Pied Piper Proposal Berlin's Poor Should Catch Rats, Says Politician

A Berlin politician has come under fire for suggesting that poor people should be encouraged to catch rats by offering them €1 per dead rodent. The intriguing idea entails some gnawing practical problems and has been called "inhuman and cynical".

Picture the scene -- hundreds of poor people armed with clubs chasing rats through the streets of Berlin.

There's something Dickensian about the notion, but it has been proposed by a Berlin politician who is now being criticized for suggesting that the city's poor should be enlisted to tackle the growing rat infestation in the center of the German capital.

"Especially people who usually collect bottles could get one euro for every dead rat," Henner Schmidt, head of the business-friendly Free Democrat party in the Mitte district of Berlin, told Berliner Kurier newspaper this week.

The party may formally propose the scheme at a meeting of the district council on Thursday, unless it changes its mind in the wake of some damning criticism and negative media coverage.

"It's inhuman and cynical to send poor people out to chase rats so that Berlin can solve its rat problems," said the German Forum for People Without Income.

"If the FDP actually goes ahead with its absurd and inhuman proposal on Thursday in the district council, we can only call on Berlin's long-term unemployed to chase Berlin FDP politicians rather than hunting rats," said Martin Behrsing, the group's spokesman.

The idea poses some practical problems too. Killing rats by hitting them with shovels or kicking them to death would break animal protection laws. Besides, rats are fast and much tougher to catch than returnable bottles, much sought after by poor people who retrieve deposits on them at supermarkets.

There's no doubt that something needs to be done, though. Years of digging and construction in and around Berlin has prompted the many displaced rodents to roam the city. Alexanderplatz square is a favored location for them because people drop plentiful supplies of food there when they feed pigeons.

The FDP has since distanced itself from Schmidt's suggestion. Even if it were to back him, the proposal probably wouldn't get accepted because the FDP has just 3 of the 55 deputies in Berlin's Mitte district council.

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