Anytime there are reports of violence in Europe I field a series of questions from my Stateside contacts on safety. The recent attacks in Paris have once again brought to light that Europe is not immune to terrorists and that there are indeed issues with religious persecution, fanatics and safety.
The first time I saw a demonstration in Berlin, I observed the angry marchers and hordes of armor-clad riot police and drew back in fear. A few months later at May Day I had already learned that this is largely posturing. Protests are usually non-violet and interactions with the police are peaceable. While there is no ignoring the fact that trouble can occur anywhere, my personal experience has made me feel as safe as I have ever been. But how exactly does that translate to safety in Germany?
Germany's stable infrastructure and adequate police force means that, yes, Germany is generally safe. Petty crime, such as pick-pocketing, is the most common offense with rare occurrences of violent crime. Large events like Oktoberfest are filled with intoxicated crowds which means a higher rate of accidents, fights and theft. There are still reports of racist attacks, but these usually fall outside of large cities. Sporting events, primarily soccer (or fussball), regularly draw rowdy crowds. But police are usually seen as Freund und Helfer (friend and helpers) and can connect foreigners with English-speaking services.
When comparing crime statistics between the USA and Germany, Germany is clearly safer.
The emergency number for Germany is 112. It can be be dialed in most of Europe and can be made from any telephone (landline, pay phone or mobile cellular phone) for free. Each state has their own non-emergency and police numbers, but this will connect callers to ambulance (Rettungswagen) and Fire (Feuerwehr). The emergency number for police is 110.
Is Berlin safe?
As the capital of Germany and the country's largest city, this is a natural question for first-time visitors. It does experience higher crime rates than other German cities and areas such as Wedding and Marzahn have been described as possible danger zones. While graffiti is prevalent, it is more of a political/artistic statement than sign of a troubled neighborhood. Issues with racism primarily occur in the outskirts.
Theft is the most frequent issue. A friend lost a passport (for replacement services refer to embassies in Berlin), frequent reports of stolen cell phones, etc. In the summer, the Roma community appears in the touristed areas en masse and can cause issues. May Day has a rowdy reputation in Kreuzberg, but as long as you don't have wheels and don't engage in the melee you should be fine. Bike theft is one of the most common crimes. If you want to hang on to your bike - buy a sturdy lock and don't perpetuate the cycle by only buying bikes that come with a certificate of sale.
Most importantly, violent crime remains unusual. As a resident of Wedding, I have never felt unsafe in the city. It is among the safest and most tolerant of all European cities.
Is Frankfurt safe?
Most crime in Frankfurt centers around in the Bahnhofsviertel (train station area), the city's red light district. It is as professional as the sex industry can be, but crime rates are higher. Be aware of unsavory characters and confirm the price before buying any service.
Is Cologne safe?
Anti-Muslim demonstrations in Cologne (and its site as the largest mosque in Germany) have made it a talking point for safety, but that demonstrations have been peaceful and there is conversation instead of rioting attests to its safety for visitors.
Is Hamburg safe?
Hamburg also has a red light district - the world-famous Reeperbahn. Though well-known and heavily touristed at this point, it still revels in its well-exposed underbelly. There is sex for sale and many neon lit clubs, but if you avoid becoming overly intoxicated and make honest dealings you should not encounter any trouble.
The city's beloved soccer team, FC St. Pauli, is popular with left-wing fanatics and can be riotous on game days.
Is Munich safe?
Munich is the safest major German city. Once a year the city implodes with people streaming in for Oktoberfest, but München and its police are well-prepared for the event.