Overall Crime and Safety Situation
U.S. Embassy Berlin does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The ACS Unit cannot recommend a particular individual or location and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.
THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED BERLIN AS BEING A MEDIUM-THREAT LOCATION FOR CRIME DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.
Please review OSAC’s Germany-specific webpage for proprietary analytic reports, Consular Messages, and contact information.
Crime rates throughout Germany have been comparable to those in most first-world countries, including the U.S., and comparative analysis of crime data for the U.S. and Germany reveals only marginal differences. Crimes, especially those targeting tourists, are as common as in any large European city. The Bundeskriminalamt’s (BKA) 2015 Police Crime Statistics indicated only minor changes in the number of most of the recorded offenses over 2014, with an increase of 4.1% overall. There was a 157% increase in “Aliens Act-related” crime. There were also marked increases in categories related to credit card fraud. While the 2016 crime statistics are not expected to be published until approximately May 2017, preliminary information indicates a 9.9% increase in residential burglaries.
Some observers have suggested that official statistics may not always provide an accurate accounting of the level of crime. Not all crimes reported to the police are captured in the form of an actual police report. It is common to hear of police dissuading victims from making formal reports citing little chance of capturing the suspect. Such a practice may create a disincentive to report criminal activity.
There have also been reports of crimes, in effect, being de-criminalized due to their frequency and impact on resources. One such report involved a community declaring that petty crimes (shoplifting) would not be investigated by the authorities. Another possible example involves the 2015 New Year’s celebration in Cologne that lead to more than 1,500 crimes recorded by police. There were extensive media reports that not all of those reported crimes were reported in police statistics.
Outspoken representatives of police unions have stated the number of crimes is often drastically under-reported. In 2015, the head of the Bund Deutscher Kriminalbeamter (German Detective Union) accused politicians of “leaving the public in the dark as to the true level of criminality.” He claimed that 75% of domestic burglaries were reported and that sex crimes and cybercrimes were under-reported.
It is not uncommon for visiting Americans to be victims of purse snatching or pickpocketing in high traffic and tourist areas (in train stations, Internet cafes, crowded restaurants, and outdoor market places), but violent crimes against Americans have been relatively infrequent. There is no evidence that personal assaults are driven by anti-American sentiment.
When withdrawing money from an ATM, especially one on a public street, do so with a companion and avoid using ATMs that are located in poorly illuminated areas. ATM skimming devices are a threat throughout Europe, and users should inspect the ATM’s card reader for signs of tampering or other abnormalities before inserting their bank cards. In addition, all ATM users should be careful to protect their personal identification numbers (PIN) from shoulder surfers.
Visitors should be aware of distraction crimes. Strangers will attempt to engage victims in conversation, or otherwise distract their attention, so that accomplices may more easily snatch bags/parcels or pick the victims’ pockets.
Pay particular attention to personal belongings in busy bars or restaurants. Thieves use snatch-and-grab techniques to steal valuables. In restaurants, bars, and theaters, bags should not be placed on the floor or hung on a chair, but should be kept in sight.
OSAC members and others planning to visit Germany can find extensive information regarding reported crime statistics and German crime prevention programs on the Bundeskriminalamt website.
Cybercrime remains a major concern in German. Cyber attacks targeting information infrastructures, government institutions, businesses, and private citizens, have increased in frequency and complexity. Many of the attacks are likely state-sponsored and include disinformation campaigns to influence public opinion. Viruses and other malware continue to be the preferred methods of online criminals (with 38% of Internet users affected). Although cybercrime in Germany is steadily on the rise, only one in four crimes are solved, and authorities believe most Internet crimes go unreported.
Road Safety and Road Conditions
Road conditions vary significantly from region to region but are generally fair to good. One should exercise caution, however, while traveling on older roads, particularly in eastern Germany. Road conditions can deteriorate quickly with rain, ice, and snow. Lack of proper lighting can also be problematic. Consequently, minor and major traffic accidents occur frequently on many major German highways, and delays can last hours.
Road construction and road wear also present unique safety challenges. Road maintenance is a lower priority than in other well-developed countries (much of the infrastructure budget is spent on public transportation services, road and sidewalk environmental clean-up, and other non-maintenance items and services). As such, many roads experience deep and uneven rutting, causing grooves to form on seemingly flat and level road surfaces. This often results in hard and unexpected steering pull, which can lead to motor vehicle accidents for drivers unaccustomed to, or unaware of, such conditions. Road maintenance project can last several years.
Compared to speed limits for major roads and highways in the U.S., speed limits in most German cities are relatively low. The average speed limit is 50 km/h (~30 mph) but drops to 30 km/h in most residential areas and in school zones. There are posted speed limits on stretches of the Autobahn, mostly when traveling through urban areas and where road curves are more frequent.
The leading causes of motor vehicle and pedestrian accidents involving U.S. citizens are driver error (unfamiliar road signs, unusual driving customs/courtesies) and bicyclist hazards. The former can be directly attributed to simple confusion by American motorists driving in a foreign country. Even though double parking is illegal in most German cities, the practice is an everyday occurrence. It is very common for lane traffic to stop abruptly when a delivery truck parks unexpectedly in a travel lane to unload cargo or when a driver places his car in reverse to occupy a street-side parking space. Thus, motorists must remain alert and attentive, even when driving in seemingly well-moving traffic.
Bicyclists and bicycle traffic pose a heightened risk for American motorists and pedestrians. Many sidewalks have dedicated bike lanes. Bicycles have priority use of these lanes. If you are walking, watch for bicyclists before crossing or stepping into bike lanes. Bicyclists also have priority over cars when turning onto side streets. If you are driving, check whether a bicyclist is approaching from either direction before attempting to enter side streets, even when the light is in your favor. If you are turning onto a side street and strike a bicyclist using a marked bike lane, you will be held responsible for any injury or damage.
Right-of-way and so-called yield laws are similar to those in rural U.S. cities but can seem awkward and confusing for drivers accustomed to driving in larger metropolitan areas. Unless you are traveling on a priority road, vehicles coming from the directional right have the right-of-way. It is also generally illegal to pass vehicles on the right-hand side.
All drivers must be aware that it is illegal to leave the scene of a motor vehicle accident until both parties agree that it is alright to do so and before both parties have verified the validity of the other party’s insurance information. Drivers who leave the scene of an accident are frequently referred for prosecution by German law enforcement authorities.
It is also illegal to use cell phones while driving. Police can detain and fine persons engaging in this practice.
Public Transportation Conditions
The use of trains (U-Bahn, S-Bahn) can be very convenient.
Transportation centers and trains have been an appealing target for terrorists, and these venues remain soft targets. Furthermore, crimes are not uncommon in and around U-Bahn and S-Bahn systems and stations. Crime is often in direct proportion to the lateness of the hour.
For more information on travel within Germany, contact the German National Tourist Board Office in New York at (212) 661-7200, or via fax at (212) 661-7174.
THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED BERLIN AS BEING A HIGH-THREAT LOCATION FOR TERRORIST ACTIVITY DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.
Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns
Several international terrorist groups that target U.S. government personnel and interests have a presence and operate in Germany, including ISIS, al-Qa’ida, Islamic Jihad Union (IJU), Kongra Gel (Kurdistan Workers’ Party, PKK), Hizballah, and Hamas. The large number of official U.S. government and military personnel in Germany creates a significant potential target for terrorist groups. Continued government reporting reiterates the growing concern for the expanding international and indigenous radical Islamist presence. Interior Ministry officials estimate that there over 1,100 residents who can be described as potentially violent Islamist extremists, 547 of whom are considered to be at a high risk of involvement in a serious crime or violent act.
Security officials estimate over 900 residents have departed to participate in the conflicts in Syria and Iraq since 2012, the majority of whom joined violent Islamist extremist groups in the fighting there, and 140 are estimated to have died there. Roughly 300 have returned to Germany. German officials actively investigated the returnees for terrorist threat resulting from their experience abroad and possible desire to continue to support violent extremist causes. Prior groups of German “foreign terrorist fighters” traveled to Egypt, Somalia, and the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region, particularly between 2010-2013, many of whom attended terrorist training camps. The total number of these travelers was less than 50.
ISIS and other groups continued to call on followers throughout 2016 to carry out attacks in Europe, including Germany. In 2013, Islamist extremists publicly issued death threats against German politicians, including Chancellor Angela Merkel. The government has employed legal tools to ban these organizations and their affiliates, such as the September 2014 ban on ISIS, a ban on two Islamist extremist groups in March 2015, and a ban on three ultra-conservative Salafist groups in March 2013. Following each of these bans, authorities carried out raids of residences of suspected Islamist extremists and the seizure of property linked to their activities, including personal computers, phones, cash, and extremist propaganda in German and Arabic. In 2015, prosecutors obtained convictions against nine individuals on terrorism-related charges. In January 2017, federal authorities reported that over 1,000 individuals in 760 cases were under active investigation or prosecution on charges related to Islamist-inspired terrorism.
In 2016, there were numerous terrorist attacks and plots in Germany, including the stabbing of a police officer in Hannover’s main train station, a bomb attack on a Sikh temple in Essen, a suicide bombing in Ansbach, a knife attack in a train near Würzburg, and the Berlin Christmas Market attack in which an ISIS-linked suspect killed 12 people using a truck.
Terrorists may elect to use a variety of means and weapons to target both official and private interests. U.S. citizens are reminded of the potential for terrorist attacks against public transportation systems and other tourism infrastructure and should take every precaution to be aware of their surroundings and to adopt appropriate safety measures to protect themselves when traveling.
The U.S. continues to work closely with European allies on the threat from international terrorism. Information is routinely shared between the U.S. and its key partners in order to disrupt terrorist plotting, identify/take action against potential operatives, and strengthen defenses against potential threats. German authorities continue to investigate extremist groups, deport/arrest individuals considered dangerous, and conduct raids on suspected groups.
Demonstrations with an anti-American sentiment remain common but most are nonviolent. Themes have included Guantanamo Bay; the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP); Leonard Peltier); the U.S. use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV strikes against terrorist leaders and organizations operating/hiding in other countries); asylum for Edward Snowden); the NSA and its intelligence collection methods and programs (for alleged operations against German nationals); and U.S. involvement in Syria. There have been numerous demonstrations against President Trump, both before and after his inauguration.
Political, Economic, Religious and Ethnic Violence
THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED BERLIN AS BEING A LOW-THREAT LOCATION FOR POLITICAL VIOLENCE DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.
Both right-wing and left-wing extremists have carried out violent acts in recent years.
Right-wing extremism remains a center-stage issue and continues to be on the rise. Authorities estimate that there are nearly 22,600 right-wing extremists in the country, of whom 11,000 are considered potentially violent. In 2015, politically-motivated crimes rose by 19.2% to 38,981. It is reported that far-right extremists committed more than 22,960 politically-motivated crimes in 2015, including 1,408 violent acts, eight of which were categorized as attempted murder. In 2015, 1,031 offences against refugee accommodation were recorded by police, with 177 being violent crimes. 850 attacks on refugee accommodation were recorded in the first 10 months of 2016.
- In January 2016, the Federal Public Prosecutor brought charges against four suspected neo-Nazi supporters for allegedly establishing and supporting a terrorist association and plotting to carry out an explosive attack on a refugee housing center.
- Also in January 2016, unknown assailants threw a live grenade at a refugee housing center.
- In November 2016, eight members of a right-wing terrorist group were charged by the Federal Public Prosecutor on suspicion of having carried out attacks using explosives against refugee housing, alternative living projects, and left-wing politicians. These charges included attempted murder.
To help mitigate the threat of right-wing extremism, the government maintains a central database for monitoring violent, right-wing extremists. The government has issued bans against right-wing extremist structures, including an online media platform used by a number of neo-Nazi groups (January 2016). However, the government failed in its attempt to ban the National Democratic Party (NPD), a neo-Nazi political party.
Left-wing extremists committed 9,605 politically-motivated crimes in 2015, of which 1,608 were acts of violence. Both figures represented significant increases from prior years, and eight were attempted murders. There were also 1,032 violent acts against security services. The left-wing extremist scenes in Berlin and Hamburg are particularly significant. Left-wing extremists have conducted attacks on the police.
- In June and July 2016, Berlin saw disturbances following the repossession of a building occupied by a left-wing group. In one night alone, over 120 police officers were reported injured during clashes with left-wing sympathizers.
Right- and left-wing extremists have increasingly come into direct conflict with each other, as in a December 2015 incident in Leipzig in which left-wing extremists rioted after a day of escalating demonstrations and counter-demonstrations between the two groups.
Many well-planned and publicized demonstrations against government policies draw thousands of participants, and spontaneous demonstrations concerning education and economic/social issues occur almost daily throughout Germany. Demonstrations in Berlin typically take place on Unter den Linden near the Brandenburg Gate. Throughout 2016, there have been numerous demonstrations related to the German refugee policy, both for and against. Anti-refugee demonstrations, frequently related to the neo-Nazi and PEGIDA movements, have been particularly problematic, resulting in violent confrontation with police authorities.
- One such demonstration in 2015 occurred in Leipzig and resulted in the injury of 69 police officers.
No matter what the theme is of a given demonstration, such events can turn violent very quickly and should be avoided.
The arrival of refugees and asylum seekers in 2015 and 2016 has become increasingly controversial. There have been several reports of riots and conflicts between religious and ethnic groups within the numerous refugee centers throughout Germany. To date, these conflicts have not spilled into the general community. Not all of the refugees may be integrating into German society.
Media reports list 173 anti-Semitic related crimes in Berlin in 2016, noting that most were non-violent and involved propaganda or statements made online (prohibited by law). Most suspects were neo-Nazis and members of the extreme right.
Personal Identity Concerns
There have been multiple media accounts of conflicts between male refugees and women. Most notably, the well-publicized December 31, 2015, events at a Cologne New Year’s celebration led to over 1,500 criminal complaints being filed by a reported 1,218 mostly-female victims. Crimes included 529 alleged sexual assault/abuse with the remaining theft/robbery-related. Reports indicate that the police were ill-prepared for the event and participated in deliberate obfuscation of the details. Media report that similar crime sprees occurred at similar events throughout Germany. The December 31, 2016, New Year’s Eve celebrations saw an increased presence by police and far fewer complaints of assaults, as police reported they expelled large numbers of aggressive young men. Throughout the year, there were multiple reports of inappropriate behavior by suspected refugees at public pools and spas. The alleged behavior involved, but was not limited to the unlawful touching of women.
There have also been reports of assaults or harassment against people related to other factors (sexual orientation, nationality). One such report involved suspects throwing rocks at a transgendered individual.
Illegal drugs (cocaine, heroin, ecstasy, marijuana) remain widely available. The illegal sale and distribution of drugs often occur near major train stations, public parks, and nightclubs. While drug-related activity does not usually affect American tourists or business travelers, Americans should be aware that Germany has the same types of drug-related crime as those encountered in any major U.S. city.
How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment
American tourists should contact the Embassy or Consulates if they are detained or harassed by police.
Crime Victim Assistance
Victims of crime are encouraged to contact the local police by dialing 110 (with English language capability) and to contact the closest American Citizen Services office for assistance. German authorities often contact the U.S. Embassy/Consulate when an incident involving American tourists occurs.
There are two primary police agencies: the LKA and the BKA.
- The LKA is the local police agency responsible for traffic accidents, investigating crimes, enforcing local laws and ordinances, and responding to local emergencies.
- The BKA is the federal police agency responsible for higher-level law enforcement actions, such as ambassadorial and heads-of-state protection, national-level crime investigation (terrorist-related), collecting and analyzing national crime data, and other issues of national importance.
Throughout Germany, the fire department and ambulance service may be reached by dialing 112.
Contact Information for Available Medical Services
Germany has several university hospitals, which provide state-of-the-art medical care in most fields of medicine, including advanced cardiac surgery. Some of the largest hospitals in Berlin are:
- Charite Campus Benjamin Franklin Freie Universitatklinikum, Hindenburgdamm 30, Steglitz - Tel: 8445-0 (two helipads)
- Charité Campus Virchow-Klinikum, Faculty of Humboldt University, Augusteburger Platz 1, Wedding - Tel: 450-50 (two helipads)
- Charité Campus Mitte, Faculty of Humboldt University, Schumann Strauss 20-21, Mitte - Tel: 450-50
- Krakenhaus Waldfriede, Argentinische Allee 40, D-14163 Berlin-Zehlendorf, Tel: +49 (0)30. 81 810-0
Available Air Ambulance Services
There are many worldwide air ambulance services that operate in/out of Germany and Europe, including:
- Surgical Experts — Based in Germany, +49 176 2028 2223
- European Air Ambulance — Based in Luxembourg, +49 711 7007 7007
- International SOS — Based in Germany, +49 6102 3588 100
Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance
The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Germany.
OSAC Country Council Information
There is currently no active Country Council in Berlin. Please contact OSAC’s Europe team if you are interested in private-sector engagement in Germany or have questions about OSAC’s Country Council programs.
U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information
Embassy Address and Hours of Operation
U.S. Embassy Berlin
Pariser Platz 2
10117 Berlin, Federal Republic of Germany
U.S. Embassy Berlin, Consular Annex at Clayallee
14195 Berlin. Federal Republic of Germany
Hours of Operation: 0830-1200 by appointment only, Mon-Fri, Closed on American and German holidays
Embassy Contact Numbers
Routine American Citizen Services calls: (030) 8305-1200 (1400-1600, Mon-Thurs)
A duty officer is on-call during non-business hours. Contact the Embassy operator at (030) 8305-0 if assistance is required. Operators are available on a 24/7 basis.
Fax: (030) 8305-1215
Consular Agency Bremen: http://germany.usembassy.gov/acs/bremenacs/
Consulate General Dusseldorf: http://duesseldorf.usconsulate.gov (no consular services)
Consulate General Frankfurt: http://frankfurt.usconsulate.gov
Consulate General Hamburg: http://hamburg.usconsulate.gov (no consular services)
Consulate General Leipzig: http://leipzig.usconsulate.gov (emergency consular services only)
Consulate General Munich: http://munich.usconsulate.gov
U.S. citizens traveling in Germany are encouraged to register in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). STEP is a free service that helps the U.S. Embassy disseminate information about safety conditions and contact travelers in an emergency.
Germany Country Information Sheet