On Monday police said around 500 people came out to protest in Freiburg following the suspected gang rape of an 18-year-old woman allegedly by eight men: seven Syrians and one German, in the city in the southwest state of Badem-Württemberg.
The demonstration was organized by the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD) party. Stefan Räpple, an AfD member of the Baden-Württemberg state parliament, said that he had come, along with other demonstrators, “to send a signal that things cannot go on like this,” reported Spiegel.
On Facebook after the event in Freiburg, AfD groups in the area posted videos thanking demonstrators for coming out to march for “the security in our country”.
But they were met with a huge counter-protest, of around 1500 people. Students waved rainbow flags and held signs in the air with messages such as: ‘AfD is so 1933, more education for Nazis' and 'We are not Saxony here', a nod to the far right rallies that took place in Chemnitz in Saxony, eastern Germany earlier this year.
Families with children stood in the drizzle and cold temperatures, filling up the streets, reported onlookers. Activists from different organizations also waved signs.
It was clear that counter-demonstrators wanted to send a message: Freiburg has been shaken by a terrible crime, but they don’t want the AfD to use it for its gain.
Why did the AfD organize this demonstration?
Last Friday eight men were arrested in connection with the rape of an 18-year-old woman. Police said that seven of the suspects were Syrian men aged 19 to 29, and one was a German native aged 25.
The victim reportedly met at least one of the men at a nightclub in Freiburg on the night of October 14th. The man is suspected of having spiked the woman's drink.
All eight men are accused of having taken turns assaulting her near the club in a bush area. The victim said she was defenceless at the time.
Authorities said that DNA evidence found on the woman was traced to at least one of the suspects. The investigation is continuing.
The protest also stems from a bigger topic: Angela Merkel's immigration policy and her decision to keep the borders open in 2015, therefore allowing around a million migrants/refugees into Germany. Opponents of this move say that by allowing this, the safety of residents has been compromised.
However, statistics show Germany's crime rate overall has fallen, so the country is safer than it's ever been before. There is a disproportionate number of criminal suspects who are immigrants, likely because this group is predominantly male, younger and poorer than the average German.
But if you compare their criminal activity to a corresponding German group, the fact that they are immigrants becomes mostly irrelevant.
Meanwhile, some people have accused far right organizations of using crimes allegedly perpetrated by migrants or refugees to their advantage, by inciting hate and trying to get more supporters on board.
Still Germany was shaken up again on Tuesday night when it was reported that six men are suspected of having sexually assaulted a 15-year-old girl in Munich.
The Bayerischer Rundfunk and the Abendzeitung said the suspects were from Afghanistan aged between 20-25. One of the suspects is allegedly the girl's boyfriend.
According to the Abendzeitung, the public prosecutor's office in Munich confirmed that an investigation was under way.
“Several suspects are in custody”, senior prosecutor Florian Weinzierl told the newspaper. The probe is continuing.
Police and protesters in Freiburg. Photo: DPA
'My trauma is not your propaganda'
For the people of Freiburg, the crime was a shock, reported Spiegel. Jana and her friend Valerie, who were part of the counter-protest, said they are more careful now when they are alone in the city at night.
The students call their roommates as soon as they are on their way home, for example.
“Terrible things have happened,” said Jana. “Nevertheless, these crimes should not be applied to all refugees.”
They planned to release red heart balloons at Monday’s march as peaceful protest sign against the AfD.
Many demonstrators on Monday said they had taken to the streets because of the manipulation of these kinds of incidents. Others showed it with their posters: 'My trauma is not your propaganda', was written in bright colours on one sign.
On the other side of the police blockade, the AfD demonstrators chanted, and some draped themselves in German flags. Members of the AfD youth organisation 'Junge Alternative' (JA) marched at the front carrying a poster which read: 'Protect borders, save lives'.
However, the group was diverted and stopped often, due to counter-demonstrators blocking the winding alleys of the old town area of the city. Police officers stepped in at one point to clear the street.
Stefan Räpple (AfD), member of the state parliament in Baden-Württemberg, speaks during AfD demo. Photo: DPA
In Freiburg, the situation with migrants is “particularly bad”, Reimond Hoffmann, deputy JA chairman in Baden-Württemberg and co-initiator of the demonstration, told Spiegel.
He wants to see mass deportations of migrants from Germany and calls the federal government in Berlin “criminal”.
At the end of the march, Räpple stood in a dark coloured van in the town hall square addressing the crowd with a microphone.
However, the counter-demonstrators attempted to drown him out, with chants of: “All of Freiburg hates the AfD.”
Not the first violent crime
This is not the first time Freiburg has been rocked by extreme violence: a student called Maria L. was murdered two years ago in a crime that shocked the whole of Germany.
In October 2016, a young Afghan asylum seeker called Hussein K. raped the 19-year-old on the banks of the Dreisam River and then left her unconscious in the water, where she drowned. In March, Hussein K. was sentenced to life imprisonment for murder.
Elsewhere in Germany unrest broke out in Chemnitz, in the east, following the fatal stabbing of a German man called Daniel H. with Cuban heritage. A Syrian and Iraqi man were detained as suspects. The incident sparked a series of riots.
Counter-protests were organized too. The biggest one was a concert held under the banner 'Wir sind mehr' (we are more) which attracted more than 65,000 people.
There have been other incidents of crime involving migrants which have been raised as a concern in Germany, with many people questioning whether integration is working well enough and what can be done to tackle it.
A far right march in Chemnitz. Photo: DPA
Meanwhile, no reports of protests connected to the most recent incident in Munich have come to light. But it is likely that right wing organizations in Germany will continue to react to cases like this, blaming the immigration policy of the country and calling for tighter border controls.
However, as was the case in Chemnitz and in Freiburg, there is also a huge counter-demonstration movement that is determined to get its point across too: that these crimes are isolated incidents and not all immigrants should be tarred with the same brush because of them.