The Frankfurt health department head Stefan Majer speaks in the FR interview about his demands on the federal government and private security services in the station district.
Frankfurt – Federal politics is coming to Frankfurt. Burkhard Blienert, the new commissioner for drugs and addiction issues in Berlin, will speak next Tuesday at the conference on crack in major German cities. After that, the Frankfurt health department head Stefan Majer (Greens) will take the federal commissioner on a tour of the station district, the part of the city that has recently been the subject of heated discussion due to numerous grievances. In an interview, Majer talks about his ideas for the district and his expectations of the federal government.
Mr. Majer, the Frankfurt Way, according to which addicts are treated as seriously ill people and not as criminals, was recently questioned from several sides. Did you expect that?
I’m not surprised that some people are speaking up who want simple “clean up” solutions. That’s not my approach, since these are seriously ill people. What really surprises me, however, is that some of the successes of the Frankfurt way are not recognised. The city, the police and the public prosecutor’s office have achieved a lot together since the 1990s. At that time there were 150 drug-related deaths a year. Today there are 20 to 30. More than 100 people a year owe their lives to the Frankfurter Weg.
Frankfurter Weg: There is no solution to “the drug problem”
Can you at least agree on the lowest common denominator with the critics of the Frankfurter Weg, who are also your critics: The conditions in the Bahnhofsviertel are catastrophic?
We have an extraordinary situation that the entire magistrate must face. But one thing is clear: there is no single solution to “the drug problem”. Some countries have deployed entire armies to solve the problem and have failed. This is because we are dealing with seriously ill people who are difficult to reach. We see the problems and take care of them. But we also need the help of the federal government, because some measures and laws are being changed.
And if this doesn’t happen, will the drug addicts in the neighborhood continue to sit on the streets and the whole neighborhood will be full of rubbish?
We will do our part to improve the situation in the short term. We are planning a hygiene center with toilets, showers and the possibility of treating wounds in the main station. We plan to improve the opening hours of centers and strengthen street working. But we cannot create mental changes alone. In the 1990s we also needed the federal government to improve the support services for addicts.
What exactly are you requesting?
We would like to replicate the Zurich model, but that will only work if we allow retail trade in hard drugs in the facilities. We want people off the streets. But if they have to go out into the streets to buy drugs, we drive them out of the facilities. And then there are the problems we have now.
But it can’t be a good idea to leave crack dealers, i.e. serious criminals, in drug help facilities so that they can do their business there in peace…
That’s not how it works in Zurich and Basel either. This is where this so-called ant trade takes place among the addicts. Partly in institutions, partly in backyards, at least in clearly defined rooms. But even that must not escalate and lead to legal vacuums if we have to involve the police. And that is not possible with the current legal situation.
Frankfurt Bahnhofsviertel: Concentration on hard drugs
Will the legalization of cannabis planned by the federal government improve the situation in the station district?
Getting cannabis out of the loop allows police to focus on hard drugs. It’s good.
And the dealers on Düsseldorfer Strasse will no longer sell weed, but crack?
No, they wouldn’t find a market for it. Cannabis users don’t easily become more crack addicts. The dealers’ business will suffer a severe crisis with cannabis legalization. But I can’t and don’t want to help them there.
You recently also addressed the controlled dispensing of heroin …
We still have capacities in medically controlled heroin allocation and could take on more clients. But the entry requirements, which are regulated by the federal government, are too high.
Frankfurt Bahnhofsviertel: Many consumers do not come from Frankfurt
If you create new opportunities for drug addicts, more addicts will come. You will be accused of that, the ugly word of drug tourism is likely to fall …
It’s already the case that 54 percent of the clients in the consumption rooms aren’t from Frankfurt. Frankfurt benefits from its central location in many ways. But it’s not just people who want to go for a walk along the Museum Embankment. That’s the reality. Therefore we need the support of the country.
Stephen Maier has been head of the health department in Frankfurt since 2016. In addition, the 64-year-old politician from the Greens, who studied theology, heads the traffic department.
So that drug help services are also created in the surrounding area?
We still need a broader support system. More local offers for addicts are created or expanded. If we want to further develop the Frankfurt way, if we strive for the Zurich model, then it costs money. Conflict management or more street social work is very expensive. And the country is also responsible for that.
Do all drug help clients have a secure residence status?
No, and that’s a problem. We have numerous people on the street who are not entitled to statutory social security benefits. Refugees are also new to the drug scene. We don’t send them away and can help at short notice. But long-term offers that might lead out of the drug scene are not possible with this status. What we need would be the anonymous health insurance certificate. The federal and state governments are also required to do this.
To what extent do the current conditions still have something to do with the corona pandemic?
We’ve lost touch with a lot of addicts in lockdown. There were offers every day. But it was really all about survival. Sustainable work with people was not possible. In addition, the environment of the addict has changed radically. There were no longer any people who could have begged them, and there were hardly any shops open any more. Something got out of control, and we can still feel that now.
Frankfurt: Will the situation in the station district improve?
They were in lockdown with other celebrities in the train station district, handing out food to addicts and the homeless. Today you take a critical view of such actions.
Because they don’t align with our goal of caring for addicts in the facilities. There’s food and drinks there. With such actions, everyone runs out – and a lot of rubbish is left on the street.
Most recently, residents hired a private security service. What do you make of it?
If these people are used on private property, there is nothing wrong with that. The fact that private security guards patrol the neighborhood is unacceptable to me and is also hardly accepted by the police and public order office. This contradicts the state monopoly on the use of force.
When will conditions in the station district improve?
We will expand our offers at short notice in the coming weeks. It may be a while before something fundamental changes. We can’t do this alone. (George Leppert)