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Nights on campus

On patrol with the University of Freiburg's last night watchman and his dog

Freiburg, May 31, 2017

Nights on campus

Photo: Klaus Polkowski

Alfred Schneider works when everyone else is sleeping. He's the University of Freiburg's last, full-time night watchman. Almost every night, Schneider and his dog, Attila, do their rounds on the Faculty of Engineering campus. The two are a well-functioning team.

27 years of service: When Alfred Schneider retires in 2018 he and his dog, Attila, can kick back and relax.
Photo: Klaus Polkowski

Attila isn't very tall, but he is wide. And when he runs, his sheer mass seems to make the earth shudder. That inspires fear, above all, when the broad-headed guard dog is approaching, great stride after great stride. Meanwhile, the jangling tag on his collar sounds so harmless. Attila belongs to Alfred Schneider, the last full-time night watchman at the University of Freiburg. Six times a week, the two make their rounds on the Faculty of Engineering campus by the airfield. Attila is part of Schneider's work equipment. The watchman can even write off the costs for keeping Attila on his taxes.

Schneider's night shift always starts at 9:30 p.m. Lights are still on in some of the campus buildings. Voices can be heard in the hall of Building Nr. 51, where the caretaker's office is located. Attila pricks up his ears. He seems nervous but stays close to his master's side. "The dog will only go out from me if I tell him to," explains Schneider. He laughs warmly when asked if he has ever, during a night shift, had to tell the dog, "Go, Attila! Run!" "I've done it a few times," says Schneider. Attila caught all of them. "Vandals, thieves, trouble-makers," he adds. Recently a few young people tried to break the windows in one of the buildings. "They were drunk or stoned," says Schneider, "so I let the dog go." In a case like that, Attila follows through. The police take care of the rest.

When Alfred Schneider and Attila aren't making their rounds of the campus, they take a break in the caretaker's office.
Photo: Klaus Polkowski

Nights on campus are quiet as a rule. Three times each shift, Schneider, Attila and another watchman from the CDS security service do their rounds on the compound. The university's security strategy has changed over the years. The head of Infrastructural Building Management at the university, Edgar Preuß, says, "By using watchmen alone, we wouldn't have been able to keep up with growing challenges. He says punks, the homeless and other groups of people were causing more and more disruption. So the university commissioned an external security service and the full-time, staff positions were no longer filled when watchmen retired.

Difficult for prowlers to predict

At 11 p.m., Schneider zips up his anorak, puts up his collar and takes a key ring in hand. He has too many keys to fit in his trouser pocket. Every round is different. Sometimes he first goes over to the big, blocky buildings on Georges Köhler Allee. Other times they start at the old barracks buildings. After all, to catch prowlers, they want to remain unpredictable, explains Schneider. The moon shines above. Attila is unleashed and trots a few meters ahead, looking, then he turns his head and runs back to Schneider, who praises the dog. They walk several kilometers each night on their rounds.

While the two night watchmen walk around the compound with Attila, they rattle windows and doors to see if anything is unlocked. At the cafeteria, the mensa, they go in briefly. There are two aluminum trays with cat food in them on the stairs. Attila gives them a sniff. Schneider reports that there's a cat living on the campus called Garfield. "The students feed him and have even set up a website for him," he says. There are drink and snack machines on the ground floor of the mensa building. For awhile, there were incidents there. People kept climbing in and stealing things out of the machines.

Together around the clock

Schneider has been working for the University of Freiburg for 27 years. When he started, he was one of eleven night watchmen and did most of his rounds on Natural Sciences Campus, the Institutsviertel. He remembers his second night on the job there well. He says he was with a colleague doing rounds in Area D and saw light coming from under a door. "So we went in. And there were dead people lying there," he says. Schneider didn't know then that Area D was home to the Anatomy Institute of the Faculty of Medicine. He says he was still frightened when he told his wife about it the next morning at breakfast. "I told her, 'I won't stay there long.'" But Schneider remained.

He worked in the Institutsviertel for almost 14 years. He was transferred to the Faculty of Engineering campus just after it was built near the airfield. He likes it there. And he's no longer afraid either. "I've got the dog with me," he says, looking down at Attila. Attila looks back up at him. The duo is a team that's together around the clock. Schneider says that when he gets home in the morning, he takes care of the dog first, then goes to bed himself. Around noontime they both get up, have something to eat, and then nap for one or two hours in the afternoon.

Isn't working when others are sleeping lonely? Schneider shakes his head and then nods towards to Attila. And he has someone from CDS with him almost every night. If they're not out and about doing their rounds of the compound, the night watchmen make themselves comfortable in the caretaker's office. They have a snack, read and chat amidst the rubber trees and shelves filled with loose-leaf binders. Attila settles down at Schneider's feet and relaxes a bit, but stays awake. Schneider says they pass the time quickly in this way.

The night watchman admits, however, that working nights has its drawbacks. His children didn't get to see much of their father. And besides, working night shifts for years has gradually taken its toll on his health. After all, at sixty, he's not the youngest anymore. He's already had three stents implanted, he says, and just after Christmas, he had a heart attack. As he talks, Schneider shrugs his shoulders, as if it weren't worth mentioning. "That's just the way it is," he says. He's set to retire in January 2018, when the nightly rounds for both him and Attila will come to an end.

Stephanie Streif