Sibirien beginnt in der Hasenheide

?Brauchsu?? is something you might hear more than once on a nice summernight?s walk through Berlin?s drug park No.1. Welcome to the Hasenheide!

 When Alexander von Humboldt tried to express his frustration about the narrow-mindedness and arrogance that he observed in his hometown Berlin, he especially liked to compare it to other ?uncivilized? regions in the world. More than once he was quoted saying that the whole of Siberia was only a continuation of the ?Hasenheide?.

The Bronx of Berlin

 The Hasenheide is a park located at the border of two districts: Neukölln, once called ?the Bronx of Berlin? by ?Der Spiegel?, and Kreuzberg, home of immigrants and students, wannabe revolutionaries and struggling artists. It was originally a woodland area that had been enclosed by Friedrich Wilhelm in 1678 for the breeding of hares. It is famous as the location of Friedrich Jahn’s open-air gymnasium, the place where the German gymnastics movement started in 1811.

 A monument at the northern entrance of the park still commemorates the ?Turnvater?. Today the park offers large meadows, defined by groups of trees. In the summer it is a popular place for locals to play soccer or volleyball, to run, to have a picnic with the whole family or to sunbathe. It even offers an open-air movie theatre. It is also given the label of an ?exceptionally dangerous place? by the police. Some people are even using the term ?lawless area?.

What became of Turnvater Jahn?s playground

 One of the problems is pretty obvious: the sale of illegal drugs such as marihuana. Usually you can spot the dealers quite easily. Standing in groups of 2 or 3 they are staring in the air or playing with their cell phones. When you pass them, you might here a whispered ?How?s it going?? or, more directly ?Do you need something?? But what really deserves our attention here is their sophisticated distribution system.

 Usually there are dealers close to each entrance of the park, so that the average visitor will be asked at least twice about his desire for drugs. The dope is usually hidden in the bushes. So the dealers generally have only a small quantity of marihuana on them, which makes prosecution impossible. Even for a casual visitor of the park it seems obvious that they outdo the arm of the law in terms of efficiency.

A lonely policeman takes up the battle

 Kai Nolle, of course, would disagree with that. He is the deputy leader of police section 55, responsible for the Hasenheide. Having studied economics he is prepared to give a lecture on the difference between ?efficient? and ?effective? at any time, and he feels that he is on the right track to making the Hasenheide a better place. He does not deny the problem but insists that it has become considerably better since last summer. The new strategy ? which basically means more police in the park ? is working, he says.

 But being on patrol in the Hasenheide is not easy. ?We know them and they know us?, says Nolle, they being the dealers. And ?they? are reacting. There is a network of people crossing the park on bicycles, watching out for police. And if the police try to arrest a dealer, he is likely to react with physical violence. ?It happens that my men come back with severe injuries.? Nolle is a pragmatic person. He does not think highly of proposals such as one brought forward by local conservatives some time ago to fence in the whole park and shut it down by night. ?It wouldn?t work,? he says. But asked, whether he, not as a police officer, but as a citizen, would consider legalizing so-called ?soft drugs? as a pragmatic solution to the problem, he doesn?t hesitate with his answer. ?No. Drugs are bad for you. They are illegal, and I am doing my best to keep my area clean.?

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