Neukölln is a district that has become synonymous in Berlin with its liberal and open lifestyle. But on four recent occasions, brutal attacks on members of the LGBT community have seriously damaged that reputation.
In the early hours of a February morning, a young gay man was singing and dancing in the underground station in Hermannplatz, the district's central square. Suddenly a group of young men aggressively confronted him, claiming they felt insulted by his extravagant behaviour. An argument ensued that resulted in the man being pushed against the wall and repeatedly punched in the face.
At the beginning of March, a 24-year-old was walking with his boyfriend down Mainzer Straße, a street a few hundred metres from Hermannplatz, when he was attacked by two men. The couple had ignored the men's request for a cigarette, leading to one of them punching the 24-year-old and eventually stabbing him in the upper leg.
Last month, a gay man was attacked by a group of 15 youths on the nearby Sonnenallee. The group hurled homophobic insults at the man, before three of them surrounded him and attacked him with knives and tear gas. As he lay on the ground, they stole his money and phone.
The last in the series of attacks came on May 4th when a transexual woman was attacked while waiting at a bus stop in Sonnenallee. The attacker punched her in the head, kicked her in the throat and then fled the scene.
“We have been astonished and shocked at the severity of the violence,” Sebastian Stipp, Berlin Police’s contact person on LGBT issues, told The Local.
Stipp said that attacks on members of the queer community have happened before in Neukölln, but “the severity is something new.”
According to Tagesspiegel, hate crime against the queer community has been rising in recent years in Berlin. Between 2015 and 2016 the number of reported attacks in the capital grew by 12 percent, the newspaper reports.
Stipp notes that there are no recent numbers for hate crime in Neukölln. But police statistics for the whole of Berlin show an increase in attacks on LGBT people between 2012 and 2015. The numbers have stayed stable though in the past two years.
Members of the LGBT community is now organizing a series of events to raise awareness of the issue. On May 26th, a local bar and gallery in northern Neukölln is organizing a “flamboyant walk” through the neighbourhood.
The event follows a march from the Sonnenallee S-bahn station to Hermannplatz last week which was attended by 1,500 people.
District authorities have also started to take a more active role to try and subdue the hate crimes and have organized a meeting between police, local businesses and activist groups.
Stipp advises that, if someone suspects that they are about to be attacked, they should “get other people on board.”
“It is important to break down the anonymity of the people around you by talking to them and asking them to call the police or pull the emergency brake (in the train),” he says. If a situation turns aggressive “one should remain polite but assertive” to the aggressor to try and de-escalate the situation.
Stipp also encourages people to report attacks. “We need reports, that way we can better understand where the attacks are happening and respond accordingly.”
People who are victims of attacks can report them to the police either by telephone or online in English.