How Berlin is marking one year since the Hanau attack

Public vigils and demonstrations are planned. A consortium tackling Islamophobic hate will also be formed.

A vigil in Hanau following the events of 19 February 2020.
A vigil in Hanau following the events of 19 February 2020.Imago/Patrick Scheiber

Berlin-Today marks one year since nine people were killed in a racist shooting in the city of Hanau that shocked Germany. The gunman specifically targeted people with immigrant backgrounds, and later shot his mother and then himself. 

A number of events are taking place across Berlin today and tomorrow to remember the victims. The commemorations are being organised by the Hanau Gedenken alliance (Remember Hanau), which consists of the organisations Migrantifa Berlin, Aktionsbündnis Antirassismus, Kein Generalverdacht, Roma Trial e.V., Young Struggle and We'll Come United.

Today at 4pm, decentralised vigils will be held at spots including Oranienplatz in Kreuzberg, Rathausplatz in Neukölln, and Leopoldplatz in Wedding. Tomorrow (Saturday 20 February), a memorial demonstration will begin at 2pm at the Hermannstraße S-Bahn station and make its way to Oranienplatz. A vigil on the eve of the first anniversary of the shooting took place last night outside the Neukölln Bezirksamt.

"Fighting rightwing terror is a daily struggle. Remembering the victims is a fight against forgetting," Meryem Malik of Migrantifa says. She draws parallels between the events in Hanau and Berlin, where rightwing attacks occur all too frequently in Neukölln.

Malik holds the stigmatisation of people who have immigrated to Germany partly responsible for such attacks, naming recurring police inspections of shisha bars as an example. "That conveys to outsiders that these are criminal places and people," she says. Berlin police call this procedure a "pinprick strategy" which is intended to weaken organised crime structures.

A crowd attends a vigil outside the Neukölln district office on Thursday to remember the victims of the shooting in Hanau.
A crowd attends a vigil outside the Neukölln district office on Thursday to remember the victims of the shooting in Hanau.dpa/Christophe Gateau

Online, the hashtag #SayTheirNames is trending as users remember each of the nine victims and their stories. Mercedes Kierpacz was a German Romni who left behind two children and was at work as a waitress at the Arena Bar on the night of the crime. Gökhan Gültekin was about to get engaged and worked at the kiosk next to Arena Bar in the evenings alongside his bricklaying job.

Sedat Gürbüz was the owner of the Midnight shisha bar, and left behind a brother. Fatih Saraçoğlu and Said Nesar Hashemi, who was only 21 at the time of the attack and grew up in Hanau, also died there. 22-year-old Hamza Kurtović was also killed in the bar. Kaloyan Velkov was the manager of the La Votre café-bar next door. 

Vili Viorel Păun, 22, came to Germany as a 16-year-old to earn money to pay for his mother's medical care. He drove after the perpetrator in an attempt to stop him. Ferhat Unvar grew up in Germany as a child of Kurdish parents. Since his death, his mother has founded the anti-racist Ferhat Unvar Education Initiative.

Often accompanying the victims' names and images and testimonies from their families is the phrase Hanau war kein Einzelfall - Hanau was not an isolated incident.

Berlin set for "national first" anti-Islamophobia committee

Berlin's justice department has also confirmed that it will be forming a committee of experts to develop new ways to tackle anti-Muslim racism in the city state, the Tagesspiegel reports. Its foundation is reportedly a reaction to the events in Hanau one year ago, and insiders say it would be the first of its kind in Germany. 

Justice minister Dirk Behrendt (Greens) said: "It is unbearable when women's headscarves are torn off in Berlin, or even small children are attacked." He added that the attack in Hanau had raised the question of whether enough was really being done against Islamophobia within German society.

The commission will be led by Eren Ünsal, chairwoman of Berlin's state anti-discrimination agency. She said the shooting in Hanau had been a "watershed" for Germany's reckoning with Islamophobia, and the committee's first task would be to find an official definition for anti-Muslim racism. The panel is scheduled to meet for the first time on 26 February, and will work to make "concrete recommendations" for change.

Its members include Zülfukar Çetin from the Protestant University of Applied Sciences Berlin, Ozan Zakariya Keskinkiliç from the Alice Salomon University of Applied Sciences, Sanem Kleff from "School without Racism - School with Courage", Yasemin Shooman from the German Centre for Integration and Migration Research (DeZIM), and Lydia Nofal and Mohamad Hajjaj from the Islam Forum within Berlin's integration authorities.