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Cologne to flood metro tunnel as Rhine rises

Cologne city officials announced on Friday that they would flood a metro tunnel under construction over the weekend to keep stable as water levels rise rapidly in the Rhine River due to spring snowmelt.

Cologne to flood metro tunnel as Rhine rises
Workers prep the Heumarkt station for flooding on Friday. Photo: DPA

The dramatic plan is meant to ensure the central Heumarkt does not collapse by bolstering concrete walls with counter pressure from some 14.5 million litres of water. The city said there was no danger the site could overflow and flood nearby buildings.

Underground building experts have already prepared the site with special scaffolding to hold hoses, which will be used to flood the site with river water on Saturday afternoon.

So far the Rhine has been rising an average of two centimetres per hour, floodwater experts reported on Friday.

Authorities have already built a separation wall between the Rathaus and Heumarkt station construction sites in preparation for the emergency flooding, a measure meant to keep the water from flooding the entire metro tunnel.

The decision to take action follows numerous reports of shoddy building practices on the underground line.

Investigators into the deadly March 3, 2009 collapse of the city’s historic archive building believe contractors cut corners on the supporting walls of the metro tunnel not only near the construction site near Waidmarkt, but also near the Rathaus and Heumarkt stations.

An additional 28 falsified records for underground metro construction at various sites across the city have been discovered, pointing towards organised crime, an investigation insider told daily Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger last week.

The building scandal spread this week to the nearby city of Düsseldorf, where experts have discovered falsified protocols and metal anchors that had not been installed properly at six different underground metro construction sites on the U-Bahn Wehrhahn line.

Düsseldorf city building department head Gregor Bonin told journalists there were clear indications that similar incidents were perpetrated by the same people as in Cologne – employees of a company called Bilfinger Berger – and those under suspicion have been suspended from their duties.

Because no safety danger has been detected in relation to these practices, construction of the U-Bahn line will continue as planned, he said.

Cities that may have worked with Bilfinger Berger on U-Bahn construction in the last 40 years have been asked to file reports to the investigating authorities.

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CRIME

Who was involved in the alleged plot to ‘overthrow German democracy’?

There are a litany of strange characters thought to be behind a planned coup in Germany, including a former far-right politician, high-ranking military men and a minor aristocrat with a love of conspiracy theories. Here's what you need to know.

Who was involved in the alleged plot to 'overthrow German democracy'?

On Wednesday, the shocking news emerged that police had arrested 25 people in connection with a suspected plot to overthrow the German government.

Those arrested are accused of having formed “a terrorist group by the end of November 2021 at the latest, which had set itself the goal of overcoming the existing state order in Germany and replacing it with their own kind of state”, prosecutors said in a statement. 

They added that the suspects had allegedly planned to storm parliament with a small group of armed militants and take control of the government by force. But who exactly are the accused?

Well, if this all sounds like something out of a dystopian novel, there are some familiar characters you need to know about.

Here’s a rundown of who they are.

The Reichsbürger movement

Known as far-right extremists who hanker after a bygone era, the Reichsbürger movement is nothing new in Germany – though its members have become increasingly volatile in recent years.

Since the 1980s, the group has been a ramshackle coalition of neo-Nazis, gun enthusiasts and conspiracy theorists who ultimately question the legitimacy of the Federal Republic of Germany and refuse to follow its laws. Instead, these so-called Reichbürger (citizens of the empire) tend to believe in the continued existence of the Third Reich and often claim that modern-day Germany has become nothing more than an American vassal state in the post-war order.

Though this kind of thought has been on the fringes of German society for decades, the Reichbürger have recently been amassing support and appear to have been emboldened by the rise of other far-right groups. Its estimated number of followers has doubled from 10,000 to 20,000 since 2017 alone, with around 2,000 deemed to be potentially violent. Indeed, recent years have seen increasingly brutal clashes between members of the group and the German authorities. 

One such incident in 2014 saw a former Mr. Germany beauty pageant winner open fire on the police when they tried to evict him from his property as a result of unpaid debts. Another incident led to the death of a police officer, who was shot in Bavaria while trying to confiscate firearms from a radicalised follower of the group. 

Alongside the alleged plot to overthrow the German government, other acts of terrorism have also been pinned on the group – or those associated with them. Most recently, they include a suspected plot to kidnap Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD), along with planned attacks on asylum seekers, Jewish people and other minorities.

READ ALSO: What is Germany’s extremist Reichsbürger movement?

Heinrich XIII, Prince of Preuss

Heinrich XIII

The arrested the arrested Heinrich XIII Prince Reuss German police sits in a police car in Frankfurt. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Boris Roessler

The 71-year-old “prince“, arrested in Frankfurt’s West End on Wednesday morning, has been described as the ringleader of the group. He pictured himself as head of the new revolutionary government if the envisioned coup went according to plan.

A descent of the the House of Reuß that ruled parts of Thuringia for about 800 years, family members had distanced themselves from him due to his outspoken far-right conspiracy theories.

In a notorious speech given at a business summit in Zurich in 2019, Heinrich XIII had referenced the antisemitic conspiracy theory that the 20th century world order had been engineered by the Rothschild dynasty and the freemasons. He also complained that his own dynasty had been “disposessed” after the first world war. 

“Ever since Germany surrendered, it has never been sovereign again,” he told listeners. “It has only been made an administrative structure of the allies.”

Rüdiger von Pescatore

Described by prosecutors as the terrorist group’s military arm, Von Pescatore was already a paratrooper commander and then part of the Special Forces Command. He was allegedly dismissed from the military after selling former East German weapons which had fallen out of use.

Birgit Malsack-Winkemann

Birgit Malsack-Winkemann

Alleged plotter Birgit Malsack-Winkemann (AfD) speaks in parliament in 2019. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Bernd von Jutrczenka

The lawyer-by-training had been a member of the far-right Alternative for Germany ever since it was founded in 2013 as a party against the Euro currency. A member of Bundestag between 2017 and 2021, she grew increasingly vocal against immigration and espoused conspiracy theories from the extremist group QANon.

Who else is believed to be involved? 

So far, prosecutors have mentioned a number of others who could have been involved in the alleged plot. One is a Russian woman called Vitalia B., who is accused of having tried to facilitate contact between the plotters and the Russian government in order to discuss a “new political order” in Germany.

Former – and current – soldiers are also believed to be among the members of the terror group, and they are also thought to have recruited members of the police force. One of the men arrested on Wednesday was an active member of the KSK special forces – the elite wing of the German military. 

In addition to 23 arrests in Germany on Wednesday, two people were arrested in Austria and Italy. Prosecutors say they have identified a further 27 people in connection with the plot, so expect more details to emerge soon. 

READ ALSO: Germany busts far-right cell planning attack on parliament

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