Bonn Graffiti on benches, fences kicked in and more property damage being reported to the police. The city says incidents of vandalism have been increasing since the beginning of the pandemic.
Last week, vandals went wild with spray-paint at the Rhine riverbank. According to the administration, it will cost 3,000 euros to remove the graffiti from benches, walls and the pavement. The city said in a press release that it had filed a complaint (even though the identity of the vandals is not yet known). It wants to have the graffiti removed as soon as possible.
According to the city, incidents like this have been increasing since the beginning of the pandemic. The Rheinaue is particularly affected, it says. "In the Japanese Garden, the fence has been kicked in three times within weeks," says Dieter Fuchs, head of the Office for Environment and Urban Greenery. The last case was barely two weeks ago. City employees had to patch holes in the bamboo fence. The holes are easy to spot: the light shade of the new bamboo canes stands out clearly against the dark green of the rest of the fence.
Before that, the fence had been damaged on March 23. An employee of the Japanese Garden told the police that he had closed the garden at 6 p.m. the day before. When he went to unlock it the next day, the wooden fence at the entrance gate had been torn out of its anchors. In photos taken by the police, the covered entrance gate can be seen, and to the left and right of it, the fences lying on the pavement. The posts of the fence were broken off from the metal supports in the ground.
Not only the Japanese Garden was affected, but also the Garden for the Blind. The daffodils and bluebells are disappearing from the flower beds there. "People are cutting them off to use in bouquets at home," Fuchs says. "There's no sense of injustice there, either." In addition to the flowers, wild garlic also seems to be popular, probably picked by people who want to use it for cooking at home.
What the city describes is also reflected in the crime statistics. The number of reported cases of damage to property increased by about three percent from 2019 to 2020 (2019: 3,853 cases, 2020: 3,973). However, this means that the 2020 figure is only very slightly above the five-year average - exactly 13 cases. Almost 40 percent of the reported cases in 2020 involved damage to cars such as torn off mirrors or scratched paint.
Bonn police also recorded an increase in graffiti. Incidences of graffiti rose from 542 (2019) to 644 (2020). Here, too, the current figure is only slightly above the five-year average. In the statistics for the past year, one in five incidences of graffiti was reported in the city center of Bonn. Zip codes are used for the assessment. Included in the assessment are the areas around the train station, parts of the Old Town and the banks of the Rhine north and south of the Kennedy Bridge.
Jörg Kinzig is director of the Institute of Criminology at the University of Tübingen. He stresses the need for caution when interpreting crime statistics. They always represent only part of the actual criminality - namely the cases that are reported. So the statistics do not necessarily reflect an actual increase or decrease in crime.
Looking at the increase in property damage during the corona period, Kinzig says, "I think it's plausible that frustration is let out in these cases." It's also possible, he says, that many people are currently lacking an outlet. "Any pleasures or opportunities to vent - like sports - are limited at the moment," Kinzig says. He also has another explanation: Possibly there are better opportunities for the perpetrators at the moment because fewer people are out and about.
That's precisely what makes it hard for police to catch perpetrators. "We always say that people who observe something should call 911," says a Bonn police spokesperson. "Without witnesses, it becomes difficult for us to identify the perpetrator." This tends to happen more often with graffiti vandals, he says: residents observe them and notify the police. If spray paint cans are found on the suspects, sometimes a house search follows, says the spokesperson.
And under what circumstances does vandalism occur? "It often arises from a group dynamic," says Kinzig. The perpetrators are often not alone, situations can escalate. What starts with a broken bottle may then end up with a burning trash can. The perpetrators tend to be younger, he said, but that's also true of crimes in general. For men, a majority of suspects are in their mid-20s and younger; for women, most are even younger: around 16. Fewer and fewer people commit crimes as they get older.
The city has also noticed that Bonn residents are increasingly drawn to forests and parks. Some also camp there. Time and again, the city forester's office has had to remove fire pits. And visitors veer off the paths into the forest. This endangers plant and animal life: some birds, for example, build their nests on the ground. "We are pleased when Bonners visit the city forest," says department head Fuchs. "However, we ask that they treat nature with respect.”