• Germany's news in English
 
app_header_v3
Cologne still tense in wake of sexual assaults
Police speak with travellers at Cologne main train station on Wednesday. Photo: DPA

Cologne still tense in wake of sexual assaults

AFP · 7 Jan 2016, 15:11

Published: 07 Jan 2016 15:11 GMT+01:00

"A group of men tried to mug me – how am I supposed to react the next time?" teenager Marie-Sophie Christ demands of a policeman outside Cologne's main railway station.

Fear and anger have gripped citizens of the Rhineland city after an unprecedented and apparently coordinated rash of robberies and sex assaults on New Year's Eve blamed on men of Arab or North African appearance.

Police vans have been parked outside the main railway station and the iconic Gothic cathedral since the full extent of the rampage in Cologne's city centre became clear.

Authorities said Thursday they had received more than 120 criminal complaints about robbery and sexual abuse including two reported rapes by perpetrators who allegedly staged orchestrated attacks on revellers in the crowds.

Sixteen suspects have been identified but no one has been charged in what police have acknowledged were chaotic scenes.

A video surveillance camera in Cologne main train station. Photo: DPA

Six days on, Marie-Sophie and her friend were shopping near the same spot when they were accosted by a group of young men. The girls fled when it appeared the men were after their backpacks.

She no longer feels safe going about her business in town.

"It's a strange feeling. We pay more attention to our belongings," she said, flanked by her friend Erika Fehler.

Marie-Sophie's mother has imposed an new rule when they are in town together: they meet every hour in front of the cathedral.

"Mom was never this scared before," the high school student said.

Cologne took in more than 10,000 asylum seekers in December alone, but Marie-Sophie is reluctant to pin the blame on them.

Erika, however, is more suspicious.

"They looked like refugees... or Albanians," she asserts, describing them as bearded and wearing dark clothes.

Palpable anger

The high street near the railway station is notorious for pickpockets, particularly during the holiday season.

But the assaults reported during the year-end festivities shocked the nation, with German Justice Minister Heiko Maas speaking of "a new dimension of crime".

Among traders working at the station, the anger is palpable.

"There were hundreds of them and really aggressive," said a sandwich seller, who asked not to be named.

She said the people she saw on New Year's Eve were "Arabs, but not refugees - they were really very organised".

"We still have the same problems with the same people," said the woman in her 50s, accusing police of responding too slowly and ineffectually, and saying there were "not enough" of them to keep the peace that night.

The scene outside Cologne main train station on New Year's Eve. Photo: DPA

The incidents have inflamed an already heated public debate about Chancellor Angela Merkel's liberal stance on asylum seekers arriving in Germany, who numbered nearly 1.1 million last year.

Cologne, Germany's fourth largest city with a population of nearly 600,000, is the capital of next month's Rhineland Carnival, drawing hundreds of thousands to street parties marking the start of Lent.

However some travellers have already cancelled their reservations, a major source of income for the city, as the events of New Year's Eve hit the global headlines.

"Cologne's image has taken a hit," admitted the head of the city's tourism office, Josef Sommer, in the local daily Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger.

"We have received a lot of emails and calls from worried tourists and tour operators."

Cologne drew more than three million visitors in 2014, the last full year for which statistics were available.

Story continues below…

Distrust

"There were probably no refugees among the attackers, but of course the characterisations in the media leave a bad impression," said Petra Mueller, 45, a Cologne native.

Mueller, a secretary, refuses to give in to paranoia and said nothing would stop her from taking part in Carnival.

But distrust is what worries Ghaith Anthipan, a 20-year-old Syrian standing outside the cathedral with a friend in the freezing rain, both holding up signs in broken German reading: "What happened to women in Cologne on New Year's hurts."

Some passers-by stop to offer a few encouraging words to this young refugee, who has tears in his eyes.

Demonstrators carry a sign reading "No sexism, no racism" at Cologne main train station on Wednesday. Photo: DPA

Hours earlier, a handful of far-right demonstrators rallied to blame foreigners for a rise in violence, although they were booed by a much larger counterprotest of about 150 people.

In the station, Lamine Bah, a 19-year-old Guinean asylum seeker, sighs.

"You must not rape a woman. Those who did that hurt the image of all refugees," he said.

For more news from Germany, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

Today's headlines
Naked swimmer hospitalized after angler hooks his penis
File photo: DPA

When a man swimming naked in a Bavarian lake felt a strange pain in his nether regions, he looked up to see a fisherman on the shore. "Don’t pull!" he shouted.

Study finds rival Rhineland beers 'actually taste the same'
Left: Altbier. Right: Kölsch. Or can you even tell? Photos: DPA.

Cologne and Düsseldorf have a long established rivalry, not least over who has the better home brew. So the results of a new study might be more than they can swallow.

Eastern Europe pushes Germany for joint EU army
Angela Merkel (l), Beata Szydlo and Victor Orban. Photo: DPA

Eastern EU countries on Friday pushed for the bloc to create a joint army as they met with Germany for talks on sketching Europe's post-Brexit future.

Merkel’s party mate wants to get rid of all Karl Marx streets
Karl Marx and one of the roadways in Berlin named for him. Photos: Wikimedia Commons, Nicor

Hundreds of streets are named after the founder of communism, but this conservative politician wants to give Marx the boot.

State elections
6 reasons why Berlin is now known as 'the failed city'
Photo: DPA

With state elections around the corner, The Local looks at the poor side of Germany's "poor but sexy" capital city.

Upstarts RB Leipzig plan to go right to top of Bundesliga
RB Leipzig players celebrate scoring against Dynamo Dresden. Photo: DPA

RB Leipzig make their Bundesliga debut on Sunday, but the East German outfit, sponsored by energy drinks manufacturer Red Bull, are already far from popular in Germany's top-flight.

Poland criticizes Germany’s 'self-serving' foreign policy
Witold Waszczykowski. Photo: DPA

The Polish foreign minister has said that Germany all too often follows its own interests at the expense of its partners, as Chancellor Angela Merkel prepares to visit Warsaw.

Vast majority of Germans in favour of burqa ban: poll
Women wearing niqab veils in Saudi Arabia. Photo: DPA.

A survey found that the vast majority of respondents were in favour of Germany passing a ban on the full-body veil sometimes worn by Muslim women.

Czech police detain driver for harassing Merkel's motorcade
Angela Merkel. File photo: DPA

Czech police arrested a man on Thursday for attempting to drive into the motorcade of visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Prague, they said.

Teacher convicted for holding kids back after class
Photo: DPA

A music teacher from North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) has been found guilty of "holding people against their will" after he made some naughty stay kids back after class.

Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Gallery
Germany's 17 Olympic gold medals in pictures
Sponsored Article
Why expats choose international health insurance
Culture
7 American habits that make Germans very, very uncomfortable
Rhineland
Story of a fugitive cow who outwitted police for weeks before capture
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Culture
Eleven famous Germans with surnames that'll make your sides split
Sponsored Article
Life in Jordan: 'Undiscovered treasure'
Lifestyle
The best ways to get a visa as an American in Germany
14 facts you never knew about the Brandenburg Gate
Society
Ten times Germans proved they really, really love beer
Sponsored Article
Why Jordan is the ‘Different’ East
Lifestyle
What's on in Germany: events for August 2016
Sponsored Article
Five things Americans should know about voting abroad
National
Six things you need to know when moving to Germany
Travel
These 10 little-known German towns are a must see
Sponsored Article
Jordan Pass: your ticket to the experience of a lifetime
International
German scientists prove birds can sleep while flying
Sponsored Article
Jordan: where history meets adventure
Technology
London v. Berlin: Which is better for startups?
Lifestyle
13 mortifying mistakes German learners always make
Sponsored Article
6 reasons expats use TransferWise to send money
Travel
Enter if you dare: Berlin's best abandoned haunts
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Lifestyle
10 rookie errors all Brits make when they arrive in Germany
Sponsored Article
Five things Americans should know about voting abroad
National
How to get German citizenship (or just stay forever)
Sponsored Article
Jordan: where history meets adventure
Technology
Brexit will turn Berlin into 'Europe’s startup capital'
Sponsored Article
6 reasons expats use TransferWise to send money
Travel
Six soothing day trips to escape the bustle of Berlin
International
'Germany needs to make UK come to its senses'
Features
Six odd things Germans do in the summer
Features
How two gay dads cut through German red tape to start a family
8,546
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd