On August 15th 2007, images were broadcast around the world of bodies, lying in their own blood, splayed across the asphalt outside a pizzeria, white sheets partially covering them from sight.
The photos weren’t taken in the mafia stronghold of Sicily, but rather in the west German city of Duisburg.
Six people were shot and killed that day amid a feud between two clans of the 'Ndrangheta organization, one of the most powerful mafia groups in Europe. And it was one of the worst mafia bloodbaths in German history, the scale of which has not been seen inside the country since.
But experts warn that this is not a sign that such organized crime groups have left Germany behind.
“There is no reason to give the all-clear,” says Sandro Mattioli of the group Mafia? Nein, Danke! (Mafia? No thank you!), which works to combat mafia activities in Germany and raise awareness about the continued presence of such networks.
Mattioli met with other researchers, politicians and activists on Wednesday in Berlin to discuss how to fight these Italian crime rings in the first conference of its kind.
“The mafia here is invisible, but represented almost everywhere,” Mattioli warned.
“You could be sitting at a classy cafe in central Munich, and actually be a guest of the mafia – you would not know. You could be swaying to the music inside a festival tent, and be a guest of the mafia – you would not know.”
The Federal Criminal Police Office estimates there to be around 560 suspected mafia members inside Germany.
But modern mafiosos can’t be distinguished by their stereotypical pinstripe suits. Rather, they’re managers who invest in real estate or restaurants in order to launder money, the experts explained.
“Today the mafias commit ever fewer murders and homicides, as well as less violence and crime,” said Italian Interior Minister Marco Minniti at the conference.
“But that does not mean, that they no longer exist… [they have] gained territory.”
Minniti added that the mafia presents an “epochal challenge”.
Europol agent David Ellero explains that mafia groups have infiltrated various industries, and see Germany as a refuge for money laundering as well as drug dealing. This is in part due to Germany’s excellent infrastructure and booming economy.
In Ellero’s view, the mafia in Germany are able to sustain themselves like a “three-legged beast”.
The first leg is the legal loopholes in Europe that allow them to survive, for example that simply being a member of a mafia group in Germany is not itself a crime.
The second leg is the lack of awareness about the danger that the mafia actually presents in the country. The third leg is the fact that police resources are more heavily dedicated to fighting terrorism than to addressing organized crime.
“When we chop off one of these legs, the beast will fall down,” says Ellero.
As the beast still remains standing, the German government is planning harsher new laws against criminal gangs, looking to Italy’s own anti-mafia policies as an example, said German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière.
The minister added that they will now look into revising the legal consequences for criminal organizations, including making membership in the mafia a punishable offence. De Maizière also mentioned making it easier to seize assets of mafia groups.
“They destroy confidence, they undermines structures, they destabilize state order,” he said.