Feargus O'Sullivan is a contributing writer to CityLab, covering Europe. His writing focuses on housing, gentrification and social change, infrastructure, urban policy, and national cultures. He has previously contributed to The Guardian, The Times, The Financial Times, and Next City, among other publications.
It's taken an incredible amount of resources to get to the bottom of this one.
Over the past 18 months, a crime scandal has been rocking Berlin. It’s one that so far has required the work of 23 officials, necessitated a court appearance, and, this week, provoked protests from a politician on the floor of Berlin’s Senate. It’s the unusual nature of the crime that has provoked such controversy and upset. It wasn’t an act of violence against a person, a case of damage to property, or of fraud.
It was, in fact, a fart.
The crime dates back to early last year. In February 2016, officers from Berlin’s Police Unit 32 demanded the documents of a group of people in the city’s Rigaer Strasse, a street formerly populated by squats that remains a rallying point for Berlin’s counterculture. It’s a place where, as CityLab has previously reported, relations between some locals and the police are commonly a little fraught, but the officers were unprepared for their arrestees’ reaction. On being asked for their IDs, one member of the group broke wind. Twice, in fact. Furious that the officers’ honor was under attack, the police took action. After an inexplicable delay of 12 months, the defendant received a fine for his apparently insulting behavior. The amount to pay: €900 (around $1,065).
Dubbed the Irrer-Pups Prozess (the “Crazy Toot Trial”) by local media, the case provokes an obvious question: Why bother? It’s possible that you had to be there to appreciate the true monstrousness of the flatulence in question. Without having been present, it’s hard to see the justification of initiating a huge fine against a citizen for something so common. Not only does it look like bullying, it’s a huge waste of time and resources. According to an inquiry requested by an East Berlin senator this week, the case took up more than 17 official working hours. It led nowhere. After refusing to pay, the defendant was summoned to what may well be the first ever Berlin court case that hinged on a fart, only to have his case dismissed by the magistrate in under 10 minutes. Berlin may be a relatively safe city, but it’s not so crime-free that its police can waste time punishing people for inappropriately expelling gas in their general direction.
The case, meanwhile, has done little for the already beleaguered image of Police Unit 32. The unit is only just starting to live down reports of orgiastic parties its officers indulged in while providing back-up policing for this summer’s G20 summit in Hamburg. While housed with other units in a former refugee camp outside the city, officers got so drunk that they urinated en masse against a fence, while one couple had sex in public and a female officer danced on a table in a bathrobe, brandishing her revolver as she did so—as the German tabloids gleefully related in the days following.
To hear that a police unit has engaged in lurid, drunken fun in their free time isn’t exactly earth shattering. To learn that officers from the same unit have tried to fine someone over $1,000 for farting, however, makes you start to wonder if they aren’t some sort of subversive art project designed expressly to undermine the reputation of German officialdom. But while the unit have been wasting public resources and feeding the media, they may deserve some partial credit—for helping to undermine their country’s unjustified reputation for dullness.
H/T Berliner Zeitung