #138, June 2015.