I just returned from my second visit to Berlin. I first went three years ago while I was living in another city in Germany. Although I had lived in Germany for four months, and visited Düsseldorf for a weekend last year, this was the first time I really noticed the presence of the Polizei. I arrived by ferry on a bus from Denmark, and we were stopped at a police checkpoint and had to show our passports. This officer was quite pleasant, and completed his task in less than five minutes. I figured this was just a routine stop to make sure everything was legal, and it didn’t make me think twice (going through a security checkpoint in America might have been more difficult).
Going back was another story. Let me be clear, we were LEAVING Germany at this point, about five kilometers from getting back on the ferry to Denmark. We were stopped at the same checkpoint, and this time two officers boarded the bus to do the rounds. One guy was in front collecting passports and the other was behind him with a machine to look up any discrepancies such as false-looking documents I suppose. A blonde woman ahead of me scrambled to get together every identification she had because she didn’t have her passport. She frantically tried to explain and the officer looked a bit annoyed but accepted her plea. The officers continued normally down the line, often just glancing at the picture page of the passports without even taking them in their hands. Directly in front of me was a black man with a Spanish passport. The officer looked through it very carefully and after a few minutes the officer asked him if he has his Spanish papers with him (this implies that perhaps he was an immigrant and obtained citizenship). He said he only had his passport with him and the officer accepted that. When the police came to me I was now a bit worried. I had my American passport and a small residence card that has sometimes given me trouble in the past, but he took them, didn’t even read the card, and handed it back without a problem. Now I was becoming suspicious. A blonde woman who didn’t have any official documents and a small pale American girl with a vague description of residency went free without scrutinize, while a black man with a legal EU travel passport has difficulties. I didn’t conclude anything but this made me very curious so I continued to pay attention to the work of the officers. Soon they arrived at a man two seats behind me. The conversation went something like this: Man- “I don’t have my passport, but I have this travel document.” Officer- “What country are you from?” Man- “I am Iranian.” Officer- “21 Euro.” Without hesitation! The officer explained very coldly that you need a passport or else you must pay 21 Euros. The man said he didn’t have any cash so the officer said, “That’s fine, there is a cash machine inside, I will go with you and it will all be okay.”
Why didn’t the blonde woman have to pay? The only difference in this situation is when the officer found out she was Danish it was obvious- why would a beautiful Danish woman cause any problems on her way home? Now he can listen to her sad story and look at all her library cards to “prove” she actually lives there. It would simply be unjust to collect a fine from a woman so close to home. Also, why didn’t I get questioned like the black man in front of me? My only proof of residence in Europe was a small card without even my picture on it, written in Swedish. He had a Spanish passport!
At first I thought that the police were just looking to issue fines, and this is the reason why they were checking us on the way out the country. But the more I thought about it I considered that maybe they just get off on the power. In the end they didn’t punish the black man, just stood bigger than him and waved their finger. That wasn’t enough for them so next they were searching for a good target to make pay, how lucky for them that there was an Iranian man without a passport. I have left the country feeling quite sour about that.
During the trip I was doing some sightseeing with my colleagues and we encountered a small concert in one of the main squares. There was a large Christmas tree and a Norwegian woman was playing upbeat Christmas music, with a not more than one hundred people watching and dancing in front of the stage. We weren’t so interested in that so we continued ahead. A few meters behind the stage were two groups of police officers on either side, each group containing about a dozen officers. They were facing forward ready for action, wearing their riot gear. What?? Isn’t this overkill? About twenty five police officers with batons in hand at a tiny Norwegian Christmas concert?? My colleagues stopped for a rest but I was really uncomfortable the entire time and couldn’t relax the tension until after we had left the area. It was one of the first times in my life where the presence of police officers made me feel less safe. I don’t know if it was the weird situation that made me feel uncomfortable or the fact that Luca has been watching videos lately of police beating up protesters around Europe, and our discussions about them afterward. He has a completely different view than I about police, and I suspect it is because he has encountered more cases of corruption than little me whose only interaction with the police was during traffic stops in small towns where the police officers are just another member of the friendly local community- “Drive safe now out there, ya hear?”
I guess I just get what I ask for: travelling to learn about the world, find the truth, and mature. It can’t all be delicious food and learning new dances.