I’m sitting on the terrace on Sunday morning and have just had a good read of the newspapers. The papers are mainly occupied by one story. Last Friday evening an 18 year old German/Iranian youth shot 9 people dead in Munich and injured several others. Shortly afterwards when confronted by police he shot himself. Much to the disappointment of the anti-immigration lobby, it seems he was not an islamic fundamentalist.
One of the things I always tell people when they ask me what I like about Germany is that it feels very safe here. It’s a good safe place to bring up a family. I stick by that – although we probably live in about the safest area within a safe country. I dare say that there are some rough parts of Berlin where you might be a little more careful about locking your car.
When I first moved to Germany I lived in a tiny village called Seeg, about 5 miles from the Austrian border. If you want to know what the countryside is like around there just watch Steve McQueen trying to jump the barbed-wire fence in The Great Escape – it was filmed nearby. When I arrived, in 1991, it was like taking a step back in time. This was a small Bavarian community where everyone knew each other and kept an eye out for each other. As a young man it could be a bit irritating that my neighbour knew more accurately when I had got home last night than I could remember myself – but I suppose it keeps a village safe. After a while, I got into the village rhythm of live too. Every morning I would leave my flat – without locking the door – and drive the short distance to work. There I would park my car, and leave the keys in the ignition. Everyone else did too. You often see people in American films trying to find a car to steal by folding down the sun visor until some keys drop out. No need for that in Seeg back then. Just jump in and drive away.
In Autumn I would often drive to Italy over the weekends to go paragliding with friends in a place called Bassano del Grappa. It was only four hours away and on a clear day you could see Venice from the top of the mountain. A few of us would meet up at a car park just over the Austrian border and then all get into one car for the journey and leave the rest parked up over the weekend. I can remember once getting back on a Sunday evening and finding out I had lost my carkeys. After a frantic half-hour rummaging through various bags and looking under all the seats in the other car I suddenly noticed something. My car key was still in the driver’s door – the keyring occasionally glinting in the headlights of passing cars. The irony of that particular weekend was that our van had been broken into in Bassano. Although luckily not much was in it because we knew that thieves targeted the area.
It’s not just the break-ins though, I also feel that the overall propensity for violence is lower here. It seems strange that a country which unleashed unimaginable brutality on millions last century would become a peacenik haven but perhaps that is the reason itself. Germany still wants to show that it is a reasonable, grown-up, sensible folk. You see it in the politics and the depth of debate that takes place before any military action is taken – Germany is never going to enter a war by accident. This same attitude trickles down to everyday life too. Violence really is a last resort. I can’t remember seeing a fist-fight in Stuttgart in the last 10 years. Ariane saw two drunks taking swings at each other (and broke it up to the amazement of her friend) a few years ago but that’s it.
Of course, things aren’t quite as relaxed as they were back in Seeg 25 years ago. We lock up our houses and we lock up our cars. We still lose the keys every now and then but old habits die hard. But on the whole, it feels safe here.
Which brings me back to the events in Munich two days ago. It does seem that if someone gets it into their head that they really want to shoot a few people and puts the work into finding a gun and ammo, then there’s not much you can do to stop them. We can only hope it doesn’t happen here and if it does, then hope that the police react quickly. In the case of Munich it looks like the police did an excellent job. Within an hour the city was more or less shut down. Apparently there were 2300 police and special forces personnel on the the job very quickly. I don’t know if they helped but it was reassuring to see so many mobilised so quickly.
I was also really impressed by the information and instructions the police released. At times like these the news channels all go into hysterical mode and get anyone they can who happens to be near Munich babbling inanely into the camera. The police made a point of not speculating at all and just telling everyone to stay inside. The Munich Police press officer has since become a bit of hero for his no-nonsense calm style. When they were absolutely sure that the shooter had been killed, but were not yet exactly sure of the circumstances, he told the press that the shooter “had died as a result of violence” (it sounds less dramatic in German). A journalist immediately butted in and asked “what exactly do you mean by that?”. The press officer answered “that means he didn’t just fall over and die”. Lots of other questions were thrown at him – mostly suggestive. Again he answered coolly “the only way to answer those questions is for me to speculate. And that would be highly irresponsible.” The journalists were horrified at the thought of having to go back to the stone age of only reporting actual facts.
The events in Munich on Friday and in Turkey last week have overshadowed the Brexit news. In today’s papers there is barely a mention. May’s visit seems to have gone down well and Merkel has been doing her best to calm things down and spoke of a friendship between Britain and Germany. Now that Trump has been nominated and is making all sorts of provocative statements about terror in Europe, the whole Brexit affair looks a bit dull by comparison. That’s probably a good thing and mean that I might get to talk about something else next time I am out in the evening with friends.