• Politics
  • The divisive ‘Görlitzer Park Fence’ and why it’s destined to fail


The divisive ‘Görlitzer Park Fence’ and why it’s destined to fail

CDU mayor Kai Wegner's plans for a fence around Görlitzer Park have been built on misinformation. Now Berlin residents are holding their breath to see whether or not it will actually go ahead.

Illustration: Andrew Berry

Sure, watching politicians drag each other for bad proposals and obvious fact-checking failures can inspire a certain mirthful glee. But with every move to dig in on his plans to fence off Görlitzer Park aimed at reducing crime, Berlin’s CDU mayor Kai Wegner seems willing to bury any actual solutions as well.

Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg’s Green district mayor Clara Herrmann recently told the Senate that her Bezirk will not comply with Wegner’s one-year pilot programme to close the park at night and build a fence around its perimeter, which should technically fall under the local district’s purview. After all, as Green politician Antje Kapek crisply put it, “If fences could cure crack addiction, the US would be full of them.”

  • €2 million: The expected cost of the fence project.

Wegner, who proposed this idea back in September, does not seem to care that neither locals living near the park nor the district administration support his plan. Herrmann and local resident groups have made it clear that the idea merely slaps another band-aid over the real problems and will only transport the criminal activity to the surrounding neighbourhoods. Local activist group Wrangelkiez United argues that a fence and nighttime closure also ignore the core issues of income inequality, drug use and sale, and homelessness.

Perhaps Wegner thought this was an easy win to drum up some much-needed popularity points: a fence to solve what he deems a major “drug and crime problem” in Görlitzer Park.

Kai Wegner at press conference about the situation in Görlitzer Park on the 8th November 2023. Photo: IMAGO / Marten Ronneburg

Almost €2,000,000 have been planned to cover the cost of repairing and reinforcing the park’s existing wall as well as building the fence, the construction of which was supposed to start at the beginning of 2024 but has been postponed until summer. Wegner has admitted that other social approaches might have to be a part of the overall programme but hasn’t been specific, and critics argue that those €2,000,000 could be better used without a fence.

When it comes to the park, Wegner doesn’t have the best track record of saying things that are – how to put this delicately – true. In a September interview, Wegner said that it was the case of a 14-year old girl forced into sex work in Görlitzer Park that kept him up at night. Neither the police department nor the public prosecutor’s office could find evidence of young people being forced into prostitution in the park.

He also excitedly heralded New York City’s Central Park as a guiding example for his fence proposal. Only, Central Park doesn’t have a fence. In late January, Interior Senator (and Wegner’s ally) Iris Spranger had to correct the mayor’s claim that closing Görlitzer Park at night could save the police 72,000 operational hours a year. According to Spranger, police have only spent 6,000 to 12,000 hours in the park in recent years.

Green politician Vasili Franco has called Wegner’s use of “fake news” regarding the park “dubious and undignified”. His lies also add to the growing mythos of Görli being Germany’s “Problempark Nr. 1”, as Tagesspiegel dubbed it in 2019. After a horrific group rape allegedly took place in the park in June last year, Mayor Wegner reified his mission to make it safer by increasing security.

On the 23rd of January 2024 Manja Schreiner, Kai Wegner and Clara Herrmann looked at the situation in Görlitzer Park accompanied by protests against the planned closure. Photo: IMAGO / Sabine Gudath

Wegner’s focus – and local media reporting on the incident – has bolstered Görli’s notoriety. Statistically, however, violent and sexual crimes are not taking place at a higher rate than in other parts of the city. According to the most recent statistical breakdown, the majority of recorded crimes in the park involve dealing drugs, followed by offences against residency laws and theft.

Are dealing drugs, immigrating to Germany illegally and stealing iPhones public safety issues, or symptoms of what conservative politicians have spent decades working to criminalise?

A Decade of “Law and Order”

Opponents to Wegner’s plan want public health initiatives and to move away from the overused criminal justice approach. In 2019, experts were already pointing out just how little increasing policing had done for the park’s safety.

At that time, Die Linke’s Niklas Schrader proposed legalising small amounts of hard drugs like heroin and crack to relieve the burden on the judiciary and decriminalise addicts, as well as offering distribution points to regulate their flow.

Last year, Wrangelkiez United started a petition to refocus the city’s efforts on social solutions; drop-in centres and consumption rooms for drug users, increased work permits for those who would otherwise only be able to make money by selling illegal drugs, and funding to organisations working to end gendered violence.

“Women and their experiences of violence are instrumentalized for racist law & order campaigns,” the petition states. “But this is not about women and security but about racist displacement, repressive migration policies and gentrification.”

  • 5,802: The number of people who have signed the Wrangelkiez United petition so far

Many of the dealers in the park are migrants, often undocumented or awaiting asylum proceedings which keeps them in bureaucratic limbo and unable to work legally. Violations of immigration law are the second-highest reported crime in Görli, which usually means infringement of the Residence Act, the Asylum Act and the EU Freedom of Movement Act – and such violations can only be committed by non-citizens. Illegal entry into Germany is an example of such a law-break.

Protest against fencing and night-time closure of Görlitzer Park organised by Wrangelkiez United. Photo: IMAGO / Funke Foto Services

Whether or not Görlitzer Park is significantly more dangerous for parkgoers than other city parks or even the surrounding neighbourhoods is hard to say; conceptions of safety are subjective and cannot be determined purely by crime statistics.

As the police department releases new numbers, however, Berliner Morgenpost, rbb, Berliner Zeitung and Tagesspiegel have slowly inched away from the “Problempark” narrative to illuminate the comparable crime rate in the neighbouring districts.

Meanwhile, politicians are still groundhogging the same security-based methods and yielding similar results. Police raids on the park have been heavy since at least 2013. In 2014, a task force was created to curb the drug problem; they cut hedges to make it harder to stash drugs and increased police presence.

Wegner is more interested in his own white-picket fantasies than listening to Berliners for sustainable solutions.

In 2015, the park was made into a zero-tolerance zone, enabling prosecution for any amount of drugs held – this was when 15 grams of weed, for instance, was decriminalised for private use – which was abandoned in 2017 because it “simply didn’t work at all”, police union spokesman Benjamin Jendro said at the time. A park manager and so-called “parkrunners” were instated in 2016 to make Görli “more attractive again for local residents”, according to Berliner Morgenpost.

Three years later, in 2019, pink squares were spray-painted on the ground throughout the park, meant to keep drug dealers within their zones and leave park-goers undisturbed. Almost all of these initiatives, including another push to increase policing in 2019 with a so-called “hotspot unit”, were accompanied by ramping up police surveillance in the park.

Police presence in Görlitzer Park. Photo: IMAGO / Jürgen Held

By 2021, critics pointed out that the number of people expelled from the park by law enforcement increased from 1,748 to 2,772, but more drug dealers were in the park than ever before – this in addition to allegations of racial profiling resulting from the police’s ability to perform baseless searches.

Despite all of this, CDU politicians still want to throw more cops at the problem. After a second rape incident allegedly took place in the park on the night of December 30, 2023, Wegner has recomitted to “taking this crime hotspot away from the criminals and giving it back to the people of Berlin”. (You can hear what the people of Berlin have to say about this, here).

The “tens of thousands’” of police hours that were previously used for night-time surveillance of the park will, in theory, be used in the neighbouring streets after the fence is built. Increasing police presence will simply push the dealers and users into the surrounding neighbourhoods, according to Tagesspiegel’s Dominic Mai and David Kiefer from Wrangelkiez United, a social worker and Kiez resident.

Yes, crimes take place in Görlitzer Park. But when Wegner talks about crime rates, he’s not talking about the structural inequalities behind the statistics: gentrification, income inequality, a lack of mental health services, legal employment for migrants, drug policy.

Politicians like Schrader and local resident groups like Wrangelkiez United and the ‘Görli zaunfrei’ alliance have already offered proposals that address these systemic issues, but at this point, it seems obvious that Wegner is more interested in his own white-picket fantasies than listening to Berliners for sustainable solutions.

  • You can sign the petition against the fencing of the park here, and keep up to date with future protests organised by Wrangelkiez United here.