Across Germany, Turks and Germans alike are all hoping for the same verdict: that Sunday's tragic fire in Ludwigshafen wasn't the work of xenophobic right-wing extremists. There are vague indications of arson, but investigators are so far keeping mum.
They are the quiet words of a survivor. Looking down at the ground, his voice quivering, Kamil K., a 28-year-old musician, calls for people to remain calm and collected. "I don't know what caused the fire," he says, speaking at an improvised press conference on Wednesday evening in the western German city of Ludwigshafen. "We have to wait and see what the investigators find out. But I ask my fellow Turks not to lose their cool."
Kamil, who is disabled, had to be pulled from the burning building on the city's Daniziger Platz square by his wife Hülya on Sunday. The 31-year-old then went back into the flaming hell to try to save the couple's two children. But the three died in the blaze. Six other people -- also women and children -- died in the fire. In total, it left 60 injured.
Kamil K.'s impressive appeal for reason comes at a very difficult time. On Tuesday and Wednesday, Turkish newspapers published speculation that the fire may have been set by neo-Nazi arsonists -- increasing the pressure on local investigators and fueling fears amongst Germans and Turks that the rumor could prove to be true.
"I hope for heaven's sake that it wasn't arson," says Yasar Bilgin, chairman of the Council of German Citizens of Turkish Origin (RTS). "If it were, it would have devastating consequences for relations between Turks and Germans. We cannot allow ourselves to be divided as a society."
It's an opinion shared by Mustafa Baklan, the man chosen by the families of the deceased to serve as their spokesman. "Germany is our home and we don't want any witch hunts," he tells SPIEGEL ONLINE. "We don't want to accuse anyone -- we have to cope with this terrible situation together. And the Germans shouldn't have any fears about us."
Earlier, the news emerged that on Sunday night, a 37-year-old Turk attacked and injured a German firefighter. According to police, the incident happened at 2 a.m. in a pub in a nearby town. According to the initial findings of the police investigation, the man insulted and attacked a 39-year-old German patron because he had recognized him as a member of the Ludwigshafen Fire Department.
When the restaurant's owner kicked the 37-year-old man out of his bar, he damaged several flower pots outside. A short time later, he returned to the bar and punched the fireman.
The incident led the head of the Ludwigshafen Police Department, Wolfgang Fromm, to issue a statement that the city might have to provide additional security for fire department employees. "It is unacceptable for these people to be insulted, threatened or spat upon," he said. He said rescue workers were being smeared as culprits in the fire.
Germany's federal integration commissioner, Maria Böhmer, also rejected accusations that the fire department had been too slow to respond. Emergency workers, she said, had arrived at the scene of the fire within minutes. Lugwidshafen Mayor Wilhelm Zeiser said the first emergency call came at 4:22 p.m. on Sunday. The first two fire trucks arrived on the scene within two minutes and six further fire trucks arrived three minutes later. She described the fire and police department deployments as "dauntless," and pointed out they succeeded in saving a total of 47 people.
Investigators are still not ruling out the possibility that the fire was caused by either a technical defect or negligence rather than deliberate arson. Police plan to question again two young girls who claim to have seen an arsonist in the building. They will then decide if it is worth creating a facial composite picture of a possible perpetrator.
The police will be assisted in their investigations by experts from the Federal Criminal Police Office, Germany's equivalent of the FBI, as well as by officers from Germany's domestic intelligence agency, the Office for the Protection of the Constitution. The latter will be present as a "precaution," according to a BKA spokesman -- the incident would only fall under the jurisdiction of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution if it were to turn out that the fire was a politically motivated attack.
The police confirmed Wednesday that the apartment building had already been daubed with neo-Nazi graffiti before the fire. The word "Hass" ("hate") was written twice on the wall next to the entrance to a Turkish cultural center on the ground floor of the building, with the last two letters written in the style of the Germanic runes of Hitler's SS organization.
There had already been a previous arson attack on the building in 2006. It caused only slight damage, however, and the perpetrators were never caught. In the 1990s, the apartment building had temporarily been home to a bar called Crazy Corner, which was reputed to be a skinhead hang-out.
In addition, it is striking how many far-right propaganda stickers can be seen on lamp posts, gutters and utility boxes in and around Danziger Platz. According to information obtained by SPIEGEL ONLINE, a neo-Nazi leader called Matthias H. lives in the neighborhood, in the immediate vicinity of the scene of the tragedy.
According to a statement, the public prosecutor is now checking whether there had already been threats against the occupants of the building before the fire. The Office for the Protection of the Constitution considers the area around Mannheim to be a far-right stronghold in the states of the former West Germany. "However, the far-right scene has so far been active mainly in terms of propaganda and has until now not committed any crime of comparable seriousness against foreigners," an officer from the Office for the Protection of the Constitution told SPIEGEL ONLINE.
Marlchen Höltig, 75, a neighbor who claims to have seen the fire, dismisses the arson attack theory out of hand. "There was a police patrol in front of the building the whole time," she told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "No one could have got in without being seen."
Source: Spiegel (English)
See also: Germany: Police investigating apartment block fire arson claims