Germany is one of the so-called Schengen countries, which means there are no more border controls. You can enter the country without being stopped, without showing a passport and if you travel by train, car or on foot often even without noticing that you have entered Germany.
However, the German Federal Police have the right to ask passengers on public transport for their identification (§ 23 German Federal Police Act) if they suspect them of a crime, including illegal entry.
I’ve been on many trains in Germany and have experienced these identity checks a few times. Well, not myself actually, but I could observe my fellow passengers being checked. It’s always the same routine: two police officers walking through the moving train, asking some of the passengers for their ID or passport. Whom do they ask? Preferably dark people, more solo travellers than families, never anyone in a suit (that’s why I was always spared). Sometimes when a dark-skinned person sitting opposite of me was checked, I though to myself “why don’t you officers at least have the decency to ask me for my ID as well, to make it appear less racist?”
Now I know why: because racial profiling is legal in Germany. That’s what the Administrative Court in Koblenz ruled today (case no. 5 K 1026/11.KO). A train passenger had sued the police after he was arrested in the course of such a random check. During the court proceeding, one of the police officers stated that they were mainly looking for illegal immigrants and admitted that one feature by which they pick the objects of their checks is the skin colour of the passengers. The court stated that the police may use the “exterior appearance” to determine whom to subject to a random check.
Neither the police nor the court can explain why somebody’s skin colour makes him or her more likely to be an illegal immigrant. No word about the possibility that black people may be Europeans or, oh shock, even Germans. No word about the possibility that white people can actually be immigrants, too. I don’t see the connection between skin colour and somebody’s citizenship, and even less between somebody’s skin colour and the question whether they have a valid visa or not.
So here is what you need to do if you don’t want to be picked up by the German police. These 10 rules are based on my own experience.
- Don’t be black. (If you are, even the following rules won’t help.)
- Don’t look like the caricature Muslim. You know, beard, headscarf and so on.
- Don’t travel alone. Always travel as a standard family of one husband, one wife and two children.
- Don’t sleep. Police love to wake up people.
- Don’t have too much luggage.
- Don’t be an attractive woman.
- Wear a suit.
- Read a newspaper. In German!
- Carry a large German flag with you as if it was the Football World Cup.
- Dress like a nun or a priest.
Good luck and enjoy Germany!
As expected, the Appeals Court has overturned that decision and has declared racial profiling to be unconstitutional. We will see whether this will lead to any changes in how police behave.