In the Germany the “British Bobby” is still regarded as a model of gentlemanly policing, so Boris Johnson’s proposals to equip the London Met with German-manufactured water cannons has come as a shock.
They have been around in the Fatherland for some time, and were first used in Berlin in 1930 to stop Hitler’s Nazis staging demonstrations against the film All Quiet on the Western Front (Nazis thought it was an insult to the German soldier). However the water cannon’s real heyday began with the 1968 student protests. Riot police have wheeled them out for demonstrations against Nazis, nuclear power, the deployment of US missiles and, most recently, violent anti-gentrification protests in Hamburg. Hard core protesters in Germany usually go on demos equipped with a waterproof jacket.
The vicious potential of the water cannon did not become apparent until October 2010 when 66-year-old Dietrich Wagner was hit in the face by a jet from a water cannon and virtually blinded. He had thrown conkers at police during a protest against the construction of a new railway station in Stuttgart. Pictures of him with his damaged and bleeding eye-sockets were all over the front pages. He was left blind in one eye and with 8 per cent vision in the other.