Since Hamas’ attack on Israel, the Berlin police have also been in a state of emergency. Its President Barbara Slowik about the current security situation and how she can still sleep peacefully at night.
Ms. Slowik, you once said that you can actually always sleep well. Especially?
I still sleep very well because I have a very, very good team.
Fine with you the current situation personally close?
Naturally. October 7th was a big shock. But a lot of things on the streets of Berlin actually bother me personally.
“We ramped up protection immediately, without waiting”
When you read the first reports about the Hamas terrorist attack, did you immediately realize that it would have an impact on Berlin?
As the capital’s police, we are used to many incidents around the world having an immediate backlash in Berlin. After the attack, we immediately ramped up protection without waiting. This is almost automatic.
You said these days that it was the most difficult time of your time in office. Does that still apply?
Certainly for the last two weeks, it was very intense. A lot of people came to us, asking for protection and support. I had a lot of personal conversations. At the same time, as president, you must constantly communicate with the police leadership: How do we ensure protection?
Can you say with a clear conscience that Jews are safe in this city?
We protect the facilities and buildings that are particularly worthy of protection. That’s 150 in the city at the moment. We protect them with 500 forces. We are far above what many other cities achieve. We have a high police presence. We were also able to thwart an attempted arson attack at the synagogue on Brunnenstrasse because there was a security guard there.
Neukölln’s integration officer Güner Balci recently warned Jews not to make their faith visible in Neukölln.
I wouldn’t want to declare no-go areas for Jews. I don’t think that’s absolutely necessary now.
“In certain areas you have to be more vigilant”
This means that as a Jew you don’t have to worry about whether you… Bears identification marks ?
If you’re aware of it, it’s okay. In certain areas of the city you may need to be more vigilant and consider how you react. But at the moment we no longer have any attacks on Jews in the city, at least in terms of numbers.
Do you have the situation under control, particularly at pro-Palestinian gatherings?
We were there with a strong presence. In fact, there was at Potsdamer Platz…
… where 50 people registered to commemorate peacefully and around 1000 came. Israel-hate slogans were shouted for almost three hours.
But I would also like to say this at this point: It is difficult when you portray the police as if they are themselves simply taken by surprise . That is simply not true.
“Groups were quickly mobilized via social media”
How would you put it then?
We aim to examine each individual meeting. We are trying to clarify: Is there any evidence that this gathering could violate public safety? Can criminal offenses arise from it?
How exactly do you check this?
Beyond the declarant or the organization itself, a question is: Can we detect an influx of people seeking to commit crimes? Who are hijacking the meeting, so to speak? That’s what happened at Potsdamer Platz. Certain groups were mobilized very quickly via social media. This is a new phenomenon that we know from the times of lateral thinking.
How big is the influence of social media on the escalation? Is this somehow controlled from outside?
I currently have no information about this. Of course, we research and monitor social media, including calls for violence. And then try to be present before such calls are realized.
How can it be guaranteed that Palestinians can also exercise their right to assembly?
We have seen 60 gatherings related to the Middle East conflict since October 7, 35 of which were pro-Palestinian. And we banned 17 of them. So we allowed just over half. The peaceful gatherings are hardly noticed by the public. But it was the larger number.
When you see the pictures that are currently being sent from Berlin, do you ever get a stomach ache?
Images are always important. We pay great attention to the fact that: Our symbol of the Brandenburg Gate will not be misused for hatred, incitement, anti-Semitism. But expressing freedom of expression there is also what we stand for.
“Any escalation in the Middle East will have an impact on the security situation in Berlin”
There have been various bomb threats in the past few days. Are you currently assuming an increased threat of terrorism in the city?
This series of bomb threats is unsettling citizens. But we currently have no concrete evidence of violent actions or even terrorist attacks in Berlin. We have had an abstract danger of Islamist attacks in Germany for many years. And of course it still exists.
For example, can the dangerous situation relate to… Israel’s ground offensive aggravate?
Any escalation in the Middle East will have an impact on the security situation in Berlin. We can assume that we will see gatherings on Sonnenallee and Hermannplatz again. But I would also ask you to take this into account: These are often large gatherings of people, most of whom are not prepared to use violence.
November 9th marks the 85th anniversary of Kristallnacht. Are you worried about the day?
I’m not worried because we are already prepared for this day too. We will be on the move with a clear presence.
Is there any evidence that there is a greater danger on this day?
This is not currently available to me.
If you currently look your employees in the eyes: How tired are they?
The situation is tense. That’s why I thanked everyone again this week with a letter. At the same time, I hear from police leaders that their colleagues are highly motivated. It is an exceptional situation. We are still enduring it because we have received significant support, for which I am very grateful. If we see escalations in the Middle East that impact Berlin’s streets again, then the situation will become incredibly tense.
What can each individual do for Jews in this city?
Raise your voice loudly, take a stand when you experience hatred, hate speech, or insults. There was a beautiful sign recently where many people gathered around a synagogue to ensure protection. These are extremely good signs that are very much noticed by the Jewish community.