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Germany

Patrolling for pickpockets and terrorists at Berlin's Euro 2016 fan mile

Germany's federal police have tightened security at Berlin's famous fan mile for the Euro 2016 tournament. They are also sending out "prevention teams" to teach people what to do to prevent harassment.

Even in the summery abandon that comes with an international football tournament, there's apprehension about large crowds in high-profile venues. The combination of more frequent terrorist attacks elsewhere and the large-scale sexual assaults in Cologne last New Year's Eve have made many people nervous about public celebration.

But Berlin's Fanmeile ("fan-mile") has become an institution in the German capital since it was inaugurated for the home World Cup in 2006. And people don't like giving up their institutions. German football fans can barely imagine a World Cup or a European Championship without wandering along this two-kilometer boulevard down the center of the city on a match day, waving noisy inflatable black, red and gold clappers in support of Die Mannschaft, who are playing on one of the seven immense screens along the road.

Berlin Fanmeile zur Fußball EM EURO 2016 am Brandenburger Tor

Security is tight around the fan mile in Berlin

There are pre-match pop concerts, competitions, exuberant moderators, souvenir stands, and an awful lot of beer and salty meat. Half of the Tiergarten public park has been fenced off, with patrols along the fence, and bags are checked not only at the gates, but randomly in the crowd. There are also police officers, with and without uniforms, almost everywhere.

Despite all this, and despite the heady scent of bratwurst and Pils and the promise of power pop, Germany's first two Euro 2016 games have only attracted between 10,000 and 20,000 people to the Fanmeile, whose capacity is 200,000. This is probably only partly down to security fears - the weather has not been friendly so far, and both games happened late on a weekday - but the anxiety is still there across Berlin.

It doesn't affect Benni much, as he's standing at the main railway station drinking a beer. The thought of staying away from the action actually makes this German fan laugh. "It could happen anywhere! Look around you! Anyone could be carrying a bomb," he bellows. "It doesn't matter what security measures they introduce - you can always smuggle something in there. You think they check everyone's trousers? Either you stay home like in a bunker and watch TV or you come out and risk a bomb going off. But if you don't come here because of that then the terrorists have won."

Berlin Fußball EM Sicherheitskräfte und Fans am Hauptbahnhof

Chatting to some boisterous football fans at Potsdamer Platz

Putting on a show

The German federal police is in the middle of a major drive to both increase security and to be seen to be increasing security. High visibility - both on the streets and on social media - has become vital, making people feel safe in big crowds in a major European city.

For Euro 2016, the police is teaming up with Deutsche Bahn's security force to send out what it calls "prevention teams" to both teach simple self-defense and encourage others to intervene when they see theft and harassment. Some 60 officers have been specially trained for this proactive pilot project, happening in Berlin, Cologne, and Hamburg throughout the tournament.

They are, of course, asking people to tread a fine line. "We tell people, there's no point in making yourself another victim, but you can call the police, you can shout for help, you can take a picture," says Jürgen Ostländer, prevention commissioner with the federal police in Berlin.

Berlin Fußball EM Sicherheitskräfte am Hauptbahnhof

Looking out for troublemakers

The avuncular policeman is standing with his crime prevention team at his information stand at Potsdamer Platz, one of the four train stations close to the Fanmeile. It's about two hours before the start of Germany's match against Poland, and there's no getting around the fact that the police has chosen a slightly dead corner for their information stand. They have their "beware of pickpockets" posters pinned up, and their "tips for witnesses and helpers" flyers nicely fanned out, but none of the few boisterous football fans milling around seem remotely interested.

Dramatic intervention

It's time, Ostländer decides, for a demonstration. Three of the officers in civilian clothing - two women and a man - act out a theft down on the platform. They use the standard "blocking" method, Ostländer explains. Pickpockets almost always act in teams - one stands uncomfortably close to the victim (often someone elderly or disabled and so less likely to fight back or give chase), shoving them, while the other comes from the opposite direction and snatches the bag.

As he speaks, the female officer clings onto her bag, wrestling with the male officer trying to snatch it off her, and screams for help and ... no one on the platform does anything to help. A young man wearing headphones attached to his cell-phone seems not even to notice that it is happening.

After about ten seconds of struggle, a uniformed officer breaks the scene with a microphone and a small amp and begins to explain to the passers-by what to do in such a situation. Call on others directly to help, get the victim out of the center of the group, get a good look at the perpetrator, and offer yourself as a witness.

"Look, there were young men all around," Ostländer points out, with a sigh. "They could have done something. They could have got together. Hardly anyone ever intervenes."

Feeling safe

Berlin Fußball Fans am Hauptbahnhof

Fans at Berlin's sprawling central railway station

At the Hauptbahnhof, Berlin's vast, sprawling central railway station, police officers are using more traditional methods - patrolling along the platform, checking for suspicious people. For football matches, explains officer Denise Ullrich, the troublemakers are never the fans dressed head to foot in team colors: the ones to look out for are those in dark clothes with a hood to pull over their heads and a headscarf around their necks ready to cover their faces.

"It always depends on what game it is and what kind of fans we're expecting at the game," says Captain Carsten Liesenfeld, striding along the platform with his partner. "Our job is to recognize the problem fans within the travelling fans, and then to accompany them to the stadium where they can be passed on into the jurisdiction of other police forces."

None of this really bothers the Germany and Poland fans at the station, most of whom are drinking beer and making their way over to the Fanmeile.

One of them is Florian, who was earnest about his faith in the security forces. "The police are here, showing their presence," he said. "There are enough security forces here. That's why I don't need to be afraid in my own country. The recent attacks have shown that we need to be more careful in mass events and that there need to be more checks. But I'm not afraid, because I know that security is very high and the checks are very good."

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