BERLIN - A series of shootouts have killed nine persons in the past month and thrust the city's crime rate into the national spotlight.
The executions of Vietnamese cigarette dealers caught in a ferocious turf war were only the most dramatic illustration of a frightening crime spree that has hit the city since the Berlin Wall fell more than six years ago.
Beyond the gangland-style slaughter of the cigarette traders - compared in the city's tabloid papers to the Chicago crime wars in the 1920s - police have identified at least 10 mafia bands from the former Soviet Union who use Berlin to launder profits from prostitution, drug dealing and car theft.
Police believe there have been at least a dozen contract killings by these mafia bands in the past two years.
Heightening the fears of many Berliners, the German newsmagazine Focus recently dubbed the city "Germany's crime capital."
"I don't go out at night anymore," said Wolfgang Frese, a 52-year-old civil servant. He echoed the sentiment of thousands of Berliners who lament the erosion of their freedom in a city no longer trapped by the Iron Curtain.
"It's become too dangerous. It's getting worse all the time. Before, when the Wall was still here, there was nothing like this to worry about."
More than 580,000 crimes were reported last year, nearly double the 351,000 in 1990. Berlin had 245 homicides in 1994, moderate by U.S. standards but more than in Germany's three next-largest cities and substantially more than the 175 slayings in London.
There were 360 murders in Washington in 1995 and, as of yesterday, 203 so far this year.
Just a few years ago, both the former West and East Berlin were among the safest cities in the world, protected by the armies of the United States, France and Britain in the West and the Soviet Union in the East.
The 10,000 Western allies and the 10,000 Soviets left Berlin in 1994.