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#145: BVG security fired, mail strike, EncroChat, German tanks
A look into Berlin's appointment bots
Hey 20 Percent,
We try to focus on local news, but there’s a war out there which is affecting nearly every aspect of our lives. Right now, 50 mostly western defense ministers, including Germany’s new one, Boris Pistorius, are meeting at Ramstein air base southwest of Frankfurt. All eyes are on Germany, which is under immense to deliver Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine.
On Thursday, US defense minister Lloyd Austin was in Berlin to chat with Chancellor Scholz (SPD) who, at the time of writing, still refuses to committ to delivering the weapons Ukraine says it needs by the time Russia launches a highly probable spring offensive.
Scholz is even cold about approving the re-export of German Leopards from Poland and Finland to Ukraine. It’s a disgrace that Germany is failing to take more responsibility for security in its neighbourshood. If you’re interested, here’s a longer piece I published on the subject this morning.
More news below!
P.S. Many, many thanks to our new sponsor, Berlin translation app Mate Translate (see below)
BVG fired security thugs
Following an attack on a passenger, the public transport operator cancelled its contract with private security firm Pütz, which had provided the majority of security guards on trains and in U-Bahn stations. Tagesspiegel reports that Pütz was kicked out in November. The newspaper quoted a BVG source as saying: “They didn't follow the rules of the contract. An assault on a passenger then broke the camel's back, that was the crucial point.” The firm B.O.S.S. has provided security since December. Violence inflicted by security personnel is not to be confused with the — sometimes racist —attacks by ticket checkers, such as the brutal treatment of American academic Abbéy Odunlami in 2020.
Several hundred Deutsche Post workers in Berlin and Brandenburg have been striking since late Thursday as part of Germany-wide industrial action, RBB reports. The union Verdi is demanding a pay increase of 15% in light of rampant inflation and high corporate profits. Mail won’t be delivered until Monday — though Deutsche Post subsidiary DHL, which is unaffected by the strike, should be delivering parcels Friday and Saturday — drivers there are often self-employed and non-unionised.
Achtung, digitalisation! In the three years since French and Dutch police managed to crack the encrypted phone system EncroChat, Berlin’s state prosecutors say that they’ve filed charges against about 100 criminal EncroChat users. About 50 of them have been sentenced to jail time. The Berlin Polizei has reportedly investigated 740 cases involving the software, which was used to facilitate the sale of drugs, weapons and encrypted phones.
Longish read: Bots and the battle for appointments
Thanks to the fact that Berlin has to repeat its last election on February 12, six Bürgerämter have been closed since December to free up staff to help with organisation of the vote. Unsurprisingly, this has resulted in even fewer appointments for people to get angemeldet (registered). The percentage of people able to get a Bürgeramt appointment in under 14 days fell from 70% in November to 48% in December.
The shortage of appointments isn’t anything new. Years ago, I installed a browser add-on that would auto-refresh Berlin’s appointment page and alert me when one came up. It actually worked. For a while, some German tech dudes ran a business offering Termine using the same basic technology but they appear to have been shut down.
Appointment bots are still out there. On Github, there’s an open source one that claims to do exactly the same thing as the hack I used. It turns out this is the code running behind All About Berlin’s super simple appointment finder. You just leave the browser tab open as it checks Berlin’s official appointment calendar site every few minutes. It makes a little sound when it finds a free slot.
Unfortunately, it’s only for Bürgeramt appointments. There’s no easy hack for appointments at the dreaded Landesamt für Einwanderung (LEA), formerly known as the Ausländeramt. A 20% Berlin reader alerted me to an unscrupulous actor who apparently offers “automatical registration” (sic) for €100 if you contact them over Telegram or What’sApp via a Croatian number. Their URL (https://www.otv-verwalt-berlin.de/) is almost identical to the LEA’s site (https://otv.verwalt-berlin.de/).
I messaged them — a few days later someone texted back from a Russian number offering LEA registration for €150.
If any of you have tried this shadowy “service” or know of other appointment bots, do comment below or e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s a sad state of affairs that foreign Berliners who might be anxious about their immigration status feel they have to resort to such dubious measures. Just another sign that, if Berlin wants to remain attractive to coveted foreign workers, the LEA needs to get its act together.
Berlin is no longer the poorhouse of Germany, at least on paper. According to the local finance minister, the city-state took in about €800 million more than it spent last year — meaning no new debt is required. Despite corona, despite inflation. The picture’s not all rosy though. As of September last year, Berlin was still servicing debt of about €63 billion.
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