Friday, 11 January 2013

17: The picnic and park police

The Ordnungsamt, the office of order, is a branch of the local council and one of the more peculiar institutions you will come across in Germany. Neither the police nor the neighbourhood watch, the Ordnungsamt’s code enforcers are responsible for administering open spaces, fulfilling such vital duties as fining cyclists for not having helmets, arresting dog owners with unleashed pets and chasing foreign pot dealers out of parks.

Two code enforcers investigate a picnic.
The Ordnungsamt officer is hard to describe as he does not always have an international equivalent. The Italians will recognize an element of the dumb carabiniere in the figure; the British will see the stubborn traffic warden ruining people’s commutes.

I prefer to think of the organ as a body of undercover agents trained by the Saudi or Iranian Morality Police. 

Dressed in blue uniforms, the Ordnungsamt patrol public parks and walkways looking to settle the score with chaos and disorder.  These civil servants treat each case of chewing gum littering as if it were a terrorist act and every unrecycled bottle as a national security threat. Beware of these blue demons. 

The Ordnungsamt will often stop and ask for your ID, inevitably perusing it as if you are a terrorist. Should you forget your passport at home and use the fear of losing it as an excuse, you will be ridiculed and punished harder. 

If you have a dog, make sure you take it to the Hunderfreilaufzone, the dogfreewalkzone. These isolated quarantines are signposted and the minute you step out of them they’ll be waiting[1][1]

These men and women walked straight out of a George Orwell novel and into your face and you should respect the pusillanimous pantry of potential fines they have to inflict on you. They are parasites for detail and you cycling on pavements or playing your music at decibel levels audible from ear to ear will only encourage them.
The Ordnungsamt might also send you fines for inadequate disposure of rubbish or for advertising a public event indecently publicly.
Below is a list of things that will help you avoid and therefore survive the Ordnungsamt:

  1. Live in Kreuzberg. The Ordnungsamt recognize that this is an outlaw district where nobody wants to see them and where disorder is self-regulated.
  2. Don’t have a dog (If you have to have one, keep it on a leash or teach it to run or study German council law – you never know when you’ll need someone to represent you)
  3. Get used to watching TV with headphones
  4. Don’t make a lot of noise in public. Street volume is low in Germany and if the Ordnungsamt spot you overdecibelling, there’s no limit to the potential consequences.
  5. Carry ID at all times. It’s law and a common pastime for cops to check it. It also gives you a legitimate opportunity to mumble your way out of trouble pretending you speak no German whenever you have it.
  6. Don’t busk without a licence or perform without a permit. The Ordnungsamt might as well be the anti-karma police and they have strict regulations about the instruments that are allowed. Percussion instruments are forbidden on the streets of Berlin apart from in exceptional circumstances, so if you’re a drummer, open the atlas again and roll the dice. If you do get caught playing a drum, argue that it is in fact “a melodic-harmony-device” from Namibia called the Foswatu and that it would be incredibly racist and eurocentric to call it a percussion instrument.
  7. Don’t loiter with intent. Germans are always on the move and the Ordnungsamt will fine you for being absent from the grander pre-ordained commute.

I have had a number of encounters with the Ordnungsamt. My dog, bless its shit-sniffing absent mindedness, practically sustains my local branch. I have also been pulled over for escaping a thoroughfare at night to cycle on a pavement and for having a dim back-light.  I know my crimes and have repented.

But the resistance continues and if you come to live in Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg, you too will join it. You will get your own back by smashing bottles at public demonstrations or surreptitiously pissing with your unleashed dog. You will tattoo the city in your vomit.  You will deface advertising billboards and occupy traffic lights to grow soggy watermelon and zucchini. You will screen films without a license and occupy homes that are not yours. You will hold events across the city and beyond and never pay a cent of tax.

And if you do none of the above, you will sometimes be called upon to pretend that you do.

[2][2] NB: Dog owners should carry two plastic bags at all times.


  1. I think it's better if all parks were supervised by police. This is to maintain peace, order and safety in the place specially since it usually packed with families and kids. This goes as well to camping grounds and trailer parks. I've had hesitations before on spending overnight in our caravan during our camping trip for the same reason.

  2. Great write-up, I am a big believer in commenting on blogs to inform the blog writers know that they’ve added something worthwhile to the world wide web!..