Sunday 16 June 2019

Nicky Larkin: Apparatus of German state missed killers

Nicky Larkin was able to walk into a Frankfurt bar and see prejudice and anti-Semitism where the government saw nothing

White power: Skinheads at a concert given by Skrewdriver in Stockholm, Sweden
White power: Skinheads at a concert given by Skrewdriver in Stockholm, Sweden

Nicky Larkin

Steffan frowned in Frankfurt as he told me all the world's problems could be blamed on Jaws. Middle-aged men nodded in approval as they sank their pints at the bar. My mind raced in confusion – I never saw that shark film.

Suddenly I realised what Steffan was saying to me. Just to be completely sure he wasn't talking about that shark film or any of its sequels, I repeated "Jaws" in inquisition. Steffan nodded intensely. The Jaws in Israel, he said.

The handful of solo drinkers around the bar all agreed.

It was winter 2010, and Steffan had clocked me when I walked in wearing a snow-covered keffiyeh. That's how he started the conversation – he said he had one too. Then he started talking about Jaws.

He spoke about how 'we' lost the war, as if no separation existed between contemporary Germany and darker incarnations.

He also talked about a band called Skrewdriver. Upon a quick post-pint google, I realised Skrewdriver were a Neo-Nazi band formed in 1976 who went on to become the most prominent 'White Power' band in the world. Later I asked him why he had a keffiyeh if he hated all non-whites. He said the Palestinians were alright – he felt they also hated Jaws.

So three years later it confuses me greatly to see a 1,000 page German parliamentary cross-party report emerge, claiming that institutional incompetence "without parallel" allowed the German police to completely miss a Neo-Nazi gang indulging in a seven-year killing campaign. The group, called the National Socialist Underground, murdered nine immigrants and a local policewoman between 2000 and 2007.

The victim's families claim institutional racism allowed the brutal killings to go undetected. The German government claims incompetence. Head of the parliamentary investigation, Social Democrat Sebastian Edathy said the German state only realised that its "entire security architecture was not attuned to things like far-right terrorism," in 2011.

But Steffan was ranting to strangers about "Jaws" in 2010. And all I did was walk into a bar, less than a kilometre from Haupbanhof central station. So to say a Spud-Head had the hop on the "entire security architecture" of the German state is absurd. I don't even speak German, but I could have told you all about far-right Frankfurters on Skype after a week in the city. Just by going for a pint ...

We found the bar by default – it was the closest to our studios, just off Mainzer Landstrasse, a six-lane main street in the Ethiopian district. We often tried to go to the African bars too, but they always thought we were undercover cops. This was not helped when my video artist pal produced his camera one night.

My only other friend in the city was an Israeli sculptor, who was on the same residency programme as me. I told her about Steffan and his solo drinking anti-Semites, and she was completely intrigued. She wanted to go and see if the Jaw-haters could spot their perceived enemy sitting at the bar beside them. So I brought a Jew to the zoo, where she drank pints with all the animals.

Not one of the natives clocked her origin. Despite all their talk, their prejudices were obviously inherited, and not based on any actual experiences. But the fact they were so vocal with their views to mere strangers in 2010, leads me to completely reject the idea that the existence of far-right groups was unknown to German authorities until 2011.

Given the historical complexities of the Germansituation, the authorities saying they were not "attuned" to extremist views in their state is as naive as saying there's no Provos left in Ireland. Prejudice often runs through families, passed down through generations. They don't all take up golf once a ceasefire is called.

Therefore prejudice and racism will always exist. So governments need to make sure its neither institutional incompetence nor institutional racism that allows it flourish. Attention must always be paid to the dangers of rising extremism, whichever side of the compass. Because while I would like to believe that people like Steffan are themselves the ultimate minority, I'm not completely convinced.

Sunday Independent

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