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Local News Summary of September, 12th

  • Rape, weapons, and fights: How safe is Basel?
  • Four seasons at the same time: Basel’s trees go nuts 

Rape, weapons, and fights: How safe is Basel?

A woman was raped twice in an apartment in the Erlenmatt area of the city in the early hours of Sunday morning. Two days previously, another woman was attacked and sexually assaulted in Elisabethenstrasse. There were also two knife attacks involving men at the weekend.

Even the government admits it: Basel is more violent than other Swiss cities. The first weekend of September was marred by violence. On Saturday night, a man took a woman into a flat and raped her. The woman escaped and called for help – but the man ran after her, forced her back into the flat and raped her again. The woman managed to escape from the house at 6.30am and was able to call the police. A search has been launched for the suspect, who is around 25 years of age, 170 cm tall, has a normal stature, dark hair, and speaks Spanish. He was described to the police by the victim as being «South American».

Just two days earlier, a woman had a lucky escape in Elisabethenstrasse, although what happened to her was just as serious: A man allegedly followed the woman before attacking and sexually assaulting her. The attack happened on Thursday night at around 9pm. A few brave passers-by chased the man. He had fled in the direction of the train station, where the police were able to arrest him. The suspect is a 31-year-old Frenchman, according to the prosecution office. The police are looking for witnesses.

Bloody knife attacks

As if this was not bad enough for one weekend, there were also outbreaks of violence involving knives:  A 38-year-old Portuguese and a 33-year-old Angolan man stabbed each other at Unterer Rheinweg on Saturday night. Both men had to be rushed to the emergency department of the hospital for treatment. Another attack happened on Sunday afternoon at around 4.30pm when a 38-year-old man was severely injured in a fight with a 42-year-old man in Burgfelderstrasse. The suspect, a Swiss citizen, allegedly stabbed the victim several times, the prosecution office wrote in a statement. He was later arrested.

This all happened on one short weekend in September. Such reports are however not rare in Basel. Every weekend more and more reports appear. Here, violent brawls - including those which involve knives - and sexual assaults are not rare and certainly not limited to the party streets in Kleinbasel and around the Heuwaage. Of course, on a big weekend the city is full of people, alcohol flows, hormones affect people's brains, and fuses are blown. But the frequency of the messages is striking: A knife here, a knife there, and sex crimes again and again.

More violence in Basel than in other cities

Last week, the prosecution office of Basel-Stadt published the half-yearly crime figures. In the first six months of this year, the total number of crimes dropped by ten per cent, the authorities wrote in a statement. However, a slight rise was noticed in violence, threats against authorities and police officers, and burglaries. Concerning the most serious crimes of attempted murder, murder and rape, the real figures should be used to make a comparison between this year and previous years. A rise of 40 per cent means that although murders happen very rarely in Basel, a single case can boost the percentages. Even the government officially admits: «It is striking that violent crimes have been decreasing since 2011 in comparison to population growth however they are higher in Basel than in other cities.»

The strongest reaction against the crime statistics has come from the Swiss People's Party (SVP) who are calling for a tougher stance when it comes to violence against police officers. They also want further measures to prevent burglaries. What happens on the streets, for example over the past weekend, has not really been taken into account. The party is happy that the police are present at so-called hot spots, but its members call for the police service to be restructured in order to raise its street presence. But the fact remains: The police can often only react after a crime has already taken place. Either that, or their uniformed presence provides a deterrent. 

The government wants to act

Cases like the double-rape cannot be prevented entirely but perhaps a stronger police presence in that area of the city would have helped. Maybe an attentive neighbour who heard the woman's first screams could have helped to prevent the second attack. However, it is all speculation since what has happened has already happened. And it has occurred in a private home in a quiet part of the city.

Basel is growing and the variety of entertainment in town is plentiful on any night of the week. Together with a population growth and rising density, violence is also on the rise. Basel is not a village and even if the residents sometimes know the police officers by name: The younger generations and also those who move to the city are more urban than the older residents would like. 

The canton must react on that in terms of security. The government also sees this and has set the focus clearly: violent crimes, burglaries, and human trafficking should be tackled as a priority. And there is no better proof for giving the police the resources they need to do their jobs than last weekend.


Four seasons at the same time: Basel’s trees go nuts

The trees in the city are currently suffering from many illnesses: some are afflicted by a fungus, while others are already starting to blossom for the next spring. Are Basel's trees going nuts?

Strange things are going on in the treetops of the city: The trees don't know what season it is. There are two chestnut trees at Theaterplatz. One is beaming in juicy summery green, while the other wilts in a mixture of autumny brown colour to wintery baldness. Walking through the city brings confirmation: Every tree seems to have its own season, a single avenue can cover all four - at the same time. What's wrong with the Basler flora?

Emanuel Trueb, manager of the City Gardeners, confirms the suspicions of keen observers: Some trees are behaving as if it were deep autumn although it's too early for that. There are cases, said Mr Trueb, where certain trees have passed autumn and winter already and are busy creating spring's blossoms. If the affected tree doesn't manage to go through the entire cycle it must start next spring without leaves. Other trees however have lost their foliage already on the top while lower down it's still late summer. Complete confusion.

Two or three new parasites every year

There are several reasons, says Mr. Trueb. Except the chestnut leaf miner moth which has been present here for years and cause the leaves to turn brown, there are also fungi, and mildew which is coming back again and has an impact on many different tree species. 

It's not easy to fight the leaf miner moths, but they can be poisoned by sprinkling the trees. This is not feasible, however. «This would need road tankers and protection gear, and we can't reasonably demand this from the population,» Mr Trueb said. In Vienna, the authorities have gotten rid of pesticides with snow canons but «this would be unthinkable here», according to the City Gardener. Or one could vaccinate the trees by drilling holes into the trunk and injecting poison through them. With this method, however, it would not only poison the parasites but also the entire tree and therefore all creatures which live on it. «We deliberately use hardly any chemicals since this is also expected of us by the population,» Emanuel Trueb said. The head City Gardener supports this way of acting since collateral damage by many pesticides has not been researched yet.

If the climate is nuts, the trees are as well

Another reason could be climate change. «That's not a scientific finding but I assume that this change plays a role,» said Mr Trueb. The dry and hot summers have appeared several times in the last years, which affects the vegetation and also causes confusion. Christian Kleiber, the district forester, confirmed: «Yes, one can see that climate has changed. Long dry periods are happening more often. This affects the flora and in the worst case can also confuse it, as we can currently observe."

 A possibility to combat this would be to plant more trees which can bear warmer temperatures, e.g. oaks. This has been done, but monoculture is not the correct solution: with the changing climate conditions two or three new parasites appear every year and attack other trees. «We are trying to build as big a variety as possible to tackle this. At the moment it's the plane trees such as suffering from mildew,» Mr Trueb said.

The office for forestry has commissioned a study by a private forest advisory company to investigate how well-balanced the green is in Basel and whether it has changed in the last years. The results are expected in the spring. Hopefully the trees will still be alive by then.

City Gardeners control the situation

It could be a while before the oaks are planted and the parasites are defeated. But Basel's flora is in good hands, the City Gardeners are relaxed about the situation: A healthy tree can recover well from such annual pressures. The situation is under thorough observation. This year was considered exceptional but it will pass. In the end we can only hope that at some point the parasites would be defeated by the climate.