K. was assaulted a few metres from here, on Brunnenstraße in Berlin-Mitte
Photo: imago/Schöning

BerlinK. was heading home from a party. Around 2am on 10 August, the young Black woman was walking with a white friend on Brunnenstraße along Volkspark am Weinberg towards the U-Bahn at Rosenthaler Platz.

With no warning, she was pushed violently from behind. She fell and hit her head against a parked car and then dropped to the ground. Looking up, she saw a group of young men – probably five. Next thing, they were kicking her hard in the ribs. One of them said, in accent-free German: “You’re walking on the wrong territory. Go back to Afri-caca.” Seconds later they ran off laughing.

She lay on the ground in total shock, smarting with pain, bleeding from her face. Frightened for K.’s life, her friend called an ambulance.

“She was taking care of me. It’s a human instinct. I was there bleeding on the floor. She also didn’t see them coming. It was just very nasty. The whole thing happened over 30 seconds.”

K. has a piercing, confident gaze and, weeks after the attack, we’re meeting in an outdoor café in Neukölln. She lifts a bandage to reveal stitches on the bridge of her nose.

I don’t like to be a victim. I don’t want people feeling sorry for me.

K.

There’s a determination in her voice. K., an EU citizen with African roots, has lived in Berlin for 15 years. She wants to remain anonymous. “I don’t like the attention,” she says. “I don’t like to be a victim. I don’t want people feeling sorry for me.”

She just wants her story to be told so that others who have had the same kind of experience are also able to talk about it.

In all her years here, she has never had to go through something like this. “I am used to the verbal abuse, or when people look at you aggressively,” she says. “This is daily.”

“I don’t go for the race card easily but it’s just getting too obvious everywhere, all the time. I can’t say anything else but that this is racism,” she adds, referring to the brutal attack.

In the space of a few moments, K.’s attackers inflicted lasting bodily harm: “In the hospital I had to get my head scanned. It was a bad fall. A bad kick. The day after I couldn’t breathe. I was in real pain. I wanted to get out of bed, but I just couldn’t move. I went to the doctor again and had another scan. My ribs were broken in two places.”

She doesn’t like going outside. “I’m in pain. I’m scared somebody might bump into me.”

Mistrust

K. feels safest in Neukölln. “I feel more protected, because there are more people of colour. I don’t feel safe with the police.” Which is why it took her some time to report the crime.

She says she’s been racially profiled by police twice this year alone. Twice, police asked for her ID on the street while out for a walk near her home. Twice, they took her to a police station and questioned her because she didn't have her passport on her. The police left her white friends who were with her at the time alone.

After going through these experiences and having heard similar stories from friends, K. didn’t believe the police would take her story seriously. “If I went to the police and said, ‘I couldn’t see these people because I was laying on the floor, protecting my face while they were kicking me in the ribs,’ they would say, ‘You didn’t see them, what do you want us to do?’”

Even though this crime will probably not be solved, it’s important to file a complaint

Helga Seyb

Instead, she went to Reach Out Berlin, an organisation that supports and advises victims of racist or rightwing violence. Here, Helga Seyb helped K. file a complaint with the police over the Internetwache (online police station).

For Seyb, the attack is clearly a case of racist violence.

“They used words that make you think they wanted K. out of that area or out of Germany. And that she should go back somewhere. They mentioned Africa.”

The fact that her white friend wasn’t attacked is another sign that it was “classic, pure racism” according to Seyb.

“Even though this crime will probably not be solved, it’s important to file a complaint, because we have to see if there are people in that neighbourhood walking around at night and hunting people down. We don’t know what kind of men they are.”

When asked about how the police were handling K.’s case, police spokesman Martin Dams said he couldn’t discuss an ongoing investigation: “With every crime that happens, one looks to see if there were similar incidents nearby.”

Endless visits to the doctor

Since the night of the attack, K.’s life has been consumed by medical appointments. At hospital on the same night, she received the stiches on the bridge of her nose – the injury she suffered when shoved against the car.

She also visited the Gewaltschutzambulanz, the Outpatient Clinic for the Protection against Violence, at Charité Hospital, where victims of violence can go to be “forensically examined and documented” without involvement of the police and at no cost. Here, doctors thoroughly documented and photographed all her injuries.

Then the day after came the doctor’s visit and X-ray that revealed the broken ribs. More than a month later, it still hurts to breathe, talk and walk – despite the pain medication she’s on. In the middle of September, her doctor told her that even when the wound on her nose healed, a scar would remain.

An x-ray of K.'s broken ribs

“Every day I will look in the mirror and remember the guy who hates me,” says K. “Somebody who must be scarred himself. I have to live with this scar. I don’t think this is fair.”

The two broken ribs are on the right side of her body. But she now feels a new pain on the left side, which doctors are having trouble explaining.  “They keep on finding things. I want to get over it. This is not my narrative. I don’t want to think about it.”

“It hurts deeply. The way they treat people, especially people of colour. I knew this for a long time. But experiencing it in this way is something that will never go away. When I see a Black person, I almost feel like crying, because I know what they are going through. When are they going to give African people a break in Europe?”

In their statistics, the Berlin police categorise racist attacks as “rightwing politically motivated crime”. Crimes of this type have been rising for years. In 2019, the number of rightwing crimes reported in Berlin grew from 1,789 to 1,932, a rise of 8 per cent. The number of such crimes resulting in bodily harm rose from 105 cases in 2018 to 115 in 2019. The numbers confirm K.’s hunch that racism has gotten worse in Berlin over recent years.

Reach Out Berlin also compiles statistics on rightwing crimes. The charity monitors police reports and local media and chronicles all cases on its website. The litany of crimes makes for depressing reading.

Their number are slightly higher than the official figures, Seyb says. She believes the true number is even higher. She suspects that a lot of racist or xenophobic crimes aren’t reported to anyone.

K. is resolved to not let this brutal act of violence disrupt her life too much. For one, she is taking steps to ensure her personal safety on the streets of Berlin. “I bounce back easily. I know I will be looking over my shoulder over the next few months. I’m going to buy pepper spray.”