Chaos at the G-20 How Hamburg Failed to Protect Its Citizens

The violence that erupted at the G-20 summit last week has raised significant questions as to whether protecting world leaders was prioritized over the safety of the people of Hamburg. Police records from the weekend reveal the full scale of the chaos. By SPIEGEL Staff


After the last state guest had left and the smoke from burning barricades had dissipated, Hamburg Mayor Olaf Scholz decided on the line of defense he would take and headed into the studio of Anne Will, Germany's best-known television talk show host, last Sunday evening.

During the broadcast, Scholz vehemently rejected accusations that the police in Hamburg had only been interested in protecting Putin, Trump & Co. -- and not Hamburg residents. "That wasn't the priority," Scholz told viewers.

On Monday, he told German tabloid Bild: "The accusation is absurd."

In his statement delivered to the Hamburg municipal government on Wednesday, Scholz, of the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), insisted a third time that the measures taken by police were aimed "equally at protecting the summit and at providing security to residents."


The Hamburg police's operation plan is 40 pages long and dated June 9, exactly four weeks before the G-20 summit held last weekend in the German port city. The cover sheet of the confidential document (marked: "for official use only") bears the insignia of the Hamburg police department as well as the name of the special operation: "Michel."

Under point 3.2 ("Guidelines"), the mission's objective is clearly formulated: "The protection and security of the guests has the highest priority."

The blame game began in Hamburg almost as soon as the three chaotic G-20 days came to an end, during which hundreds of people were injured, countless cars set on fire and several shops looted. And that is just the physical damage. Many citizens came away with the feeling that their security is more fragile than they thought -- and Germany itself emerged with an image problem.

It is important to identify who is responsible for the G-20 debacle for three reasons. First and foremost, the people of Hamburg need to know what went wrong so that they can regain confidence in their own security and that of their city. Second, the brutal images from the summit changed the ongoing election campaign and, as political leaders offer competing interpretations of what happened, reliable facts are crucial. And finally, people across Germany want answers to the question as to how the state intends to protect itself from its enemies.

A team of DER SPIEGEL reporters has examined confidential operation records and the operation plan. Our journalists spoke with police officers, demonstrators and the lawyers of those who have been charged with offenses. We also interviewed public security experts and politicians in Hamburg and on the federal level.

A Misguided Strategy

All of our reporting ultimately led to Olaf Scholz. Under his responsibility, the Hamburg police ignored warnings and developed a misguidedly repressive strategy for dealing with the protests, say police chiefs from other German states. During the summit, they misinterpreted the potential dangers they were facing and were unable to protect residents, despite having assembled 20,000 police officers from across the country. And after the summit, Scholz misled the people by repeating several times that the protection of state guests and that of the population at large had equal priority.

Instead of admitting his mistakes, the mayor condemned the violence, called for harsh penalties and -- to his credit -- apologized to the people of Hamburg. But he didn't present any sort of strategy for the future. He has no explanation for the political anger vented on the streets of his city and no idea how Hamburg can finally put an end to its years of conflict with the left-wing radicals of the autonomous movement -- a conflict which has now escalated.

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As a result, Scholz has become a problem for his political party, the SPD. With just over two months to go before Germans head to the polls to elect a new government, the summit chaos has unexpectedly become a problem for the SPD, whose campaign was already struggling to gain traction. Now, the party's chances for catching up to Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives are lower than ever.

Before the G-20 summit, the SPD's greatest concern was that Merkel could use the images of herself with the most powerful leaders in the world to boost her campaign. But the result was worse than they imagined. Following the riots, the SPD is on the defensive while the chancellor has emerged unscathed.

Much of that has to do with Scholz. The Hamburg mayor is a central figure in the SPD leadership, along with chancellor candidate Martin Schulz and Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, who handed over the party reins to Schulz in January. Scholz had been seen as a possible replacement as party head should the SPD lose in the Sept. 24 elections.

Furthermore, the SPD has been hoping that domestic security would not become an issue in this campaign. Traditionally, Merkel's Christian Democrats are seen as having the upper hand on security issues and Scholz, had everything gone well in Hamburg, was to have neutralized that advantage. That hope, however, has not panned out.

As such, Martin Schulz finds himself in a difficult position. He had hoped to spend the coming weeks getting his campaign back on track. Instead, he has been forced to face questions regarding Scholz's future. Plus, Schulz has again been confronted with accusations that he is allowing Gabriel to steal the show. The foreign minister recently sought to put the SPD on a more aggressive footing by launching forceful attacks on the chancellor, accusing German conservatives of a "previously unseen degree of dishonesty."

But Schulz is also facing problems on a strategic level. The ongoing debate in Germany over left-wing violence has little to do with the SPD directly. But the as yet unclarified stance of parts of the Left Party and Green Party to the violence-prone autonomous scene makes a postelection coalition joining the SPD with those parties much less likely. The SPD's already narrow path to power is vanishing.

Increasing Uneasiness

Still, the state as a whole hasn't been making a particularly positive impression lately either, and neither has the government. On four occasions in the last two years, German citizens have stood by as the state has lost control. It began with the refugee crisis, when hundreds of thousands of people entered the country without papers. Then came the widespread sexual assaults in Cologne on new year's eve at the end of 2015. That was followed by the terror attack on the Christmas market in Berlin last December. And now the G-20 chaos in Hamburg.

There are different explanations for each of these events. But all of them have increased uneasiness among the population. The impression has developed that the state -- as in the case of the huge number of refugee arrivals -- is overwhelmed or is unable to provide sufficient protection to its citizens.

Graphic: Out of Control

Graphic: Out of Control

Both politicians and society must learn from these recent events. It is often the case that political leaders -- once the chaos has ended, the violence has died down and the debris has been cleaned up -- call for a stronger state, more police, stricter laws and a more stringent approach to criminals and extremists of all types.

A strong state must confront its enemies with determination. But it also needs other, less combative instruments. It must focus on prevention, reach out to different groups in society and provide assistance where needed. And it must be confident enough to take a step back when the situation calls for it. It is a lesson that the city of Berlin has understood: The German capital has successfully managed to deescalate the violent Labor Day riots that used to take place every year on May 1.

The police in Hamburg, says André Schulz, head of the Association of German Criminal Investigators (BDK), have emerged from the G-20 operation looking like "idiots in the eyes of the nation." But it's not the officers who are to blame, he says. The problem "is that police and political leaders have been unable to find a coherent strategy for confronting recent violence."

One month before the G-20 summit, Hamburg Police Superintendent Hartmut Dudde signed the operation plan that his officers were to follow. The document provided the regulatory framework for the largest police operation in Germany's postwar history. More than 20,000 police officers were to be called in to protect the world's most powerful heads of state and government during the July 6-8 summit on the banks of the Elbe River in Hamburg.

'Hurricane' and 'Lightning'

Dudde knew that it would be a challenging operation. He was faced with having to prevent assassination attempts on summit participants, terror attacks and eruptions of violence from among the demonstrators. He had no illusions: There would be massive protests that "would also include violent excesses," as it says in the operation plan. "Violent offenses targeting police officers" should be "expected."

The recipe the Hamburg police chose to deal with this threat was force. Disruptions of the summit, and of the participants during their travels through the city, were to be prevented as quickly as possible, Dudde ordered. When it came to confronting demonstrators and instigators, the operation plan indicated that the bar for stepping in should be low. The worst possible scenarios were given code names, with "Hurricane" referring to a terror attack, "Lightning" to an assassination and "Confection" to the discovery of a bomb.

But that's not all, there was also plenty of room in the operation plan for less important issues. Police officers were not to use their private mobile phones and they were banned from uploading images from the weekend to the internet. They were also told to maintain "tolerant, open, communicative and friendly behavior."

"The police officers deployed will stand at the center of global attention," Dudde wrote. "By maintaining an immaculate external appearance and proper demeanor, every officer will make an important contribution to overall success." One outcome of the weekend was to be nice images that could be used in the election campaign, and it was Dudde's task to provide them.

Shortly before the beginning of the summit, the police superintendent ordered his subordinates to take a tough line. "A water cannon has no reverse gear," he said in a meeting. "Don't report when a street is blocked. Report when it has been cleared." Officers quickly realized, if they hadn't already, that there was no strategy for de-escalation. Dudde was seeking a showdown with the demonstrators.

The Hamburg police's operation record and the confidential situation reports produced by the Federal Interior Ministry from July 7-10 are a total of several dozen pages long. The sober language therein stands in direct contradiction to the attempts at justification made by police leaders and politicians following the summit.

In press conferences, security officials claimed they were taken completely by surprise by the extent of the violence. The Federal Interior Ministry, by contrast, wrote: "The forecasts pertaining to the development of the protests against the G-20 summit developed by (domestic intelligence officials) proved to be accurate."


Discuss this issue with other readers!
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bumbleboo 07/15/2017
1. Translation
I believe the word "autonomists" used for the extreme-left protesters is wrong and that you meant the "Anonymous" movement, those people with faces covered made popular by the Guy Fawkes mask.
mowilson 07/15/2017
2. Stop blaming
Hamburg definitely did not fail to protect it's citizens. Under the circumstances, it was only logical that the protection of the twenty heads of state had priority. That was the reason for the increased police presence. To suggest that the citizens were neglected is an unreasonable argument that the Hamburger police do not deserve. The only criticism and the only discussion should be against the people who committed crimes. Yes, even some individual members of the police were extreme in their actions and should be prosecuted. But the gist of the G20 protests is the people confronting the government and demanding reform. Citizens who attack police and who destroy other citizens property is the failure that should vehemently be discussed. You can't blame the police or the mayor for their actions.
simslovescats 07/16/2017
3. How Hamburg Failed....
One: Why did the mayor not have a copy of the manual? Two: What was the role of the anarchists since the article never mentions anarchists but only the Greens and Die Links? I would bet anything the violence had a lot to do with the anarchists among the demonstrators.
deltagolf 07/17/2017
4. G20 summit
It might be better to arrange future G20 summits to take place on a private island to prevent chaos and destruction and bad publicity.
American for Trump 2016 07/20/2017
5. This is what you get
The violent left wing is at it again. This is what happens when you let violent left wing Nazis run wild. If you guys would stand up to these idiots they would disappear like they are already doing in the US because they are all cowards. All evil needs to triumph is for good people to stand by and do nothing.
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