With the city’s canine population on the rise, what is being done to dispose of the tons of turds they are leaving behind? Not enough according to anti-dog-poop activists.
Man’s best friend is overwhelmingly popular in Berlin. “You used to step on kids wherever you went, now you stumble over dogs – they’re everywhere,” complains a Prenzlauer Berg dweller. And indeed, Pankow has the highest count of canine inhabitants (11,000), followed by Marzahn-Hellersdorf and Steglitz-Zehlendorf. All in all, a record number of 105,000 dogs were registered in Berlin in 2017, and that’s without counting the ‘illegals’. As a matter of fact, every owner is legally required to register their dogs with their district’s Tax Office: owning one will set you back €120 a year (€300 for two) and there might be good reason for that if you think about the daily impact of our canine friends on public space: two average 60 gram-poos per (registered) dog make at least 12 tons of shit every single day! Since 2015, dog owners are subjected to the Tütchenpflicht, i.e. legally required to carry bags with them to pick up after their pooches. The fine for getting caught bag-less by the Ordnungsamt is €35, and a poo left on the pavement can cost dog owners from €35 in Pankow up to €300 in Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg. But clearly, the threat of punishment isn’t enough and catching shit-and-run o enders is tricky. “When dog owners notice Ordnungsamt controllers, they just pick up the turds,” says the Ordnungsamt Friedrichshain- Kreuzberg. In other words: if no one is looking, chances are the shit stays where it was dropped. Aware of the problem, the city launched a “clean city action plan” last year: 100 “waste watchers” are supposed to patrol the streets, looking for anything from unlawfully disposed-of trash to dog shit. In a statement that reads more like a desperate attempt to scare doggie parents into compliance, the Ordnungsamt says it is now able to prosecute offenses “more intensively than previously possible.”
It’s the owners’ responsibility and as long as they expect the city to clean up their mess, it’s not going to get significantly better,” says an o -duty BSR employee who wishes to remain anonymous, before adding: “the problem is that people put all the responsibility on us.” Or not quite: the BSR, the company in charge of cleaning Berlin’s streets and public spaces, has actually outsourced the shit work to another company, Niederberger Gruppe. They’re the ones running those vehicles known as Hundekotmobile, which, with their big nozzles, suck up all that gets left behind in doggie hotspots all over the city.
Meanwhile, some Berliners have resorted to taking matters into their own hands. In April, Neukölln’s Peter-Peters- en Schule ran its 11th biannual “Attacke gegen Hundekacke” (attack on dog poo) march. The primary school’s several hundred pupils patrolled Körnerkiez with banners showing crossed-out pooping dogs and spray cans to turn any turd that crossed their path neon pink, green or yellow. It was former principal Ruth Weber’s idea to highlight the issue. “We started in 1999. It was even worse back then: dog faeces wherever one looked!” she explains. “I was hoping that the action would draw the city’s attention to the issue. But so far, we’ve only had our partner-school and some kindergartens join us. And a lot of people from the Kiez, of course.” The school’s activity has resulted in some improvement in the direct vicinity, but the nearby playground on Wartherstraße and the smaller streets towards Tempelhofer Feld have remained a veritable minefield.
In the South-Neukölln neighbourhood of Britz, 85-year-old Manfred Gresens founded his own one-man initiative, Aktion Clean Berlin, 11 years ago. After 20 years spent in western Germany, returning to Berlin came as a shock: “It was so filthy. I couldn’t recognise my city!” Since 2008, the indefatigable retired electrical mechanic has been roaming the streets in a mission to document canine waste and alert authorities to the surrounding Unordnung. He also gives talks in schools, takes part in demonstrations, and even has a youtube channel, in which “Saubermann007” (“cleanman007”) shares his everyday gripes, the trash and dog poo littering his city ranking among his top pet peeves. “Some call me a dog hater but I am not. I would just like to live in a cleaner city. The problem is that the politicians are not investing enough and the people of Berlin don’t want change. Without motivation there will be no improvement,” says Gresens, lamenting that, despite his e orts, things are not getting any better: he recently counted 85 poos in a single 115m street in his neighbourhood – a number (and accompanying photographic material) he will make sure to pass on in one of his frequent written complaints to the BSR, the Ordnungsamt, as well as the city hall and politicians.
The senior activist also supports Initiative gegen Hundekot in Deutschland (ighid – Initiative Against Dog Waste in Germany), a Germany-wide organisation dedicated to helping local governments work on long-term solutions. “I think communication is key,” explains Burkhard Kueppers who founded the initiative four years ago and has a more gung-ho, dog-friendly approach to the whole faecal matter – his own dog Vida is actually listed among his organisation’s employees. “People shouldn’t be threatened with fines! They should rather be offered constructive solutions. Obviously telling people their dogs are not allowed to poo anymore would be no solution!” laughs Kueppers. According to him, what is needed is an infrastructure of trash cans, designated dog parks and easily available poo bags, clear and friendly communication between authorities and pet owners and, of course, funding for campaigns.
Daniel, the 40-year-old owner of Yoda, a cute cross-breed bearing an uncanny resemblance with the Jedi master, couldn’t agree more. “Know what? Where I used to live in the south of Germany, the municipality would provide us with free dog waste-bags – there were displays all over the city. In Berlin, I really wonder what you’re supposed to pay a dog tax for? So that they can fine you for not buying your own bags?!” Needless to say, Yoda hasn’t been accounted for among the 105,000 canines officially populating our city.