German police chiefs plan extra New Year’s Eve safeguards, two years after women were molested in Cologne. But a police trade union leader said a mooted "women's safety area" in Berlin sent a "disastrous message."
Rainer Wendt, the head of Germany's second-largest police officers' union, said a women's zone planned for the area around Berlin's Brandenburg Gate sent a "disastrous message."
"With this message, you're saying that there are safe and unsafe zones," Wendt told the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung newspaper's Saturday edition. He said that this, if true, would amount to "the end of equality, freedom of movement and self-determination."
"Whoever came up with that idea has not understood the political dimension," said Wendt of the German DPoIG police trade union.
Women had a right to be safe everywhere, he said.
Berlin police said the safety area in the capital's "party mile" around the Brandenburg Gate would be staffed by the German Red Cross for women feeling harassed.
The Red Cross said the safety area would be tented and psychologists would be present.
Consequences after Cologne
New Year's Eve, when Germany expends more than 130 million euros ($155 million) detonating pyrotechnics at or around midnight, became global news two years ago when groups of young men of North African appearance molested women near Cologne's main train station and cathedral.
Of 1,200 complaints filed in early 2016, Cologne prosecutors said some 500 cases turned out to involve sexual offences.
Assaults on women were also reported in other cities, especially Hamburg, where 245 investigations took place.
More lighting, video cameras
For Sunday night, Cologne's police chief Uwe Jacob said 1,400 policemen and women would be deployed on the central railway station plaza and around the adjacent cathedral.
Fireworks would be banned in the combined zone. More video surveillance cameras and improved lighting would be installed, he said.
Hamburg authorities plan to set up extra mobile police stations near the Reeperbahn red-light district, also combined with more cameras and lighting.
Frankfurt police said officers in uniform and in plain clothes would concentrate on public safety on both banks of the city's Main river, a popular hangout for revelers.
Police in Berlin, which is still grieving after last year's terrorist attack using a truck that killed 12 people at a Christmas market, said concrete bollards and other barricades would be placed around the Brandenburg Gate, the annual venue of televised festivities.
Delivery vehicles will be checked or even searched, and large bags and suitcases will be banned.
Munich's police force said that a "high abstract risk situation remained" and security precautions including special mobile units would be prevalent.
Munich police also warned that persons intending to aim fireworks at other people would be closely monitored and prosecuted.
"That is not entertainment, that is a serious crime, which could cause grave injury," said a police spokesman, referring to past injuries, including eye damage.
Eye injuries another hot button
In a survey after last year's festivities, the German Ophthalamological Association found that 41 eye clinics treated 350 people with New Year's injuries. Three-quarters of them were treated as outpatients and a tenth ended up losing their eyesight, according to the association.
A third were children and teenagers aged under 18, of whom only half had ignited the injury-causing device. Facial and hand injuries are also common during Germany's temporary amnesty on setting off fireworks.
Hansjürgen Agostini of Freiburg's University Clinic encouraged people intent on using fireworks to wear protective glasses or goggles.
"It would however be better," he said, "to leave fireworks in the hands of trained professionals."
"These figures show how erratic and dangerous rockets and firecrackers are, and that we need more protective measures," he concluded.
ipj/msh (dpa, Reuters)