Germany's booming security industry has now penetrated the lucrative Christmas markets in Berlin, where private security firms are benefiting from recent terror warnings.
Demand for private security at Christmas markets is up
The Christmas market in Berlin's Gendarmenmarkt is one of the city's plushest. You have to pay a one-euro entrance fee, and while the mulled wine, roasted almonds and arts-and-craft knick-knacks are much the same as in any other Christmas market, you are treated to a live ballet show, based on a Russian fairytale, to go with your sense of exclusivity.
You also see more security guards. Some, like the ones taking your entry ticket, are dressed as toy soldiers in keeping with the winter fairytale theme. Others wear army boots and the thick, riot-police-style boiler suits emblazoned with the large reflective "Security" badge on the back.
Recent threats of "Mumbai style attacks" have boosted the private security business in the past few weeks. Thomas Ostmann, Berlin manager of German security company Agsus, noticed a rise in demand immediately.
Recent terrorist threats in Berlin have heightened demand for security firms
"Yes, we've definitely noticed that," he told Deutsche Welle. "Ahead of the Christmas markets, we felt a rise in anxiety among the stand owners. It is going down a little now, but there is significantly more manpower and security on the markets."
The added holiday season demand has come on top of a general expansion in the security industry over the past decade. Germany currently has 4,000 security companies, up 1,000 over a decade ago. The number of people employed in the industry has doubled and sales, too, with revenue this year expected to reach 4.5 billion euros ($5.9 billion).
Sven Hallscheidt, spokesman for the German Chambers of Industry and Commerce (DIHK), attributes the growing demand for security services by individuals and companies to a deep social change. "It's a development in society," he said. "On the one hand, it is influenced by reports in the media – we all know the reports about possible terrorist attacks – but also reports of attacks in public generally."
The security business is not only expanding but also becoming more complex. Company security is taking on an evermore important role, requiring a new breed of skilled workers – from guards and logistics planners to engineers – to create security systems.
Essential as the police
And that role is extending beyond guarding buildings, cash logistics and the likes into areas such as critical infrastructure, making the private security industry as essential as the police.
The police no longer have the resources to protect essential infrastructure
Bodo Pfalzgraf, chairman of the Berlin Police Union, says the police force in Germany simply doesn't have the capacity to meet the country's security requirements. "First of all, we have in Germany about as many police employees as there are employees in the private security industry, it's 50 – 50," he told Deutsche Welle. "In my opinion, the infrastructure of German security is inconceivable without private security personnel. They guard nuclear power stations – they're not just skin-headed, tattooed bouncers."
The growing importance of the private security sector, however, is also raising questions over jurisdiction, with some politicians warning against the dangers of over-privatizing security – particularly in airports.
No special privileges
But security manager Ostmann says that even in places like Christmas markets where private companies protect public spaces, the rules about what guards can and can't do are clear. "The police always have the final say," he said. "We have the same rights as any other citizen, but we have no special powers. And there are no difficulties over areas of competence. I'd say it is a very good partnership."
Official agreements, like contracts, are organized on a state government level between the police and private security firms but there are still ambiguities, according to Pfalzgraf.
"A danger exists if there is no clear delineation between the two, and the government is not providing one at the moment," he said. "Today, anyone can start a private security firm – they have to fulfil very few conditions. And as of May 1, 2011, there's going to be another opening of the market in Europe – in other words, eastern European companies from Poland, Czech Republic and Lithuania will be able to start security services here. That I think is a problem."
Pfalzgraf believes it's high time the state creates more rigorous industry standards to cope with the rising need for private security firms. As for Shoppers in Berlin's Christmas markets, they're fine with such distinctions – as long they feel safe.
Author: Ben Knight
Editor: John Blau