Thursday, September 17, 2009



By Kevin Stoda, Germany

The German newspapers were impressed by the stillness and quiet that took place in the busy metros and regional train lines of the city of Munich around noon on Wednesday. The moments of stillness was part of a memorial for Dominik Brunner, a 50-year old, who was violently killed on the weekend when he tried to stop 4 children from being abused by dangerous ruffians in one of the subways of the Bavarian capital.

As a symbol of against the spiraling violence in cities and small towns in Germany , the crowds around Munich on September 16 took a moment of silence as the body of Dominik Brunner was laid to rest at that same moment in a graveside of that same south German City . The evangelical minister Christian Wendebourg emphasized at the funeral that Brunner will long be forgotten but his action in the face of violence to save others will live long as an example to very many others.

The two youth who beat Brunner to death on Saturday in front of nearly 20 passersby—i.e. who did not intervene to save him—have been a great source of debate and discussion in the news, politics, on talk shows, and in police stations around Germany . Some are calling for tougher sentences as justice. Others are simply calling for more presences of police—as opposed to TV cameras in the streets and subways of cities. Others blame parents for raising “monsters”. Others are calling for more civil courage nationally.


Since I moved to Germany in January of this year (after a 20 year hiatus), I have noticed a reluctance for police to intervene in a timely manner. For example, in August the local newspaper, the Wiesbaden Kurrier, here on the Rhine River where I live, had a lengthy article on the apparent development of a large fishing mafia made up of Germans of Russian and East European decent. These so-called “Russians” or bullies have fairly well taken over the river from the many local sport fisherman and fishing clubs over the past two years.

These days, according to writer Jorg Hamm, this “river fish mafia” breaks every fishing code in the region and keep guards posted on both sides of the Rhine with cell phones in hand every single weekend—just in case the local law enforcers show up.

The Kurrier newspaper writer, Hamm , quoted several hobby fishermen who had given up on calling local police or river police altogether. One local law enforcement official had noted that if he’d intervene with these fishing bullies, he would just get hit in the head. Moreover, with this world of Rhine River lawless, many longtime river fishermen do not bother to fish on Germany ’s largest river any more.

In short, police tendencies in Germany are to not intervene in any fight where one is outnumbered or will certainly be overpowered, as was the case with the 50-year Dominik Brunner in Muenchen last weekend. Police often see what Dominik Brunner did in intervening in a fight that wasn’t his as an illogical act, especially in that the violent youths were stronger than he was.


However, Pastor Wendebourg calls Germans to greater “civil courage”. Most Germans seem to agree, but there is no major trend in Germany towards greater vigilantism or longer prison sentences (or a system of 3-strikes-and -you-are-out, like in the USA ).

There are already two extremist groups who do seem to take the law and violence in their own hands in Germany . There are the large numbers of Autonomen (Anarchists and leftist radicals, situated primarily in Berlin and Hamburg ) and right wing neo-fascist groups (scattered throughout the country but most prevalent and successful in the East German states of Saxony and Thueringen.)

Like the fascists and neo-Nazis, the Autonomen (the autonomous ones) see themselves as a subculture in Germany and offer an alternative to youth who feel threatened by others in society. They have built up affiliations or a network across Europe . In Berlin , they are most famous for two things: (1) They often set fire to very expensive German cars as a sign of protest. (2) Every May 1 or May Day some of them get involved in violent attacks and destruction.

Abroad, the fascists and neo-Nazis are more well-known than the anarchists or the autonomen in Germany . However, the government and its courts of Germany today, (because of the national desire to improve Germany ’s image abroad) is more willing to hand down tough sentences and to enforce laws related to fascism and calls to violence from fascists. As a matter of fact, some Neo-nazis work full-time outside of Germany rather than in-land because the pressure from investigators is so hot at times.

This current societal context or situation of already having too many vigilante-like citizens groups, like fascists and autonomen, combined with the horrid memories of the civil in-fighting of the reds and brown shirts of the 1920s and the subsequent fascism in the 1930s and 1940s, leads most Germans today to prefer or choose more peaceful routes in this millennium.

However, I also know that at times talk is sometimes cheap and action speaks much more.

I wish the country of Germany the best in terms of trying to be able to balance individual freedom and the need for law enforcement. An active citizenry is needed to improve conditions in the country. The trend for decades has been to place too much dependence on training in peace-making and in global education in the public and private schools.

However, I would say that parents and adults need to set better examples at home.

In the long run, if a living parent shows civil courage and is willing to be a peace maker (no matter how difficult), that will influence children more than a dead hero of civil courage, like the poor Dominik Brunner.

P.S. As I write this article, there has been another act of violence in schools in Germany . In Ansbach , Bavaria several students and their attacker are now in the hospital. The attacker brought an ax to the Carolinen School . The violent 19-year old then set off several Molotov cocktails in the gym.

Today is 6 months since the last major attack in German Schools, i.e. in Winnenden by Stuttgart . There 17-year old murder killed at least 11 people after taking 18 guns from his father. In short, schools aren’t enough to stop the violence. It takes a wall of civil courage that is not simply ready to fight violence only with violence.

Parents and others, please, stand up and get some control of the status quo. Stop letting violence happen to you and others.


„Gottesdienst trauert um den tapferen S-Bahn Helden“,

Hamm, Jorg, “Angler fuehlen sich von Russen bedroht”,

Nieto, Sonia “ Solidarity, courage and heart: what teacher educators can learn from a new generation of teachers” Intercultural Education, 1469-8439, Volume 17, Issue 5, 2006, Pages 457 – 473



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