E-Mail: sandhya.kambhampati(at)

Im Pflege-Wegweiser können alle Heime miteinander verglichen werden.© Ivo Mayr


How We Created the CORRECTIV Care Guide

A look at how we developed our care guide, as well as information on how you can help us make the current situation more transparent in nursing homes.

read more 7 minutes

von Daniel Drepper , Sandhya Kambhampati

How many residents should a nurse have to take care of? How properly is he or she trained? Do they make technical mistakes? How much does the licensee spend for meals? Does the company display high profits – and therefore is less money available for the care for residents?

We don’t know the answers to these questions, although we believe everyone should know these things in order to estimate the quality of a nursing home properly. But the data won’t be published.

On the other hand there is a lot of publicly available data, which can help citizens get an idea of the situation in nursing homes. We’ve collected, researched and analyzed them. Together with Norddeutscher Rundfunk (NDR) we’ve made a film, written a book about the subject and created a website: the CORRECTIV Care-Guide. It’s the first comprehensive journalistic guide of nursing homes in Germany.    

What kind of data is available?

For the CORRECTIV Care-Guide, we’ve used the data collected by Medizinischer Dienst der Krankenkassen (MDK) during their annual examination of nursing homes. The federal association of AOK provided us these data in well structured XML-files.

From this data, we used a computer program to generate a short text for every single nursing home. We also selected which health insurance companies, supervision authority and MDK district are responsible for particular homes. If you have questions or complaints, you can contact them directly through the platform.

Additionally, we are using the homes transparency reports which are often criticized because they mainly examine formalities. This may lead to distortion as nursing homes are able to counterbalance poor nursing and medical care with a well-readable meal menu and a nicely-shaped garden. Nationally, on average, homes in Germany are evaluated with a 1.2 – a straight A – and many homes advertise their meaningless grade.  

Our own criteria for deficits in nursing homes

We took the 77 criteria behind this overall score and took five important areas for examination and analyzed them. The following 17 questions come from the examination report of the MDK. These are the criteria we used for our evaluation.  

1) Care of bedsores

  • Is the individual decubitus risk recorded?
  • Are necessary decubitus treatments carried out?
  • Are the measures of treatment of chronic traumas or decubitus based on current state of knowledge?     
  • Is the report of the treatment of chronic traumas or decubitus being evaluated properly and is the doctor updated correctly?  

2) Nutrition and water supply    

  • Are individual nutrition risks recorded?
  • In cases where the patient is limited in self-care for nutrition supplies, are the risks measured and necessary measures carried out?
  • Is the state of nutrition appropriate within the framework of the home’s possibility?
  • Are necessary measures carried out if the patient is limited in self-hydration?

3) Pain patients

  • Does a systematic evaluation of pain take place?
  • In cases where a patient is in pain, does the nursing home work closely with the attending doctor?
  • Do residents suffering from chronic pain receive prescribed medicine?   

4) Incontinent patients    

  • Are individual risks and resources of residents with enuresis who have catheters recorded?
  • Are necessary measures taken for residents with enuresis by using catheters?

5) Medical supply and medical order

  • Does the implementation of treatment measures correlate with medical orders?    
  • Does the medical supply correlate with medical orders?    
  • Does the required medication correlate with medical orders?    
  • Is the handling of medicine appropriate?

The criteria chosen by CORRECTIV are geared from recommendations taken from the evaluation report commissioned by the self-administration for rating the nursing transparency agreement from 2010. In the past similar recommendations were also given by the GKV-Spitzenverband and the MDS (medical service of the head organization of the federal association of health insurances). CORRECTIV also talked to many nurses and experts about the inspections and the chosen criteria.

We decided to use a reduced model, where only the most important criteria from the area one, on nursing and medical supply, are integrated in the analysis. We focused on these criteria, as according to experts they may be a key sign to show quality of care in particular nursing homes.

For the inspection, in every nursing home the controller randomly chooses up to nine people, which he then examines. On average, 72 residents are living in German nursing homes. As a result, a random sample of MDK-examinations is small and lacking full information.

Our five criteria for examination are also based on the same data as the nursing grades. The examinations methodical flaws therefore are persistent. As the authors of the evaluation report in 2010 noticed, the majority of criteria represents the quality of processes, for example the documentation of the care. But experts agree that the quality of results in nursing homes should be tested. Our analysis can’t solve this problem.

If you want to read further: Prof. Klaus Wingenfeld wrote about this subject. 

On the whole, the examinations can only give an indication of shortcomings and serve as a suggestion for people to inquire more about their homes in their area.

Nursing home prices and additional data

The AOK insurance company also gave us additional data on every nursing home, including the price for care in every nursing home, how many people these homes host and if it’s run by a private company, a non-profit or a public institution. We compared the prices and the beds of the different homes in relation to other homes.

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As for the prices, we use the part the inpatients have to pay for themselves for the care in care-level 3 for a full month. This differs a lot, from less than 1000 to more than 2000 Euro per month. On top of this, the patients have to pay so-called investment costs, which differs as well and can often be around 500 Euro per month. We wanted to include these costs in our analysis as well, but for most of the homes the AOK did not hand us clear data, but rather a possible range of the investment cost from minimum to maximum. Therefore we weren’t able to use this number and publish the cost without the additional investment cost.

We compared the price of every nursing home to the average price of nursing homes in the same state. We did not compare it to the average national price because the prices between the different states differ a lot. We grouped the price into five parts: very expensive, expensive, moderately priced, cheap, and very cheap. The cheapest 20 percent is labeled as very cheap.

For the data on beds, we also used the AOK data and compared the number of occupied beds with other homes. This time we compared the number to the national average because the numbers are more homogenous and there are (almost) no state regulations that affect the number of beds in nursing homes. Again we grouped the numbers into five parts very big, big, normal-sized, small, and very small. The smallest 20 percent is labeled as very small.

The description of the data (prices, beds, grades) and the automatically generated 13,000 texts are not a product of our own judgement, but only an analysis of the data of the transparency reports. We compare the numbers to other homes to make it easier for people to understand them, but we do not judge the numbers. That would not be possible for 13,000 nursing homes as we don’t have complete data for all of them.

Secret reports on staff rate

Besides the public transparency report data we used for our guide, the MDK creates a detailed report on every single nursing home.

We’ve asked all 16 medical services of health insurances (MDK) for these detailed reports. All 16 refused to give them to us and referred to § 115 XI paragraph 1 saying: „Facing a third party the examiners and receivers of data are sworn to secrecy.“ We think this is wrong. These data should be published.

Reports by the supervision authorities – different, often secret

We also collected information from several state-controlled Heimaufsichten (nursing home supervision authorities). The Heimaufsicht is organized differently in every federal state. To some extent the federal government is responsible, to some extent it’s regional boards or local authorities themselves. In addition to MDK, the authorities control the homes each for one or two years and are able to undertake „occasional examinations“ after complaints and can close a nursing home that violates conditions.

Some nursing home authorities publish their reports online. But many of them are simplified or misleading. Other authorities keep their reports a secret. We’ve contacted the nursing home supervisions in all federal states. But we can only publish reports from eight federal states. These are: Bayern, Berlin, Bremen, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Rheinland-Pfalz, Sachsen-Anhalt and Schleswig-Holstein.

For the federal states that do not publish their reports online, we provided example reports and published them on our platform. All other reports are at first not publicly available. That’s where we need your help.

For every nursing home, we provide a link to our partner-website, Click on the particular link, then our website will generate an automatic request according to the German freedom of information act.

Through this, you can request the examination report for your nursing home of interest. Every report you requested will be published by us in our guide. The more you take part, the more supervision reports we are able to publish publicly and the more transparent nursing homes will get.

We’ve created hints and a checklist in our guidebook, but also other webpages with information on nursing homes and a long list with contact information to helpful organizations.

For those interested in wanting more background and why there are such severe problems in German nursing homes, you can order our book: „Jeder pflegt allein – Wie es in deutschen Heimen wirklich zugeht“  or „Everyone cares alone. What really happens in German nursing homes.“ 

Stefan Wehrmeyer contributed to this investigation.


von Christian Ruffus , Sandhya Kambhampati

An overview of how to use’s nursing home guide on 13,000 homes in Germany. 

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Issues with the German Nursing Home Care System

We analyzed data from AOK on nursing homes throughout Germany and found some issues with the nursing home care system. Here's an overview of how the system works and what we found.

read more 5 minutes

von Sandhya Kambhampati

In Germany’s nursing homes, there are some issues that are going by unnoticed. Many old people are inadequately cared for. We wondered, what are the causes of these issues and why aren’t people getting proper care?

For background, the social care system and long-term care insurance in Germany covers the entire population. Similar to the process for health insurance, a percentage of one’s paycheck goes towards their pool of money for long-term care insurance. In general, this is a bit more than two percent of every paycheck. When an individual is in need of care, the insurance covers parts of the cost. Because the money caps at certain amounts depending on how much care you need, the long-term care insurance doesn’t cover all expenses. Often, when someone decides to go to a nursing home, the first instinct is to look at the price or go to the closest nursing home.

Depending on the type of care that is needed, the costs can differ drastically between care levels. Typically care level three requires the most attention and can therefore be more expensive – on average costing more than 3000 Euro a month. About 50 percent of this has to be paid by the patients themselves.

But deciding on a final place, or the place where one may send their loved one to get proper care, can be difficult and cost should not be the main deciding factor, especially when there are other issues happening in these homes going unnoticed.

CORRECTIV spoke last year with hundreds of people, including politicians, authorities, nursing home owners, caretakers, patients, scientists about the issues with the infrastructure of nursing homes throughout Germany. Our reporters requested the inspection reports from the German nursing authorities and found many of the nursing homes received passing grades. Yet, some of the nursing homes that were considered to be „very good“ had major scandals, sometimes just briefly before they received these grades.

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Over the past year, our data team looked through data on 13,000 nursing homes throughout Germany and found sixty percent of nursing homes standing out negatively in key areas. Homes received passing grades, even though their inspection reports suggested that some had issues with people suffering in some way.

Why This is Important

From this research, the book „Jeder pflegt allein – Wie es in deutschen Heimen wirklich zugeht“ came about. The book explores the poor working conditions of German nurses, the limited financing and the bureaucratic obstacles of German nursing homes. Four nurses tell their stories and their experiences give insight into the lives of the more than one million people working in the German nursing home industry – and into the different shortcomings of the system. The book also includes tips on how you can choose proper care. You can purchase the book here:

Together with Norddeutscher Rundfunk (NDR), reporters went undercover with hidden cameras and show first-hand how poor the conditions of some nursing homes are. The reporter, in his late sixties and a cancer survivor himself, didn’t get the medical treatment his doctor had instructed the nursing home to do, didn’t get any additional care and wasn’t really looked after.

Since June 3, our full report can be found here. The platform is available in German and English and allows people to compare information on each nursing home. The website also includes links to the original transparency reports and to additional inspection reports from the public inspection authority „Heimaufsicht“. We also included tips for questions one should ask when visiting a nursing home. The platform is also linked to the German equivalent of MuckRock (FragDenStaat.De) and allows readers to request their own inspection reports from their nursing home authorities. 

For Germany, it’s the first platform on nursing homes combining available data with journalistic context so people get an idea what they can and need to do before deciding where to go for their final move. We hope people will contribute their reports to the platform and using that data, we will be able to tell more stories.

© Ivo Mayr


Racial profiling by police isn’t just an American problem: I’m experiencing it in Germany

Since New Year's Eve, Germany is talking about racial profiling. But it's not only Cologne, the problem is much bigger. For the German police, it seems to be a part of their daily routine.

read more 10 minutes

von Sandhya Kambhampati

It was a foggy morning in March. I was new to the neighborhood, having moved to Berlin a few days before. My jet lag kept me awake until the early hours of the morning. I needed to clear my head.

I was wearing a black track jacket, a pair of leggings, and my bright purple and orange running sneakers. I heard someone yelling at me on the other side of the track. I remember my headphones getting tangled in my headband as I struggled to pull them out. When the person came closer, I realized it was a police officer.

All I understood was „hello.“ He continued talking in German for a good minute until he realized I didn’t understand.

“Excuse me“, he said. „What are you doing here? Where are you from? Can I see your ID?“

My first thought: Oh, great, I literally just arrived in Germany and a police officer is asking me questions. Am I doing something wrong?

I told him I didn’t carry my ID. All I had were my apartment keys.

He continued to ask me questions: „Where do you live?“ „Why are you here so early?“

I told him I was sorry that I didn’t have my ID and would remember to carry it with me next time.

He told me I should always have my ID on me and left. I continued running, blasting my iPod. I didn’t think much of the encounter at the time. I assumed it was a one-time thing, or maybe there was an ordinance of some sort for running in the park that early in the morning I didn’t know about. As a woman of color, I didn’t think race could be a reason why he stopped me. I just figured it was because I was the only person in the park. I also didn’t think I would encounter the police again for the duration of my 10-month fellowship at Correctiv, an investigative nonprofit newsroom in Berlin, unless I had to talk to them for a story.

When I got back to my apartment I recalled the conversations I’d had with a few people I knew in Berlin about racism in Germany. They told me Berlin was generally safe and that I should avoid the some of the smaller Eastern towns in Germany, where I might run into neo-Nazis. The only checks I could expect were at the U-bahn (public transportation) for my ticket, but not for an ID.

They also told me German citizens by law are required to carry a national ID card, but no one I know had ever been stopped and asked for it, except at the borders and on the train or at the airport. I was told I shouldn’t carry my passport at all times, especially because I might lose it. No one ever mentioned that I could get stopped while running in the park. And when I told these friends about my encounter with the police officer while running, they assured me it was a one-time event. No one thought I would continue to get stopped.

I’ve had my ID checked by the police 23 times in the nine months I’ve lived in Berlin

Nine months and 23 identification checks later, I’m tired of getting asked where I’m from and where my ID is. I’m annoyed by the grocery store security guard asking me if I’m going to purchase the things I have in my cart whenever I stop in the store to think about what else I am forgetting on my list. I’m annoyed by the police officer who picks me out of my group of white friends and asks for my ID. I’m annoyed by the police officer who asks me where I’m going on a Sunday morning walk to the park and asks to see my ID.

These stops have made me question what people see when they look at me. Getting humiliated on the street by authorities has shown me that for some people, I’m just another „brown“ person who could be a terrorist or a criminal. When I show the police officers my passport, they always seem surprised that I’m from the US and not from India because of my skin color and appearance. It’s not only insulting, but it also shows me that their image of what an American person could look like is narrow. I understand that for many people, I might be the first person of color they’ve ever met or seen, but this does not give anyone the right to question my nationality or assume I’m a criminal.

At the beginning I felt ostracized by these encounters, but I’m sad to say I’ve gotten so used to it that I feel despondent. I want to know what can be done to help these officers understand that each time they stop me or another person of color, they are reinforcing the stereotypes we all deal with on a daily basis.

What also worries me is the message this sends to the refugees who have been for the most part welcomed into Germany with open arms. It makes me wonder about how many others are getting stopped and how they are dealing with it. If I feel this angered and hopeless, I can’t imagine what someone who seeks asylum is feeling, especially when they thought they were going to be in a safe place that gave them more respect but instead are singled out for the color of their skin.

My experience with the German police has also made me reassess my attitude toward their role of making sure the country is safe. I don’t really know what my rights are living in Germany and what I can and can’t be asked for. It’s also more difficult for me to answer questions from authorities because I don’t speak German. And because I’ve been stopped for identification so many times and feel targeted, it makes me question if I’m really truly safe. I understand that they might find the suspect for a crime during these ID checks, but it’s hard for me to wrap my head around how people of color can truly trust the police here when they are so often seen as terrorists or criminals.

This experience has helped me empathize and think a lot about how people of color in the US feel when the police target them. I know plenty of people of color who’ve lost trust in the police and don’t know whom to turn to when they witness or are a victim of an actual crime. This is exactly how I feel in Germany. I don’t know if I would trust the police here to believe me when there is a crime happening because some of them have made me feel as if I’m a criminal already.

Getting my ID checked so often makes me question myself

I talked to my colleagues at CORRECTIV — mostly white men — about these ID checks. All of them but one, a Syrian refugee, were shocked. They urged me to tell my story, but at first I was skeptical. They also urged me to request any information the police had recorded on me, because if I was going to tell this story there would be a lot of people coming forward saying this was impossible since they had never experienced such a thing.

I spoke to my fellowship, Knight-Mozilla OpenNews, and they were shocked as well. They had never heard of such a thing happening before — they’d had two fellows in Berlin previously, but the prior fellows weren’t people of color. They urged me to seek out groups to talk to that might have experience with ID checks.

When I reached out to a few people of color I knew in Berlin, they were surprised, but not for the same reason my colleagues and fellowship were. It was because I’m a woman. Normally, they said, these identification checks happen to men of color, especially black men, who are presumed to be drug dealers by the police.

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Each time I get checked, I question what I’m wearing or if I’m doing something I shouldn’t be doing. Why me? And each time, I know I shouldn’t ask myself these questions, because I know it clearly has nothing to do with either of those things. It’s gotten to the point where I have a copy of my ID folded so small, it fits in my running clothes so that I have it in case I get stopped.

My life in the United States

I’m a first-generation Indian American. I grew up in a diverse township in New Jersey. I never thought about people singling me out for my skin color or family background. I had my fair share of getting made fun of, especially because I was what they called a „geek.“ I got made fun of for wearing glasses, called „four eyes“, for always having braids in my hair, and for having „weird“ food like idlis for lunch. Looking back, I was naive in thinking that these comments weren’t targeted toward my family background. I didn’t think much about why people said the things they did to me.

I never thought about whether I looked „American“ or „Indian“ while growing up. That changed when I went to college. My college, Ohio University, was in the heart of Appalachia, and I was one of a few Indian Americans on campus. One of my first memories was when a woman in the student resources center spoke really slowly to me until I asked a question. Once she heard me talk and realized I spoke English, she spoke faster.

Another time, while I was working at the TV station on campus, a person in the newsroom told me I needed to put more powder on and have brighter lights because the lights used for everyone else weren’t bright enough for my dark skin. Even worse: The person said this in front of other people, which only reinforced the idea that people of color don’t belong on television. It made me hesitant to want to continue to work toward a goal of being on national TV as a reporter one day. This person also suggested if I wanted to continue doing TV, I should consider shortening my name and getting a name that was „easier to pronounce.“ That was a punch in the gut and made me want to quit journalism.

Several times while I was out reporting, I was told by people I’d interview on the street and in trailer parks, „I don’t speak your language, honey, so don’t bother wasting your time here“, or, „I don’t speak Hindu, sorry.“ I also had a guy pull out his gun when I approached his lawn, after he shouted, „Your kind don’t belong here.“

At first, I was angry at these people. Soon, I felt bad for them because they didn’t know anything else but their small bubble of white people.

The color of my skin was speaking for me. It didn’t matter that I am a US citizen. It was the fact I had a strange name that they choked on to pronounce and prompted them to ask if I had a nickname. And the fact I didn’t look like what they thought was „American“ since they never saw a brown-skinned person in their life.

So living in Germany, I wasn’t completely outraged by the racism, since I’ve experienced different types before. I’ve been trying to pinpoint why I feel ostracized in a different way when I hear racist remarks in the US versus my experience here in Germany. In the US, I just feel bad for people who aren’t educated enough to know what the difference between „Hindi“ and „Hindu“ is and how stupid they sound when they say I don’t belong. Their statements are harsh, but I know they are not true and I can dismiss them.

In Germany, there are no statements made toward me. It’s just a few questions that make me feel invalidated. Both are ways of people making someone else feel like an outsider, but the questioning makes me feel as if there are more fingers pointed at me. If it were questions from ignorant everyday people, I don’t think I’d be as bothered. It’s because this uncertainty is coming from authority figures (like the police) that society tells us to trust and respect. When they are uncertain about me, I’m uncertain about their role to keep people safe and feel like I’m accused of doing something wrong since the questions are so short and accusatory.

How big a problem is racial profiling in Germany?

The third time I got checked, I asked myself: What data are they collecting, and how many other people are having this happen? I can’t just let myself be angry about these checks. I know it can’t just be me. As a journalist, it bothers me that others may be getting hurt in the same way and may not have the experience dealing with racism before.

Germans are very private people and are very cautious about giving out personal information. There is a form anyone can fill out to request the information authorities are storing about them. Curious to see what the police department had on me, I sent in a request and got a note back stating they had no information on me. So why was it that the police officers had a notebook and seemed to be writing down something when they asked me questions?

I followed up this records request to the Berlin police department, who responded saying they don’t racially profile anyone because that’s illegal — and they don’t do illegal things. The police said it only collects information on raids in the so-called „danger zones.“ These danger zones are designated areas the police frequently visit because of high crimes. I also asked for the location of these danger zones. They told me getting this information would be harmful to the police security practices.

I also talked with more than a dozen people of color who’ve also experienced identification checks from the police. I met many of these people through racial profiling advocacy organizations and through friends of friends. A few of the refugees I spoke to told me they felt ostracized coming to a country where they thought they’d be accepted and instead feel as if they don’t belong. They too questioned whether they were wearing something inappropriate or walking on a street they weren’t supposed to. Another man with two young children told me he was stopped and asked if those were his children. His children are mixed black and white and looked, according to the police, „more ‘white’ than ‘black.’“

When I sat down with the Berlin police spokesperson, Thomas Neuendorf, he said he was shocked that I’d been stopped so many times. He said the checks I had experienced could be seen as illegal, since police officers only perform checks on areas where there is a suspicion of crime. He went on to assure me the police only do checks on „people who look suspicious“ because the person fits a profile of someone they are already looking for.

He said the police wouldn’t search a „blond, German-looking person.“ He added that the police force has several people of migrant backgrounds and has intercultural competence trainings to prevent racial profiling from happening. But, he said, training is different from the reality of being a police officer, so they can’t help if someone turns out to be racist despite all the trainings. He apologized on behalf of the department for what I’d experienced.

Hearing the words „German-looking person“ alarmed me. This is the root of the problem. Who comes up with the definition of who looks German or Australian or American or Indian? When are we going to move past this and realize that a person’s skin color does not define their nationality? I also wondered what goes in the intercultural trainings the officers went through. I asked Neuendorf about the words „German-looking person“, and he said he’d used the wrong words and that phrase isn’t what he actually meant.

Still, I know that the dozen people I spoke to are only a small fraction of the number of people experiencing racial profiling in Germany and in Europe. I spoke to the European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance as well as other organizations that have been researching this issue for a while. And I know this answer I’ve gotten from the Berlin police is not acceptable.

This experience made me see how authority figures can reinforce damaging stereotypes

I’m not the only one asking questions. In August, a member of the state parliament in Berlin asked about how the police are handling racial profiling, citing research from Commission Against Racism and Intolerance as well as the United Nations, which had a report on institutional racism by law enforcement in Germany. Similar to what I was told from the police, he was also told the German police departments don’t racially profile.

This experience has opened my eyes to how authority figures can reinforce stereotypes. I empathize with those who feel lost because of accusations and targeting from authority figures. My hope is that by raising awareness about these issues, more people will come forward and tell their story and show people that what they are doing is not acceptable. I also hope people will educate themselves and understand that skin color should not define what nationality they are, especially in a time when we are welcoming people from different backgrounds into our countries.

I’m interested in hearing the stories of people who’ve been profiled by the police. If you’re living in Germany, I want to know where and how the police stopped you and what kind of data the police have collected. I’m doing more interviews in the coming weeks into this subject and want to hear from you. This article originally appeared on on December 15, 2016. 

German police has been accused of resorting to the use of racial profiling when policing crowds during the latest New Year celebrations in Cologne.© picture alliance / Geisler-Fotopress


How racial profiling works in Germany

Our fellow Sandhya Kambhampati reported on her experience with racial profiling during her time in Germany. Since then, she received 700 messages.

von Sandhya Kambhampati

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my experience getting racially profiled in Germany and asked people to share their stories of racial profiling. I’ve been profiled 23 times since I’ve been in Germany, mostly while walking, running or going to the park. As a journalist, it’s pushed me to understand how big this issue of racial profiling is in Germany and reach out to authorities. 

The response is overwhelming. I’ve heard back from approximately 700 people. I’ve received hundreds of survey responses, emails, Twitter and Facebook messages about this topic. 

Because there is no comprehensive dataset on this issue, this research and survey sheds light on some of the experiences of people getting profiled around Germany at some point in their life – either traveling or living here. Some of the notes I received were similar to the profiling which happened in Cologne over New Year’s Eve, while others were profiled while doing everyday activities, such as walking in the park or on the train. 

People reached out with their personal stories and stories of friends and family who’ve experienced some kind of profiling. Others wanted to do something about the issue and asked for resources and ways they could help to stop this issue from spreading. Some contacted me through Twitter and Facebook and connected me to other friends or colleagues who have experienced profiling. 

300 messages of hate

I received over 700 responses in all different forms. More than 400 shared their stories. The other 300 responses were people who sent messages of hate. These people were pointing fingers at me saying the research was false and the police rightfully should be after me and other „illegals“. I received threats saying the „Nazis would be after me“, that „I should go back to my country“, that I should keep my doors locked because I might get attacked and people questioning if I really knew what my nationality was. One person wrote, „I wouldn’t have thought you were an American. Quite frankly, you look more Asian or African.“ These remarks only fueled my reporting and research.

People responded from Hamburg, Mainz, Freiburg, Cologne, Berlin, Karlsruhe and Munich, among others. People said they got stopped on trains, train stations, parks, near the borders and on the street. They said they were asked by police if they have drugs on them or have ever been in trouble with the authorities. They were asked to show proof of their id and residency in Germany. Sixty percent of the people who reached out through the survey said they had been stopped at least one time. Of these, 12 percent said they get stopped once a week. 

Many of the people who reached out were happy that they weren’t alone in this and wanted to share their story. The stories people shared were personal and many asked to remain anonymous for the fear of their safety. For this reason and because of the threats and hate mail I received, I’ve only included their first names. 

Deeply embedded attitudes

A man from Hamburg, Dennis, wrote to me. He’s born and raised in Germany and his wife, is from Brazil and is black. They are currently expecting their first child in a few months. He told me about his fears for his child, asking, „how often will this child have to answer stupid questions, be racially profiled or experience people acting differently because of the color of its skin?“ He hopes people will be careful about not feeding into stereotypes. 

“How can we seriously claim to be an open and liberal democracy if we consistently exclude people that are born here with a multiethnic background?“ Dennis asked. „It happens way too often that black Germans are still confronted with stupid phrases like: ‘Wow, your German is great’ or ‘But seriously, where are you REALLY coming from’. I think that it is this kind of thinking that gives the foundation for racial profiling as these attitudes are deeply embedded in the everyday narratives of our society.“ 

Similarly, I heard from a woman, Caroline who has five children, two of whom are from Sri Lanka. Caroline explained that her daughter would often get asked in the grocery store if she was stealing things from the store and would get stopped at train stations and restaurants. As a mother, she feels helpless and angry she can’t do much to prevent this from happening. 

Pulled out of line

Another woman, who is Asian and is from Australia, wrote she was stopped on the Polish/German border when she was on her way home from a trip. The police officers stopped her and two black men behind her in a train which was full of people – all of which were white – and checked their id’s. The officers did not however, check her husband’s, who is white. Since this experience, she has left Berlin and mentioned that racism was one of the determining factors for her move. 

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There’s also been some who wrote they were targeted in the airport. Dharmesh who is from India, but lives in Berlin said he travels quite regularly throughout Germany for his job. He takes flights normally from Berlin to Frankfurt, Stuttgart, Munich usually. In the last four months, he’s been pulled out of the security line every time for explosive detection at each airport. He’s been stopped 3 to 4 times per week for this and he says it’s clear that he is being singled out as white people usually do not get checked during these times. He jokingly wrote he has now started bets with his colleagues that he’ll get stopped, while they won’t.

These stories are just a sample of the hundreds of responses I got. Many of them felt that in some cases, controls might be necessary, but this should not be on a skin-color basis, but rather because of some substantial evidence. They also said the controls make them feel different, unwanted and make them question authority.

Not a problem

Some people who reached out shared stories from their childhood and of their experiences of racism, but not necessarily profiling.  For example, a man from Frankfurt, who has a mother from India and a father who is born in Germany, recalled his childhood experience and „experiences that make [him] aware that he’s considered different“. Growing up, he recalled his teachers in kindergarten telling them that the „beige-colored markers were ‘hautfarben’- ‘skin-colored’, literally, and thinking ‘well that’s dumb, my skin’s not that color.’“ A few others noted similar experiences, noting that these experiences are all things that contribute to a feeling that a German person can only be seen as a white blond-haired person. 

One man, Fabian, wrote to me expressing concern not about his own profiling or his own stories, but rather, he focused on the authorities and what they are doing about racial profiling. He wrote, „What is the worst is that after the recent events, even the German political elite, all the way up to the federal ministers, doesn’t seem to have a problem with it.“ 

Several NGOs and other organizations who I spoke to such as the UN, Initiative Schwarze Menschen in Deutschland, and Amnesty International have recommended Germany deal with racism and have an investigations into the practices of the police force. They all spoke of the widespread issues of racism among the police and how police target people of “migrant backgrounds.”

Looking forward

There has been several court cases on the legitimacy of ID checks based on skin color. And more and more of these cases are ruling in favor of the victims. Recently, the administrative court in Rhineland-Palatinate (the second highest administrative court in Germany) achieved success as they declared a police control illegal. I spoke with Sven Adam, one of the leading lawyers on these cases, who said there are currently about 10 different court cases taking place in various administrative courts. Adam said the federal police often try to defend themselves in cases by saying they had to check a certain person because they looked out of the window a certain way or walked too quickly out of the train station. So they try to pretend these are the reasons for the checks. But in court, these often turn out to be lies or claims that cannot be proven, he said. 

I also emailed the police in all sixteen states to enquire about their rules and regulations for stopping people. All but one state, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, responded. I asked them all if they do racial profiling, if they collect any data on the people they stop, and if they have any trainings on when and when not to stop people for identification. Their responses were similar: they don’t do racial profiling because it’s illegal. In their trainings they go over that profiling and labeling is illegal. 

Many police departments also said they recruit and have a certain percentage of their police force of migrant backgrounds which allow them to have different experiences to draw from. Many offices also have intercultural competency officers and diversity officers who inform the police force how to properly deal with these issues. In Bremen, the police department has a conference specifically on ethnic profiling and is working with organizations who support migrants to proactively deal with this issue. If the police is going to stop anyone, it’s because they have a reason to do so. In other words: the person may look similar to a person who is wanted. 

All of the police departments also have procedures in place so people can submit a complaint if they feel like they are unrightfully questioned. When I asked further about the number of complaints, this information was not disclosed. 

Thomas Neuendorf, spokesperson for the Berlin police said if suspicion-based checks take place and if the suspicion is not confirmed, the check is not recorded. They only record these statistics to show that they are making the efforts to stop people – otherwise, he says, the population asks why the police is not doing anything. 

This issue is also being discussed on an EU level. In 2014, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) recommended to the German authorities to ban racial profiling and update their Action Plan against Racism and Intolerance, which has not been updated since 2008.

If my research on this topic over the last few months has shown me one thing, it’s that Germany’s police force needs to acknowledge this as an issue. And begin some sort of data collection to really understand how widespread this issue is. Until they acknowledge that profiling actually happens, it will be tough for the police to really pinpoint how many people are impacted by this. People who feel that they have experienced racial profiling should reach out to organizations such as Amnesty International and Initiative Schwarze Menschen in Deutschland, who are actively working to defend the rights of people of color in Germany.