The revolutionary events of October and November 1989 ushered in a period of dizzying change in Germany, particularly in East Germany and the reunited city of Berlin. As familiar social and political institutions fell along with the Berlin Wall, crime patterns changed almost overnight and the policing system in East Germany experienced fundamental transformations. While East Germany would seem to have been in an ideal position among post-communist societies, in that new, more democratic structures did not have to be reinvented, but mererly taken over from the West, in reality--like so much else in the unification process--this transition was extremely painful on a psychological and social level. This article will investigate that transition in the crucial period immediately following the events of autumn 1989. In addition to the intrinsically interesting nature of this period, understanding its dynamics helps shed light upon more general issues of East Germany's transition from communism and on more recent incidents and events in Germany.
This paper was first written in the years 1990-91, before any body of scholarly work existed on the issues it addresses. Thus it relies largely on primary sources such as interviews and documents, as well as newspaper and journal articles published while the changes were taking place, along with some later materials. It begins with a brief overview of the political events leading up to these changes, followed by brief descriptions of the theoretical and practical aspects of crime-fighting structures in East Germay. Changes in crime patterns in Eastern Germany after the fall of the Wall are then discussed, with particular attention to the problems East German police faced in dealing with increased crime. Finally, the psychological tensions in eastern Germany brought about by reunification are highlighted through the use of two brief case studies involving the police (squatting and neo-Nazi incidents).
OVERVIEW OF KEY POLITICAL EVENTS
The year 1989 would prove to be a turning point in German history (Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung 1991). The year saw major changes in the Hungarian and Polish political systems and--in part as a result of this--rumblings of discontent among East Germans. Local East German elections on May 7, 1989 were attended by observers from opposition movements, who testified that the results were rigged. The small demonstrations that followed were dispersed with some brutality by police and the secret service (called the Staatssicherheitsdienst or, more commonly, Stasi), but dissatisfaction did not abate.
In August of 1989, East Germans began storming West German embassies in Prague and Budapest in hopes of receiving asylum in West Germany. As this news began to dominate West German television (watched by almost all East Germans), the atmosphere within East Germany became increasingly tense. Relatively large demonstrations took place in Leipzig during an international trade fair in September 1989, and again were broken up forcibly by the police and Stasi. Finally, also in September, the Hungarian government opened its borders and East Germans began to pour out of the country by the tens of thousands. It was against this backdrop that the East German government prepared to celebrate the country's fortieth anniversary on October 7.
October 7 and 8 would become key dates in what is sometimes termed East Germany's "revolution." On these two days, the hollow phrases and hymns of praise to an East German state whose citizens were departing in droves, as well as the presence of Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev, a symbol of hope to many East Germans, became the catalyst for large-scale protests throughout the country. On the 7th, a spontaneous demonstration by several thousands erupted in the center of Berlin--the first of its size in East Berlin since the 1950's. The police had been primed for weeks to expect "counter-revolutionary" actions by "enemies of the state," and many believed this indoctrination ("Versuch," Die Polizei 1990: 260-62). For these officers, unaccustomed to dealing with any sort of mass protest and suddenly confronted with the hostility of thousands of very angry fellow citizens, the situation was unexpected and frightening. Both police and Stasi were involved in the operation against the demonstrators. Eye witnesses later described their behavior: more than 1,000 people were beaten and arrested, then taken to various police stations and prisons, where during the night and the next day they were humiliated, mistreated, denied food or use of toilets, and in some cases forced to stand for hours without moving or to run a gauntlet of police armed with clubs ("Ich zeige an," 1989). In the following weeks, a major demand by the opposition would be prosecution of those responsible for this behavior.
October 9 then became the crucial turning point. In Leipzig, a traditional Monday prayer service for peace turned into a demonstration by 70,000 (Spiegel, October 16, 1989). The East German army and all security forces had been mobilized, but last-minute intervention by a number of prominent persons prevented violence. For the first time, the protest was not broken up by security forces. This marked the beginning of change in East Germany. One month later, on November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall fell.
In every country, the police play an important role in executing the political will of the state (Die Polizei 1990: 257). Their role becomes more complex in totalitarian countries, where the state consists of a single party claiming possession of absolute truth. Following Marxist- Leninist theory, East Germany's ruling "Social Unity Party" (Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands, or SED) claimed, through its laws, to represent the will of the ruling working class, which was implemented by organs like the police. In theory, conflicts between the interests of the people and those of the state could not exist; hence they were ignored as far as possible, or suppressed ("Versuch," Die Polizei 1990: 257). The police were expressly instructed to implement "socialist legality," that is, to take an instrumental role in promoting the "socialist order" (Wolfe 1992). Policing emphasized protection of the state and society over the rights of the individual, in the belief that achievement of a socialist society was, in the end, the best protection of those rights. This often meant combatting those who expressed dissident political viewpoints considered by the Party to pose a threat to its own existence ("Klassenauftrag," Deutsche Polizei, April 1990: 5). The "enemy" was imperialism, often in the form of West German capitalist influence.
However, the police's main function in East Germany, as in any country, was day-to-day crimefighting. Official ideology held that crime and socialism were incompatible, and that any remaining crime was merely a relic of the previous social order. The task of the entire criminal justice system, including the police, was at least in part an educational one, since criminals were considered "socially retarded" people who "had not yet internalized socialist values." (Wolfe 1992: 10). Community cooperation in crimefighting was not only encouraged, but even required (Wolfe 1992: 9).
THE CONTROL ORGANS
The East German system was propped up by a variety of control organs, of which the
Volkspolizei, or People's Police, was only one (Harnischmacher 1990: 275-79). Though the
organs were subordinated to various government ministries, all were actually
In addition, the criminal police had its own net of spies and informants that worked together with or took orders from the Stasi (Gast 1990).
The East German police, unlike its Western counterpart, was centrally administered and
directly subordinate to the Ministry of the Interior. Its military structure left the individual
police officer very little discretionary or other freedom ("Versuch," Die Polizei 1990: 258-59).
Requirements for joining the regular force were a tenth-grade education, army service, and
a completed course of vocational training in another profession; actual police training included
only 5 months of police school, consisting largely of political indoctrination and legal theory,
followed by a six-month practical internship (Harnischmacher 1990: 282-83). Criminal
investigators (members of the criminal investigation department or Kripo) received more
extensive training (Howorka 1990: 601). Further academic and practical training was possible
for all members of the force in the criminology department of East Berlin's Humboldt
University, which was also known for training secret police officers.
While women always served in various capacities, especially as criminal investigators,
they began in 1989 to be used for patrol duty as well, apparently because of personnel shortages
caused by the increasing importance placed in recent years upon political correctness.
The reasons offered by individual police officers for joining the force differ little from
those of their Western, including American, counterparts: A desire to work with people,
idealism, family tradition, belief in the system and the wish to serve one's country.
CRIME IN EAST GERMANY BEFORE AND AFTER THE FALL OF THE BERLIN WALL
Crime in Pre-1989 East Germany
According to East German propaganda, the Wall was built to protect East Germans from
negative influences from the West (Honecker 1981: 197-207). This claim turned out,
paradoxically, to contain an element of truth. It is somewhat difficult to achieve an accurate
picture of the crime situation in East Germany prior to November 1989 because of the many
different organs that dealt with illegal activities, their secrecy, and the state's conscious effort to
downplay the extent of crime in this "socialist paradise" (Baier & Borning 1991); nevertheless
Yet violence, on a psychological as well as physical level, tended to be a government
monopoly. Violence by individual citizens remained relatively rare; when it occured, it
primarily took the form of bar brawls and domestic violence. In attempting to describe the
atmosphere before the fall of the Wall, one policeman I spoke to stated only half-jokingly that
the most common crime was "theft of baby carriages." For the average
AFTER THE FALL
The fall of the Wall created a chaotic situation; while familiar structures were discredited
almost immediately, no new ones emerged to take their place, leaving a sort of anarchic
vacuum. The police and other security forces were no exception. The fear they had nourished
for decades disappeared; a liberated but confused citizenry took "freedom" to mean "anything
goes." When the public was not openly hostile to the police, it simply ignored them. At the
A host of problems and crimes connected with the new, uncontrolled borders appeared
almost immediately, among them increases in highway accidents, weapons and currency
smuggling, and robberies. Starting in
An additional problem was created following the monetary union and introduction of West German currency in July 1990, in conjunction with the dismantling of the East German army and changes in the status of the Soviet military in East Germany. Soviet soldiers, still paid in non-convertible, low-value Soviet rubles, could no longer afford to shop in a country that now required payment in Western currency. Thus it became common for soldiers openly to sell Soviet weapons of all types in exchange for West German Marks.
Weapons were also taken from the stores of the East German army, the NVA, during the chaotic months of late 1989 and early 1990 ("Ansteigen," Die Polizei, October 1990: 287). Thus automatic weapons became widely available for the first time. Combined with the change in weapons laws in Berlin (see below), this created a major increase in lethal arms on the territory of what used to be East Germany that, in conjunction with the tensions described above, could only worsen the crime situation.
Monetary union increased East Germany's problems. The sudden influx of Western currency and products resulted in increased shoplifting. Residential burglary and auto theft also rose (the East German Trabant and Wartburg cars had not been as attractive to thieves as the Western cars now owned by growing numbers of East Germans). Bank robberies increased following monetary union by as much as 87 percent (Skoda 1991: 44), as banks now dealt in Western currency and Western cars made safe, rapid getaways possible. There had been little incentive in the past to steal relatively worthless Eastern marks, especially in a communist state with rigidly-controlled prices and limited opportunities to spend extra money. Thus banks had none of the protective devices taken for granted in the West; they resembled mere shops with counters.
Purse snatchings increased rapidly until they almost matched the rate in the West. In addition, with the introduction of the West German mark in the East a new drug market opened up, though drug use did not rise as steeply as had been feared (Die Polizei, April 1990: 94).
Traffic Accidents and Deaths
According to the Federal Statistics Office, the number of deaths from traffic accidents climbed from 1,784 in 1989 to 3,330 in 1990. The report shows an 85% increase in traffic deaths on East German territory in 1991. Many were attributable to the fact that many East Germans, accustomed to their slower Trabant cars, immediately bought faster, more powerful, and thus more dangerous, western cars following monetary union. However, West Germans were also responsible for many accidents in the former East Germany; accustomed to smooth Autobahns without speed limits, they ignored such limits on East Germany's bad roads, or drove under the influence of alcohol, ignoring the complete ban on drinking and driving in the eastern part of Germany ("Ansteigen," Die Polizei 1990 claimed almost every third accident in East Germany was caused by Western motorists). Larger, heavier, faster Western cars were capable of causing especially great havoc among the slower-moving, more fragile Eastern automobiles.
With reunification on October 3, 1990, the Allies gave up their status as occupying forces in Berlin. Laws created by Allied directives lost their validity as lawmaking powers were relinquished once and for all to the German political authorities. One of the most radical differences between the laws governing Berlin and those governing the rest of West Germany concerned possession of weapons. According to occupational directives, only members of the occupying forces could possess weapons; only collectors and hobbyists were excepted, but they were required to comply with strict registration laws. Additionally, due to Berlin's "island" status, cars and travellers entering West Berlin always underwent searches by East German border guards or West German police. The opening of the borders, the merger of the two Germanies and the adoption of West Germany's less-strict laws on weapons possession led to an increase in buying, selling and trading of weapons in a once gun-free society (Heilig 1990).
RESTRUCTURING EAST GERMANY'S POLICE
The West Berlin police found it difficult to adjust to crime increases following the
historical events of 1989; but for the East German police, coping was next to impossible. Not
only did they lack the training and equipment to deal with violent situations, as well as the
experience of acting on their own discretion; perhaps most difficult of all was the psychological
effect of the East German "revolution." Its major consequence for the police was a fundamental
disorientation and insecurity that continued long after unification. The government they had
served had forfeited its legitimacy; in the eyes of the population the police, as representatives of
that government, no longer possessed any authority. Police behavior over forty years, and
particularly in the recent past, was everywhere condemned; officers very much felt their
unpopularity and literally feared to enforce the law.
In many cases they could no longer even be sure which laws continued to apply and how
those that did were to be enforced. A large number of old structures and rules had clearly lost
their validity since the "revolution," but no new ones took their place in the governmental and
administrative uncertainty that reigned. In addition, no new police law was passed to define the
police's changed responsibilities and duties. In the long
CHANGES PRIOR TO UNIFICATION
Despite this chaotic situation, some changes did occur. East Berlin's chief of police was replaced early in 1990 ("Das Ende," Bhrgerrecht & Polizei 1991: 8), and the "Round Table" that acted as a de facto East German legislature until the March 1990 elections began investigations into the behavior of the police on October 7 and 8, 1989.
Yet change in personnel occurred quite slowly. Contrary to the general impression outside
of Germany that the fall of the Wall meant instant freedom and democracy, few overnight
alterations occured anywhere in East German society. Many of the old top police officials, like
their political counterparts, remained in power, including those responsible for the police
misbehavior on October 7 and 8; few investigations actually resulted in prosecution (Baum
1991). One reason
Most important from a psychological point of view, the grass-roots organizations that had initiated the revolution made great efforts to work with, rather than against, the police. So-called "security partnerships" became common, in which these groups collaborated with the police to prevent violence and ensure order at demonstrations and other public events ("Versuch," Die Polizei 1990: 262). Although West German demonstrations also had to be registered with the police in advance, confrontational behavior on the part of both demonstrators and police tended to be more common in the West; the East German security partnerships strove to avoid such confrontation. The insecurity of the East German police and their desire to reduce popular hostility aimed at them undoubtedly contributed to the success of these partnerships ("Das Ende," Bürgerrecht & Polizei 1991: 8).
Cooperation with the West
Cooperation between the East and West German police began soon after the fall of the Wall. In Berlin, the chiefs of police of the two cities were connected by a direct telephone line (tageszeitung, December 21, 1989). East German police sought the advice of their Western counterparts in dealing with the various crime areas with which they had little experience. West German police held seminars in West Germany for their East German colleagues (Kampmann & Wildt 1990; tageszeitung, May 22, 1990). The police also cooperated concretely, if informally, in solving cross-border crimes (Fuchs, Kriminalistik 1990: 119-21).
As early as January 1990, police unions began forming in the East and making contact
with unions in the West. The rank-and-file demanded better working conditions, better pay, and
the right to civil servant status. In May 1990
In January 1990, a department for drug crimes was formed in the East Berlin police department; in March, the police began to create an "anti-terror" squad, employing in part former Stasi members (Asendorpf, tageszeitung, March 31, 1990). In summer of 1990, the East and West German police finally created a formal "law enforcement union" to promote cooperation in catching and prosecuting criminals who until then could escape punishment by crossing, respectively, to either the East or the West (Schloesser, tageszeitung, June 18, 1990; tageszeitung, August 18, 1990.)
Unification and Beyond
The interim period following the fall of the Wall was short-lived, ending with unification on October 3, 1990. Unlike other East-Central European countries, East Germany was generally not in a position to restructure its society, including its police force, to suit its own needs. Instead, for better or worse, West German structures and laws were essentially superimposed onto the East. This was most obvious in Berlin, where the East Berlin police were completely absorbed by the West Berlin force. However, the situation changed throughout East Germany, as control of the police was decentralized and passed over to the states.
Following unification, East German police were required to fill out long, probing
questionnaires concerning their political and professional history before being accepted
conditionally onto the "new" police force. Those accepted
This situation created a significant morale problem, and many East Germans simply quit
(Bühmer, die tageszeitung, May 13, 1991); those that remained
For those former East German members of the force who remained, the introduction of the West German system required massive retraining. Suddenly, the entire corpus of West German law had to be learned from scratch. In Berlin, retraining was offered by the police department itself, but particularly in smaller cities and towns officers essentially had to teach themselves, occasionally with the help of a West German advisor (Frankenstein, Berliner Zeitung 1991; Wildt, tageszeitung 1990). On the other hand, however, West German police forces quickly created partnerships arrangements with East German cities and regions, offering training and helping build up local forces (Diederichs).
A significant issue among those concerned with crimefighting, particularly in the East, was how to "teach" the principles of democratic policing to officers trained in an undemocratic system. East German criminologists themselves admitted that the process would be difficult-- certainly more difficult than many in the West at first comprehended (Zinycz and Hahn, Kriminalistik 1991).
The Situation in Berlin
The effect of Germany's unique East-West split and its psychological consequences on the police were most obvious in Berlin, where the two systems enjoyed the closest proximity.
On October 3, 1990, East Germany ceased to exist. The former West Berlin police officially took over responsibility for enforcing the law in all of Berlin. The East Berlin police had lobbied for the creation of three new "directorates," or precincts, in East Berlin, but the West Berlin hierarchy refused to do anything that would give the former East German police independent control of police activity in eastern Berlin. Instead, West Berlin directorates divided the former East Berlin precincts among themselves. Thus former East German police officers were kept out of the new police leadership for all of Berlin ("Die 'Erstreckung,'" Bürgerrecht & Polizei, 1990). This decision was just one of many that reflected the West Berlin police's strategy to take over the entire new Berlin police structure, justified with the argument that the new laws would be those of the Federal Republic and the assumption that many high East German police officials had been involved with the secret police and its crimes (Ibid.).
Thus following unification, the entire police leadership in Berlin became West German.
With limited knowledge of the psychological, political and social situation within East
Germany, West German police were sent into what was essentially a foreign country, bringing
with them attitudes developed over many years in a very different West German setting (East
The Situation Outside Berlin
Whereas in Berlin, the post-unification police force simply took on the structure and
leadership of West Berlin's police, a more complicated situation existed in the rest of the
country. Soon after the 1989 change in regime, the political map of East Germany was redrawn
to conform to pre-1945 state borders abolished by the Communist government; five Lender, or
states, were recreated as political units, which required the creation of entirely new
administrative structures. Once unification occurred, the centralized East German police
administration therefore also gave way to the decentralized, state-level West German system,
and had to begin building up brand-new policing structures on the Lender level--clearly a
difficult task, given the simultaneously-rising crime rate, high attrition from the police force,
and the general chaos of a society in transition. Technical difficulties also created daunting
practical problems: the lack of modern equipment to carry out investigations that in the past had
been taken care of by the central criminal investigation offices in Berlin, as well as an extremely
poor communications infrastructure in the underdeveloped eastern states (Ackermann 113-
To gain control of the situation, the five new eastern German states created the so-called "joint state criminal office," (Gemeinsames Landeskriminalamt or GKLA), a central criminal investigating authority, to coordinate crimefighting until the states could create their own criminal investigation departments (Ackermann 113-19). Yet here, too, the police could not escape its past; the GKLA, an entirely eastern German institution, was accused of employing numerous former Stasi officers ("Spüren in der Mülltüte," Der Spiegel 1990: 108-13). As the states built up their own criminal investigation departments with the help of western partner states, and often with Western criminal justice officials at their heads, the GKLA was slowly eliminated (Diederichs, Bürgerrecht & Polizei 1991: 31-33).
Two case studies may help illustrate some of the problems arising from police restructuring in Berlin and the rest of eastern Germany. In Berlin, events surrounding a number of occupied houses in East Berlin provide an example of the psychological and practical problems that arose when a western-oriented police force attempted to deal with a problem in the eastern part of the city. Outside of Berlin, the growth of right-wing, often racist violence illustrated the helplessness experienced by the restructured police in the face of a major new problem in eastern society.
In the early 1980's, West Germany, particularly West Berlin, began to experience the phenomenon of "squatting," in which young people would illegally occupy and live in buildings being held empty by speculators. After several years of confrontation with the government and violent combat with police, many of these squatters obtained leases to the buildings and city support for renovation work. Nevertheless, a hard core of violent squatters continues to provoke occasional clashes with West German police.
Organized squatting began to occur in East Germany as well following the revolution. In many East German cities, squatting had always been one unspoken way of finding housing; now, however, young people began to occupy buildings openly and demand the right to remain. In many cases, they also reached agreement with the government and obtained leases. Particularly in East Berlin, however, the issue was complicated by the presence of West Berlin militants, with their extremely confrontational behavior, in addition to the bona fide East German squatters who tended to adhere to a more non-violent philosophy.
Until unification, the East Berlin police generally left the squatters alone, occassionally even protecting them when they came under attack by violent right-wing soccer fans and neo- Nazis. But in November 1990, following unification, the West Berlin government decided to use its extended police power over the eastern part of the city to force the squatters out; in the end, several thousand police from West Germany were called in to clear a few hundred squatters. Militant squatters resisted with molotov cocktails and rocks, and the violent confrontation captured headlines throughout the country (Dokumentation zur Mainzer Strasse, 12-14 November 1990; CILIP 37, 3/1990).
While it remains unclear who was most responsible for these events (police and squatters each accused the other of provoking the violence), it was clear that the situation largely involved Western problems fought out on Eastern territory. West Berlin militants had moved into East Berlin, bringing with them their violent and confrontational approach to the state; West German police responded in kind, as they were accustomed to do in West Berlin (few East German police participated in the operation) (Kampmann, tageszeitung, June 25, 1990; Hartung, tageszeitung, November 14, 1990). The most common response of local East German residents was a feeling of being "occupied" by both squatters and police.
Focus: Right-Wing Extremism
Right-wing violence by neo-Nazis did not begin with the attacks in Rostock in autumn
1992 that shocked the world. It began as soon as the Wall came down, and quickly became a
major issue for the police in the new states. East Germany
Police and some local government officials openly admitted from the start that they could not cope with right-wing violence (Krall, tageszeitung, December 3, 1990; Schwart, tageszeitung, October 26, 1990; "Leipziger Neonazis," tageszeitung, July 3, 1991; Kaufmann, tageszeitung, May 6, 1991). They complained that too many police were leaving the force or being let go, creating even greater insecurity and hesitancy to act; that their equipment and materials were too primitive to deal with the new types of crime they faced (some police in Rostock apparently bought protective clothing in a local sporting-goods store during the autumn 1992 riots there); and that they were simply not equipped to deal with the problems that had hit the country, particularly those that result from social tensions--unemployment, racism, and the like (Neunzig, Rheinischer Merkur, January 4, 1991). There were also reports of police sympathy with right-wing attacks, particularly upon foreigners (Der Spiegel, May 27, 1991: 85; Siegler, die tageszeitung, June 28, 1991: 5), though this is more commonly mentioned in connection with the western German police.
As can be seen from the two case studies above, the difficulties eastern Germany experienced following unification, in crime fighting as in many other areas, had significant psychological, as well as practical and political, components.
The the opening of the Berlin Wall brought problems in its wake that caught much of Germany unprepared. Euphoria gave way to social tensions in both parts of the country. East Germans, in addition to facing a whole range of new social problems, had to cope with the psychological effects accompanying the collapse of a familiar social order and its replacement by a completely different social structure.
Nevertheless, to other Eastern and Central European countries, Germany's experience may seem in some ways ideal. Rather than having to reinvent the wheel, as it were, East Germany simply took over ready-made, westernized structures, concepts and institutions. But this view
is simplistic, as has become clear in the six years since unification. Forty years of divergent experience and behavior cannot simply be molded to suit political purposes--a fact western Germans realized rather late in the process. It is not a judgment of the ultimate effectiveness of the institutional westernization of East Germany to point out that this often involuntary process of westernization--viewed by so many eastern Germans as a sort of colonization--created tensions as significant as any experienced by other post-communist societies undergoing more organic processes of institutional development. The popularity of the PDS, successor to the East German ruling party, in eastern Germany attests to this fact. I have presented the experience of the East German police as a case study of one institution that, I hope, helps illuminate these tensions and the process of change.
Belinda Copper Senior Fellow, World Policy Institute of the New School for Social Research, New York; J.D., Yale Law School, 1987. The author lived in Berlin from 1987- 1994. An earlier version of this paper, which included sections on changes in western German crime and policing, was originally written together with Dr. Alexis Aronowitz, who provided invaluable expertise on the West German policing system. It was presented at the conference of the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences in March 1991.