America is the “wild west” to many people I talk to in Munich.
Ten years ago, I was asked whether I owned a gun. Today, that question never comes up. Germany is suffering a couple of mass attacks a year now (the latest July 28), and the people I talk to aren’t smug about radical violence any more.
Germany suffered its first mass shooting In 2016. It happened at a Munich mall I knew well. It was where I shopped or snacked right outside the Olympic park.
An 18-year-old opened fire on fellow teenagers at a McDonald’s restaurant, before shooting bystanders across the street at the Olympia-Einkaufszentrum (OEZ) mall. Nine people were killed and 36 injured.
It took independent expert conclusions, a decision by the federal Office of Justice, a verdict against the weapons supplier and repeated efforts by the survivors and their lawyers before investigators agreed the killing was by a right-wing extremist.
Left to right
When I arrived in Germany at the end of the 1960s, it seemed as if leftists most often took credit for terrorist attacks.
it was hard to make friends among Germans my age because of their opposition to America’s fighting in Vietnam. Many young Germans made little secret of their admiration for the radical leftist Baader-Meinhof group behind kidnappings and killings, as well as bombings in American military housing areas.
Today, the terror seems to come consistently from the radical right. Surveys show more radical-right attitudes in Bavaria, and official records show more gun ownership around Nuremberg, than anywhere in the country. One study during the summer found that the number of Germans with right-wing extremist views had risen from 2% to 8%.
When violence occurs, Jews frequently are a target, but increasingly so are Islamic believers, anyone who looks “Asian” and immigrants.
A couple of months after I got to Germany the first time, a fire was set in the stairwell of a Jewish retirement home in Munich’s hip Glockenbach quarter. Seven elderly Holocaust survivors died.
Police shelved the investigation after a couple of weeks during which a key piece of evidence — a canister from which gasoline was poured — disappeared. No one has ever been held responsible.
Today, on an outside wall, door or bell pad, Munich buildings with Jewish occupants — even a synagogue — may not disclose the building’s use.
National Socialist Underground
Back around the turn of the century, the right-extremist neo-Nazi terrorist organization National Socialist Underground (NSU) committed 10 murders. Three of the murders were in Nuremberg and two in Munich. Police were accused of involvement in the violence, and top state and federal agents resigned after evidence was destroyed.
During their investigations, authorities insisted the shootings resulted from Mafia-like connections among the victims. They didn’t accept racism as a motive for 13 years.
More people have been killed in Munich by right-wing terrorists than in any other German city. In all, 23 have been slain in a 1980 bomb attack at the Oktoberfest, in the NSU’s string of murders and in the racist shootings at the Olympic shopping center.
Generally, news stories about racist violence in Germany do not identify where memorials to victims are located because memorials have been desecrated or destroyed, sometimes almost as soon as they are put up.
Google Maps’ memorial to the first NSU victim, Enver Simsek, disappeared, possibly because of memorial damage. But now Enver-Simsek-Platz is the official name of a location in southeastern Nuremberg near where he was murdered, and it displays on Maps.
Right-wing terrorism is not simply a relic of Germany’s past. Last winter, raids by 3,000 masked police netted more than two dozen supporters of the right-wing Reichsbürger (empire citizens) group. Authorities said the group planned to try to overthrow the national government.
Not just police
Suspicions of involvement or support go beyond the police. Recently, a media report said more than 500 German soldiers were investigated on suspicion of right-wing extremism. The Second Company of the elite KSK Kommando Spezialkräfte (Special Forces Command) was disbanded.
The head of military intelligence said that the soldiers were in communications networks with civilian far-right groups and that more than 135 pounds of explosives and 48,000 rounds of ammunition had disappeared from military storage.
Meanwhile, Germany’s domestic intelligence service classified the far-right AfD, which German radio now calls the country’s second strongest political party, as a suspected right-wing extremist organization.
Within days, a court barred the intelligence service from using phone surveillance and other intelligence techniques in investigations of the party.