BONN There have been more incidents involving drugs and violence recently in the Hofgarten. The German Police Union calls it a “dangerous place.” Better lighting and sharper controls could improve the situation.
During the day, the Bonn Hofgarten is a popular park for kids to play in and for tourists. But after dark, the picture changes. Seedy characters sit on benches between the trees.
In the last weeks, there have been some violent confrontations there. Most recently, two groups went at each other in the night with broken glass bottles.
While the Bonn police describe the Hofgarten as “basically safe,” Andreas Gut of the German Police Union finds some sharp words to describe it: “It is a dangerous place. And it can’t be allowed to get out of control at nighttime.”
While large-scale police monitoring already occurs in Bonn, local police are currently struggling. A large number of units are currently needed in the Hambach Forest where protestors have been camped out to protest coal mine expansion.
How will the Hofgarten become safer again?
"The Hofgarten is a large area, especially difficult to see from the outside," says Gut. The nearby subway station, which makes for easy come and easy go, makes it an ideal place for criminal activities. "When a police patrol approaches, you can tell immediately," says Gut.
Those who do not flee and who are stopped by police, are usually known to the police already. But there are certainly ways to make the Hofgarten safer at night. Key issues discussed time and again by the city administration, the police and the university are a stronger police presence, video surveillance and better lighting.
But progress seems thwarted by lack of clarity as to who is responsible. The Hofgarten formally belongs to the University of Bonn but it is a public place. The subway station “Uni/Markt” and the lighting belong to the Bonn public utilities.
24-hour monitoring not possible
One cannot accuse any of the involved parties of inaction. The police have designated the Hofgarten as one of their focal points and regularly travel there with the Ordnungsamt (officers who support police in keeping public order). But police spokesman Robert Scholten says that around-the-clock monitoring would require too many units, especially at night. Their load is already very high right now. Scholten explains that Bonn has had to contribute units in cooperation with police from other municipalities to cover the occupation in Hambach forest.
Meanwhile, there are no plans for video surveillance. For one, it is unclear what will happen with the new police law for NRW - it would make monitoring easier. Second, it is up to the police chief to determine if the Hofgarten is a No-Go area. If that would be the case, there would be more powers given to police, and this could include the use of cameras.
A question of who is responsible
For the university, the image problem is not only linked to the visiting Israeli professor who was attacked there. "We take the problem very seriously and continue to consult within the university about how we can improve the situation," says spokesman Andreas Archut.
Campus security patrols are inside the buildings, but only monitor the outdoor areas to a limited extent. Surveillance cameras exist only in poorly visible, internal areas such as stairwells.
On the street Regina Pacis Weg, old lighting has been replaced with new improved lighting but there are still some dark places. “For measures beyond that, we depend on the responsible authorities.” This means the city, public utilities and historical preservation authorities.
If brighter lighting would be installed everywhere, it would be up to the public utilities. "The whole thing would have to be financed through improved planning by the city," according to the city administration.
(Orig. text: Nicolas Ottersbach; Translation: ck)