Were it not for the police tape and the steady stream of mourners, the Midnight shisha bar in Hanau would be easy to miss. The windows are dark, the signs on the facade in discreet black and white. Next to the door, green letters spell out the word Neueröffnung, or new opening.
Over the past two days, however, this locale near the city centre has drawn hundreds of visitors — many paying silent tribute to the four victims murdered here on Wednesday night by a rightwing extremist. According to authorities, the gunman killed another five people at a second location, before driving home and turning the gun on his 72-year-old mother and then himself.
Except for his mother, all nine victims were from immigrant communities, mostly young Turks and Kurds. Speaking on Friday, German interior minister Horst Seehofer described the shooting as a “terrorist attack motivated by racism”.
The Hanau killings have shocked the country while raising questions that have become painfully familiar — not least to the millions of immigrants living in Germany and to their descendants.
“I fear more attacks like this, that you will have copycat crimes,” said Butt, a local restaurant worker with Pakistani roots who had come to the crime scene on Friday.
Sahel Ahmadzea, another local who attended a demonstration in the city centre on Friday, said: “We’re all in shock, everyone here is. The police and the politicians need to do more to root out extremists. This is not just a problem here in Hanau, but in Germany.”
Hanau, a city of 100,000 inhabitants just a short train ride from Frankfurt, does not often make headlines and lacks the prosperous air of other commuter towns around Germany’s financial centre. But unemployment is low, at just 4.3 per cent, and the city has a neat and tidy feel.
In the wake of Wednesday, however, Hanau will resonate as the latest German city to be haunted by extremist violence. The mass shooting was the third deadly attack by a far-right gunman in eight months. It came just a week after police arrested a group of far-right conspirators who had plotted to unleash “civil war” in the country by attacking refugee centres and mosques.
After years in which Germany’s police and security services trained their sights above all on Islamist terror cells, the authorities are scrambling to change course. As Christine Lambrecht, the German justice minister, said on Friday: “Rightwing extremism and rightwing terrorism are the biggest threat to our democracy today.”
Mr Seehofer vowed to step up protection for mosques and other Islamic institutions across the country, but also warned of the potential for copycat attacks. German officials also cautioned that it is difficult to identify potential perpetrators such as the suspect in the Hanau case, who had no criminal record and — as far as was known on Friday — no direct personal links with neo-Nazi or other extremist groups.
Germany’s federal prosecution service confirmed on Friday that the Hanau gunman had sent a criminal complaint to Karlsruhe-based investigators last year, alleging that he was being illegally persecuted by an unnamed intelligence service.
The same allegations are also made in detail on his personal website in a 24-page “manifesto” that also spells out an ideology of fanatical racism and genocidal fantasies. Among other things, the gunman called for the murder of entire countries and population groups and advocated reducing the world population to “around 500m people of Germanic origin”.Those passages were not included in the complaint to the prosecutors’ office, which saw no reason to raise the alarm. The suspect had a gun licence that had been renewed by local authorities recently.
In Hanau’s central marketplace a statue of the Brothers Grimm, whose tales are at the heart of German folklore, has become a shrine to the victims of the attack, with flowers, candles, pictures of the deceased and banners reading “We are more” and “People are people”.
On Friday dozens stood by the monument as part of a small demonstration against rightwing extremism. Grigorij Richters, an activist and film-maker who had travelled from Hamburg, said: “If it could happen here, it could happen anywhere in Germany.”