It is an autumn day in the northern part of Neukölln in central Berlin. People rush back and forth between shops and restaurants. On one street corner lies a beaten man, another corner is full of rubbish and bottles – but there is no sign that people are worried.
For ordinary people, it is reasonably safe, even in exposed areas.
– The most criminal thing I have seen is people using drugs. But shootings or fights with knives, no, I’ve never seen that, says teacher Anna to TV4 Nyheterna.
In the German media, a completely different portrait of the district is painted, as an area where there is more or less anarchy and where gangs, or clans as they are called in the German media, rule everything with an iron fist.
It is true that poverty is widespread, a majority of residents come from families with origins in another country, and drugs are openly sold.
But what is the difference between Neukölln, which is considered the most vulnerable and criminal area in Germany, and Swedish cities? Why do gangs in Sweden recruit children as killers but not gangs in Neukölln? Why are there no explosions?
Negotiations instead of violence
Mahmoud Jaraba is not only a criminologist. He has come closer to the German criminal gangs than other researchers. Sometimes it’s about daily contact, he tells TV4 during an interview.
The gangs established in Neukölln have traditionally been based on Lebanese family structures. But there are also gangs originating in Turkey, the Czech Republic, Russia and German motorcycle clubs.
When a conflict arises, according to Jaraba, the first reaction is always to resolve it without violence.
– They then try to solve it through authorities within the families or groups. To prevent escalation or to prevent violence in the streets, he says.
In practice, it involves a person who has respect in both gangs being brought in as a mediator. In the end, a compromise is found, it may involve money being transferred, or a lucrative drug market being moved from one gang to another.
Zero tolerance from the police
But for the gangs to conclude that it is better to compromise instead of starting a war, the work of the police must be sufficiently deterrent, says Jaraba.
Raids with hundreds of police officers, often with automatic weapons and with helicopters in the air, striking dozens of apartments and small businesses at once, can make a gang think that a compromise with rivals might be better than a war.
– The police use a zero-tolerance strategy and it is sometimes successful in preventing large-scale violence between the criminal gangs, he says.