BERLIN Demand for pepper spray and blank-firing guns has surged in Germany, particularly after militant attacks in Paris in November and assaults on women in Cologne on New Year's Eve.
Gun dealers and vendors of deterrent devices such as sprays and alarms say sales have taken off since August, when Chancellor Angela Merkel opened Germany's borders to people fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa.
Ingo Meinhard, director of the German association of gunsmiths and specialist gun dealers, said sales of scare devices had "at least doubled" in 2015, citing telephone surveys with his members.
He said demand spiked up after the militant attacks in Paris on Nov. 13 and again after about 120 women complained of being mugged, threatened or sexually assaulted by gangs of men on New Year's Eve in Cologne at New Year.
Similar but smaller-scale assaults on women have been reported in cities including Hamburg and Stuttgart.
A Cologne martial arts instructor, Josef Werner, said inquiries for women's self-defense courses have increased fivefold.
Since German laws put severe restrictions on the sale of firearms for private use, demand has risen for freely-available devices such as CS gas, pepper spray, body alarms and high performance flash-lights that can blind aggressors for up to three minutes.
Kai Prase, director of Frankfurt-based DEF-TEC Defense Technology GmbH, said sales of pepper spray rose seven-fold in the final three months of last year.
"Normally the first week of January is very quiet but this year it's been a strong week in terms of sales," Prase said, reporting high demand for sprays that fit inside a handbag.
Nine of the top 10 bestselling items in the "Sport & Leisure" section on Amazon's (AMZN.O) German website on Friday were either pepper or CS gas sprays. The seventh-most popular item was a pepper spray shaped like a pink lipstick.
On Friday, officials said asylum seekers were among those suspected of involvement in the Cologne violence.
Pavel Sverdlov, director of the Soldier of Fortune gun shop in Berlin, said the rise in demand since August has been "really quite exceptional, I've never sold so many repellent devices."
He said sales of blank guns had trebled and he had sold out of pepper spray.
"The most recent events have alarmed many people, especially women," he said.
(Editing by Noah Barkin/Ruth Pitchford)