An air of unease pervades the general public, and while this sample remains small and certainly not a complete representation of all the everyday folk of Luxembourg, Stephen Lowe argues that this shift is merely the start.
This is a 'feels' article. There’s not too much by way of statistical data involved in me having put this together. Honesty is not always the best policy, but here the shoe fits.
As is the way with articles of this ilk, the prompting to put tips to keys has come from the public forum.
There has been a shift in the senses of the Luxembourgish public. This shift is not yet seismic but it is there on the fringes. Lurking in your periphery, the threat of the unknown.
A sense of feeling ill at ease.
Is that footfall behind me quickening?
Is that group of rowdy folk going to come at me?
That street looks an little unsafe at night...shall I go a different route?
Why is that person looking at me funny?
Did I lock the doors and windows?
Wary of how fake news and disinformation has spread, and will spread, RTL Today has taken its position as a news source very seriously. Though we, as is human nature, are prone to enjoying the odd puff piece and satirical diversion, we are, for all intents and purposes, the first to report on breaking news.
And in this multi-layered, multi-culti Luxembourg that is our city and our country, some of those stories are not the sunshine and rainbows that many folk still want to read.
There have been comments ranging from the run of the mill:
“Yeah, so what, city life anywhere else is worse than this!”
“This is happening more and more”
“Where are the police?”
"I don't feel safe anymore"
To slightly right of centre:
"Get a gun, no one will mess with you"
"I would smack the hell out of anyone that tries to mug me"
To the wildly obscure:
"Women should have a vaginal implant that hurts a rapist"
"Why have you described the brands the victim was wearing?"
"Luxembourg crime is committed by foreigners"
“Please don’t report on violent crime anymore, it depresses people.”
The brand comment interests me greatly. Given it was in the official police report, the article we carried offered the description of stolen goods. It was also implicit that the person/victim was targeted precisely due to the branding they carried with them.
It is easy to forget that at any given time you are walking around with (in some instances) thousands of euros worth of goods on your person.
Be that mobile phones, wearable tech, laptops, jewellery, expensive clothes, accessories...that is in no way blaming the victim, but if we brass-tack it, who is a would be thief going to target. Who has the higher risk to reward value?
The last comment is the one that sticks with me, the one about reporting crime, and it does so for several reasons.
While acknowledging that depression is a serious issue - I, myself struggle from time to time - I would wager it’s far more depressing to be a victim of crime than it is to read about it.
Rather, should you not want to read about…don’t read about it.
No one is forcing you to. They ARE, though, forcing people to hand over their personal possessions.
Also, it would be incredibly irresponsible to not report on these incidents. It is time that Luxembourg residents, from the city AND from the ‘Burbs acknowledge that this place, this 2,586 km² is not the same as it was a decade ago.
Even in terms of simple geography, rather than demography, the land is in a very different shape to that which it was.
Development and modernity mean it is impossible for a land to remain in stasis.
Like in any city, there are hotspots and places where you feel slightly less secure. Of course, when I am saying places, I am addressing the one postal code where the most commonly felt sense of insecurity occurs - this is a not irrefutable fact. It is, though, the one that is most likely referred to. Even in jest. And in a joke there is truth.
The Gare remains a location that many people consider to be the epicentre of all things crime-related (I am not speaking on behalf of a supposed many – this merely taken as heard, read, felt viewpoint).
'Aaaahhh, Stephen, the Gare is not THAT bad', I know, I know. It isn't. The old adage comes to light once more; if you look for trouble, you'll likely find it.
It can also be said that trouble will find you.
Only last week (January 10 2020) was an individual stabbed right next to the station in an aggravated assault that is one of many becoming a more regular occurrence.
Over the past year, I have lost count of the stories shared regarding late evening altercations...cases of close calls, here we even had a reader come forward detailing a violent assault.
I can't mention names, but someone I know (posted on Facebook) had a horrible experience following the cancellation of public transport and not being willing to pay an exorbitant taxi fare. The individual (female) was lucky to escape a serious incident.
Worldnomads.com recently posted this to their site:
Petty crime in Luxembourg
Thieves may stop in front of you and drop an item, which they will then pick up along with your bags. Criminals may also stand in the doorway of the metro or stop in a stairway. Theft occurs on buses and trains, including the Gare, where you can catch the high-speed train to Paris. The area around the Gare is also described by some tourists as the shadiest part of Luxembourg City.
So, who must saddle the Roude Leiw's share of blame?
A hitherto unsuspecting and thus unprepared public? The Police...under theoretical fire a lot of the time, actually for a perceived lack of presence? Though RTL are reluctant to be too critical (we have requested an interview with Police spokespersons), we can suggest that there must be steps in place to stem the flow.
Whilst this is true, in part, it does not allow for the increase in home invasions (again, significant in number to be referenced in satire), muggings in broad daylight and on public transport.
It does not account for cash machines being blown up.
For widespread credit card scams.
It forgets that a fatal police pursuit occurred well away from the principle station.
What there appears to be is an ingrained sense of all things bad must point to anywhere but where we are.
Despite, or rather maybe because of, increased access to information and the press having quicker agency with which to pass said information on, the public may indeed feel that they are under greater threat.
But we are working and living in a country that is intent on highlighting only the good and trying to sweep the rest under a metaphorical rug.
Take Gerry Erang's Dark Luxembourg series and you'll soon see a side to Luxembourg that is far from the brochures and Letz Make It Happen sloganeering.
When there are no real indicators to lean upon, so, then, the Gare is to blame.
And if not the Gare, then the people whom reside there. And with this comes the worst point of an argument that will not often be said: there is a fear of those who we do not know.
Luxembourg has held an open-door policy of sorts, one that has encouraged the development of a huge swathe of nationalities to interact, gel, communicate, assimilate.
In this paradoxical land of the plenty, we as a population (again a majority, not all) enjoy a fairly decent standard of living. Is it so unusual that those who have less see opportunity to ‘want’, or acquire more?
That is not to say that crime is condoned or understood, or that it should be tolerated, more that as the country grows, and openly advertises as a land of opportunity, is it really that surprising that crime figures have also grown?
Whether these trends and intertwined is one for the statos (sp), I’m again going on gut instinct.
The UK Government post this warning on their site:
Violent crime isn’t common in Luxembourg cities, but incidents of burglaries are on the increase. Ensure you take adequate precautions to secure your home, particularly during the traditional holiday periods in August and around Christmas.
Pickpockets operate on buses and in train stations, particularly the Luxembourg Gare (main train station). Be aware of your immediate surroundings, keep your bags within sight, and avoid displaying high value items.
Hotel lobbies, especially in the Findel area, are reported to be hot spots for thefts and pickpocketing.
I said there was little data. I, fibbed - a white lie - see here:
Crime rates in Luxembourg are very low compared with other European countries but there are still some areas where you should exercise caution.
See what the US State Department has to say about Luxembourg's safety record here.
By all accounts the year 2014 was the last time there was a recognised spike in crime figures, yet since then there are far more people in and around the country. 'In 2017, one murder and one homicide' occurred in the country; and there were 74 cases of attempted murder. I, for transparency, am a country boy. I’ve never really lived in a huge city. I’ve been fairly sheltered. Living in Bristol and Plymouth are my closest encounters with BIG CITY LIFE.
There - as a student - I was forewarned of the higher risk areas and did my best to avoid them. There were the scare tactics of students being lynched by yardies, squaddies etc and when the boats were in (Plymouth) it was suggested we avoid Union Street.
In Bristol, my walk to work was soundtrack by the crunch of glass under foot - those shards coming from smashed car windows. St. Paul's was the place you should not go, lest you wanted a pasting or drugs.
Sandwich boards were emblazoned with crime headlines and you generally kept yourself to yourself at bus stops. But still, I was not 'in fear'. Perhaps the folly of youth.
Walking home, one night, following some after work drinks, I was walking back through Clifton and decided to nip through the hospital - an area I was advised to avoid after dark - I was swiftly set upon by a bloke who wanted my phone. I was on a call at the time. We exchanged opinions. I kept my phone, even if I had lost my cool.
Still, that was only one occasion.
The flat opposite mine, while living in Henleaze as burgled twice in 18-months. Ours, perhaps as it was messy, was left untouched.
Yet, those are the accounts I can remember.
Not once have I had any experience of violence or crime in Luxembourg - though the Schueberfouer case remains open to interpretation.
Maybe I have been exceptionally lucky, and as I hastily look for some wood to touch (steady), I hope that remains the case.
But, the reports and the figs do indicate that crime is in fact down.
In 2018 37,288 crimes were recorded by Luxembourg police, compared to 43,087 in 2014. That said the total in 2000 was 22,816.
Public drunkenness has seen a surge in the last two decades up from 293 cases in 200, to 1,028 in 2018.
Violent thefts, in spite of how often we read about them have only seen a slight increase: 359 in 2000 and 449 in 2018 - the high being in 2014, 615.
Click the below image for a full list of crime statistics (source: https://statistiques.public.lu/)
So it seems that reporting on crime and the public view on crime stats are to go hand in hand.
But I would still prefer to know that be wilfully, perhaps even blissfully, ignorant. Wouldn't you?
Even now, when visiting major capitals, I am reminded by my wife to not leave my keys, wallet, phone in full view when we are in pubs or restaurants.
(picks up rose-tinted glasses) It used to be that in Luxembourg, you could (again not in ALL instances) leave your personal belongings on the bar, pop to the loo and come back to find them still there.
These days, I’m suspicious of the person(s) standing too close to me on the train.
There are many ways of thought involved with piecing together just how the sea change in a landlocked country is being brought about but an increased population, no matter from which corner of the globe (deliberately oxymoronic), is paramount in deducing why things are the way they are.
Whether or not, this, or any future government, is able to get a handle on spiralling crime is one of the things that will be watched closely in the press and in the public realm.
One thing is for sure, RTL Today will continue to report on these incidents and follow up with those that should be called to account.
Luxembourg should be proud of its stature within the EU and indeed the international prestige it enjoys. It does not want the sheen to fade.
A little bit of spit and shine has worked before.
It will not do so for much longer.
Stephen Lowe is a journalist and senior editor with RTL Today, a freelance DJ / Podcast host on Eldoradio and a short film director/producer.