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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Crime in St. Pete? See for Yourself

ST. PETERSBURG -- Call it the riskiest public relations move of the year: a foreign businessman inviting journalists to boost a city's image by writing honestly about crime. Gerhard Weber, the director of Hamburg YMCA Tour Service, saw that reports by foreign correspondents portraying Russia's second city as crime-ridden were scaring away tourists. Weber, who has been bringing tourists from Hamburg to St. Petersburg since 1960, said in Soviet times he brought an average of 5,000 tourists to the city annually. Today, that number has fallen to 2,500. After an article about St. Petersburg appeared in the Hamburger Abendblatt in April with the headline "He Who Wakes Up Gets Murdered," Weber decided it was time for damage control. "The image of Hamburg's partner city is kaput," he said. "Germans today are more afraid of the mafia and criminals than they were of the Communists." Weber got together with Lufthansa to organize a trip last month for five Hamburg journalists to see that previous reports have been "exaggerated." After four days as tourists, the journalists decided that Weber may be right. "I think it's no more dangerous than any other big city," said Doerte Kiehnlein, a radio correspondent. "The elevators here are more dangerous than the crime," added Christian Troester, a writer with Art Magazine. One of the group came thinking he could easily buy a gun on the street, but left empty-handed. Two others wound up at a market far outside the city center. There, they were accosted by a mysterious-looking man. Was he pushing used tanks? Uzbeki brides? Heroin? Suddenly, the stranger stretched up his arms and revealed his aim: "Buy my onions," he beseeched. The night before they left, the journalists gathered in an underground hotel bar to compare notes -- they had survived the trip without a single incident. Then, just when they had concluded that street crime is less of a problem here than in other large European cities, one member of the group returned from the bathroom with some bad news. Her $300 camera had been stolen.