Days after terror struck in the heart of its community, something like normality returned to the streets and cafes of Hanau yesterday. On Freigerichtstrasse on the eastern side of town, people once again gathered in one of the multifunction spaces that act as sports bars, betting shops and shisha stores, to have a smoke or a hot drink with friends.
“Am I scared? I guess it is scary,” said the Romanian woman who runs the venue. “But more importantly, would you like a cup of tea?”
Germany’s government has promised to crack down on rightwing extremists, offer better protection for Muslim communities and look into tightening gun laws in response to Wednesday’s attack, in which 43-year-old Tobias Rathjen shot dead nine people at a shisha bar and a kiosk in the town before turning his gun on his mother and then himself.
In a 24-page document the killer uploaded to his website before the shootings, he laid out his racist motives. Certain ethnic groups from Asia, Africa and the Middle East had to be “completely annihilated”; the population of Germany needed to be “halved”, he wrote.
The massacre in Hanau was the third attack in Germany by rightwing extremists in nine months and the one with the highest death toll. Walter Lübcke, a politician who took a liberal stance towards refugees, was murdered at his home near Kassel in the western state of Hesse on 2 June last year. On 9 October, two people died in the eastern city of Halle when a gunman tried to force his way into a synagogue.
The victims at the Midnight shisha bar and the Arena bar included German, Turkish, Bulgarian, Romanian, Bosnian and Afghan nationals. One was a 35-year-old pregnant mother of two. Germany has vowed to make money available to support their families.
Horst Seehofer, the interior minister and former leader of the Bavarian Christian Social Union party, said on Friday that the threat of rightwing extremism, antisemitism and racism was “very high in Germany”, and promised concrete steps to better protect minorities, for example by increasing the police presence outside mosques. There would also be tighter security at railway stations and airports, he said.
In an interview with the tabloid Bild, Seehofer proposed tightening the gun laws to include regular checks on the mental health of those holding a weapons licence, though other conservative politicians were quick to push back against such proposals.
The Green party, which is running second to Angela Merkel’s CDU in the polls, called for further measures, such as a crisis management taskforce made up of external experts. “Rightwing extremism has lost all inhibitions in Germany,” said Katrin Göring-Eckardt, the Greens’ parliamentary leader.
Both the Greens and the centre-left Social Democrats have called for Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, to start monitoring the far-right party Alternative für Deutschland.
In Hanau’s Turkish and Kurdish communities, there was scepticism about the solutions offered by politics. Politicians like Seehofer had allowed racist sentiments to go unchallenged in recent years, said 30-year-old Newroz Duman. She pointed to a comment the Bavarian politician made in 2018, describing migration as “the mother of all problems” and saying he understood the anger that fuelled far-right demonstrations.
At Thursday night’s wake on Hanau town square, there were some who felt the causes behind the attack went much deeper in German society. “Merkel says racism is a poison,” said Hasan Budak, 54. “But the real poison is that we have people who work five days a week and still have to claim benefits to survive. They end up looking for scapegoats and turn on people who look foreign. We have to take away the fascists’ arguments”.