Hanau attack mourners: ‘Germany must deal with racism, far right’

It has been an exhausting three months for Seda Ardal and others who lost loved ones on February 19, in the far-right attack on a shisha bar and a sports cafe in Hanau, central Germany.

From media interviews to lawyer meetings, those affected have been trying to keep the memory of the victims alive, and pressure on politicians high.

Nine people died in the attack by the alleged perpetrator, 43-year-old Tobias Rathjen, who went on to kill himself and his mother. 

German authorities later found a confession letter expressing racist and far-right views.

Ardal is among a group of mourners marking the three-month anniversary on Tuesday, at a community-funded space set up near the shisha bar in the wake of the killings.

She lost someone close in the attack but requested Al Jazeera not to name who out of respect for all the families in mourning, so her loss does not appear any more important.

“It’s been very hard for us but we have just tried to be there for each other, be strong and keep going,” she told Al Jazeera. “The space is playing a very big role because family and friends have been sharing their feelings with people who know exactly what they’re going through.”

The attacks came amid a so-called “clan debate” that had been playing out in Germany’s political and media landscapes for years. 

The anti-immigrant Alternative For Germany party (AfD) first spoke about “clans” – criminal families with a migration background – back in 2017, when they called for citizenship to be revoked if migrants were found to belong to one.

The issue has since been taken up by politicians from other parties, followed by raids of hundreds of shisha bars in at least three parts of the country.

Authorities say the raids are intended to crack down on crime, as they claim to uncover untaxed shisha tobacco and black money, among other violations.

Critics, however, argue that the raids and the accompanying media coverage feed into a negative portrayal of shisha bar culture and those who go there. 

“The raids are disproportionate, costly and stigmatising,” Jorinde Schulz, a member of the Die Linke (the Left Party), told Al Jazeera.

While there are no official statistics on how many shisha bars have been raided, there were 382 raids on various establishments, including shisha bars and betting shops, across the capital Berlin last year. 

Residents in Neukolln, a district in southeast Berlin which is home to a significant ethnic minority and migrant population, told Al Jazeera that shisha bars in their area have been targeted, with little evidence of large-scale criminal activity emerging.

Official documents show that in many of the Neukolln raids, only small amounts of drugs or smaller offences such as underaged bar-goers, were recorded.

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