Smoke bombs in Cologne, fights in Karlsruhe, fireworks in Düsseldorf. German soccer violence has taken on a new dimension. Now experts are calling for lessons to be learned from England.
Certain scenes shock even the most hardened soccer fans - masked rioters climbing fences and storming the playing field, throwing burning torches, with choking black smoke filling the air. Such images were seen in the 80s and 90s, too, but the character of the violence has changed, according to Cologne Police Chief Volker Lange.
"Everything is planned nowadays, and violence is often used deliberately," he said. "In the old days, you were maybe more caught up in the moment. Today, it's more like they have military-style units and develop proper disruptive tactics."
The violence ended when someone was down
A group of Cologne fans seem to have put a lot of planning into a spectacular attack on a bus full of peaceful Borussia Mönchengladbach supporters in March. The bus was driving along the highway when it was surrounded by several vehicles which forced it into a service station. There, it was attacked with rocks and baseball bats by about 40 people.
Rainer Mendel, a Bundesliga fan mediator for FC Cologne, said he had never seen anything like it in his life. He has been in talks with fans for several decades, and said he knows their rules.
"In the old days, they hit, but didn't throw things," he said. "If someone was down, then it was all over. Today, there's another dimension to it, because fireworks are involved, or rocks and bottles."
Fireworks an issue
Many fans say that Roman candles, which can reach a temperature of over 1,000 degrees Celsius, are not dangerous, according to Harald Lange of the Fan Culture Institute, an interdisciplinary Cologne-based group of sports academics. He said soccer fans think they "create a special southern atmosphere and are convinced that they are a part of football and fan culture."
Experts in pyrotechnics, however, said they see the matter differently. In addition to the unhealthy smoke, the flames and sparks are emitted at temperatures high enough to cause burns that leave people disfigured for the rest of their lives. Firecrackers can cause acoustic shocks.
England could serve as an example in dealing with firecrackers, according to Cologne fan mediator Mendel.
"There is other legislation there and clear rules," he said. "Everyone knows what will happen if they are caught and that's why these things don't happen."
Problem with a few people
Mendel also said it can take months, or even years, for people charged with crimes in the stadium to come before a judge. However, in comparison with other great soccer nations, the influence of violent hooligans has been falling in Germany.
"We do not actually have a problem with safety in stadiums," said Lange of the Cologne Police Department. "We have a problem with a few people who go much too far."
He added that fans in the stands could help reduce the influence of the handful of people stirring up trouble.
"We need a few people to change what they are doing," he said. "They're the ones ruining football and fandom. And some of them are doing it intentionally."
Author: Olivia Fritz / bk
Editor: Gregg Benzow