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A landlord has ignited already strained tensions around drug dealing in a Berlin park by telling a newspaper he had banned black people from his pub. But on Tuesday he told The Local he had been misquoted.
“I’m not a racist, but I’ve decided to ban black people from my public house, because black people sell so many drugs here,” landlord Günter Liesert, 72, was quoted as saying in the Berliner Kurier last Monday.
Within a week, reports of the ban and Liesert’s quote had exploded across blogs and social media, together with outraged comments and threats against the 48-year-old establishment.
“Racists such as Günther Liesert cannot be given an inch of room in Kreuzberg, Berlin or anywhere. Racism deserves zero tolerance and no space in newspapers,” wrote one person on a left-wing blog. “It would be nice if the pub did not live to see its fiftieth anniversary.”
By Tuesday evening in the quiet, smoky, traditional pub, known as an Eckkneipe, the number of first-time visitors was causing concern for the patrons.
Liesert’s son Törsten, who was manning the bar in the early evening while his father was out, told The Local ours was the fifth visit he had received from journalists that day.
A short time later Liesert arrived and Törsten updated him on the day’s developments – a film crew had visited and the police had rung warning of possible reprisal attacks on the pub by anti-Fascists.
“Journalists have been in all day just because some paper wrote that I have something against coloured people,” Liesert then told The Local, visibly upset, his hands shaking.
Liesert denied ever saying he had banned black people from his pub. The offensive tone of his words printed in the Kurier, along with the implication that all black people are drug dealers and vice versa was unintentional, he insisted.
“We let anybody in here who is polite,” said Liesert. “I don’t have anything at all against coloured people. I’ve got something against them selling drugs on the street outside my window.”
“The dealers are always coming in here to change big notes and often get aggressive. Then I tell them to get out,” he added.
Liesert, like other residents, said he just wants the park back.
“They’re poor devils,” he said, referring to the dealers. “If they want to come here and make a better life for themselves in Germany I’ve personally got nothing against that.”
“But now mothers don’t ever go through the park with their small children – or if they do, they have to have two escorts. That’s what upsets me so much.”
But it is the association between the dealers’ skin colour and their profession, often reiterated in the German press, which makes his comments so offensive to many.
“When I first saw [the comments] on Facebook I had to laugh, they’re just so absurd,” Liz Gray, 31, a Berlin-based Briton of Jamaican descent told The Local.
“But then I started to feel uncomfortable when I thought of the wider implications. I’m personally offended, but I’m not really shocked.”
“I feel a bit sorry for the owner but not enough to condone his choice of words,” she added. “It’s wrong to cast all people with the same brush.”
Cannabis dealers have been largely tolerated in Kreuzberg’s Görlitzer Park for years, but recently the suspicion that dealers are selling harder drugs such as heroin, MDMA, cocaine and crystal meth has prompted police to tighten security.
In mid-March a nursery school pupil found a bundle of cocaine wrapped in cellophane while playing in the park’s adventure playground. Police later found crystal meth hidden there.
On Tuesday, district authorities met with police to discuss security at the park.
“A red line has been crossed,” Mayor of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg Monika Herrmann told the Berliner Zeitung paper after the meeting.
Possible solutions, said Herrmann, would be more police patrols with sniffer dogs and modifications to the park to make it less comfortable for dealers and customers.
“We have to make clear to all parties that the park, contrary to what it says in the tourist guide books, is not a stoner paradise,” Hermann told the BZ newspaper.
“We have to set clear limits, tolerant cohabitation needs rules,” she added.
– The Local