Police van outside Berlin's Grand Hyatt Hotel
(Source: Der Tagesspiegel)
IT’S THE KIND OF story you would sooner expect to find in the pages of Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale than in the local section of Berlin’s daily newspapers. Last Saturday afternoon, between four and seven masked men armed with revolvers and at least one machete stormed Berlin’s Grand Hyatt Hotel on Potsdamer Platz during a high-stakes poker game. They went straight for the cashier and filled their sacks with up to €691,000 in banknotes. A brief panic ensued and several guests were slightly injured. “I was sitting at the table when suddenly the crowd jumped to their feet,” one young player told journalists. “Everybody started running, but nobody knew what was going on.”
Before the raid:
Former tennis star Boris Becker was only one of
several celebrities on hand for Germany's largest poker game
A security guard made a run at one of the attackers and succeeded in snatching away most of the loot before the gang made its way out the door, racing across Marlene-Dietrich-Platz, through a nearby shopping mall, and onto Linkstrasse, where a car took them away from the scene at high speed. The police estimate that they made off with around €242,000.
Remarkably, the two hundred or so players – who had been at it since last Tuesday – returned to their tables a few hours later and continued on until Sunday evening as planned. The televised game, which was sponsored by the European Poker Tour (EPT), was the largest in Germany. 945 players from forty-eight countries started out, putting down €5,300 each, and folded one by one. The last man at the table was a twenty-nine year-old American called Kevin McPhee, who went home with a check for € 1 million.
The gangsters attacked on live TV
Rainer Wendt, president of Germany’s police union, told an interviewer early on Monday that the daring daytime raid represented “a new dimension of stupidity among criminals.” It clearly wasn’t particularly intelligent to undertake such a raid on live TV and to leave physical evidence everywhere. It appears that one of the men, dressed in a bright red jacket, wasn’t even wearing gloves. Moreover, several witnesses caught a good glimpse of the black Mercedes getaway car and it is just possible the gangsters were not aware that the entire Potsdamer Platz area is packed with CCTV cameras - after all, they pulled off their masks the moment they left the hotel. The police are confident they will be able to round the gang up soon.
The robbers may have been dilettantes, but it’s clear why they chose this poker tournament. Stricter security and low cash levels have transformed Berlin from a bank robber’s heaven to a difficult turf for criminals in recent years, and the Grand Hyatt represented the city’s last soft point. With the new security measures introduced immediately after the attack, another raid of this kind seems unlikely any time soon.
Does this mean that Berlin is about to become a crime-free city? Hardly. The big money isn’t in armed robbery these days anyway but in high finance and real estate, as the global financial crisis recently drove home (the crisis cost the world economy upwards of €4 trillion, and at least some of that money must have ended up somewhere). As Berlin’s own Bertolt Brecht has Mack the Knife say in The Threepenny Opera, “What is robbing a bank compared to founding a bank?”
Aside from receiving a fat annual bonus, if you're a banker you don't have to run for your life through the shopping mall to reach your chauffered black Mercedes. Instead, you can take your time and shop for Rolexes along the way...