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Film "The Coiffeur from Keupstrasse" © Foto: Hajo Schomerus
Image: Hajo Schomerus

How Germany remembers the NSU nail bomb attack

Stefan Dege / rb
February 24, 2016

In 2004, the right-wing extremist group NSU allegedly attacked a Cologne barber shop with a nail bomb. A new film sheds light on the events that take on renewed urgency amidst a resurgence of right-wing tendencies.


Steel nails fall on the floor in slow motion, accompanied by celestial sounds. Upon hitting the concrete floor, they fly in all directions, creating metallic sounds. The focus of the camera shifts - at times the nails are in focus, at times they are blurred.

With the help of these images, director Andreas Maus staged a play on perception. In the documentary "The Coiffeur from Keupstrasse," Maus uses the nail sequence as a recurring element - like a flashback in a nightmare.

The film is based on the nail bomb attack in Cologne on June 9, 2004, in which 22 people were injured, four of them seriously. It took investigators seven years to determine the real culprits: terrorists of the right-wing extremist group "National Socialist Underground" (NSU).

At the time, then Interior Minister Otto Schily ruled out an act of terrorism and said the perpetrators were "from criminal circles" from within the local, largely Turkish neighborhood. That was a fatal mistake that turned victims into suspects and made people lose confidence in the state.

The coiffeur from Keupstrasse © Heike Fischer
The "coiffeur" from KeupstrasseImage: Heike Fischer

The victim's perspective

Maus' film - a mix of documentary, interviews and artistic images - is being released at a time when the trial against the NSU is still going on. Maus used the original protocols from the investigation files and had actors re-enact the interrogations.

By portraying the perspective of the residents, Maus allowed them to share what they went through during and after the attack. The main focus of the film is on a Turkish barber, in front of whose salon the bomb exploded. Other protagonists are a confectioner, a jeweler, a wedding shop owner, and a CD dealer.

"The entire street was under suspicion," Maus tells DW. "It is incredible that the police tried to put the people under general suspicion."

Director Andreas Maus © Foto: Karmen Frankl
Director Andreas MausImage: Karmen Frankl

The investigations only took a different turn in 2011 when the NSU was busted and a video of them confessing the crime was discovered. It was like a day of liberation for the residents of Keupstrasse.

In 2014, on the 10th anniversary of the attack, German President Joachim Gauck paid a visit to the barber shop in Cologne, which Maus incorporated in the film. However, he did not include the NSU trial or the main defendant, Beate Zschäpe.

A political thriller

Wolfgang Schorlau chose a different form to present the NSU attack and the investigations following it, however, in a similar way. According to his political thriller "The Protecting Hand," the investigators also suspect the perpetrators of the attack within the social circles of the victims rather then the NSU.

Files are shredded and the Federal Agency for State Protection and Counter Terrorism is involved. What if it is not a mere failure of authorities? Who is holding their protective hand over the killers? These are questions that Schorlau asks in his book.

Schorlau's book also has documentary elements. The facts used to tell the story - quotations from documents and real photo material - were thoroughly researched by the author and then woven into the fictional narrative.

The author accuses the German authorities of a "public disinformation." According to him, false statements had been disseminated, facts had been bent accordingly, and information had been hidden on purpose.

Gap between Turkish and German residents

Located a stone's throw from the scene of the attack in the Keupstrasse is the temporary location of the "Schauspiel" theater in Cologne. For the past two years, they have been performing Nuran David Calis' play "The Gap" here. On March 1, 2016, the theater will be performing the work for the 50th time.

"The Gap" also aims to give the victims of the attack a voice. The director even puts local residents on stage together with actors. To portray the events, he included a few pictures of the Keupstrasse after the attack and a surveillance video. Calis' message: The attack widened the gap between the Turks and the Germans in the society.

According to him, the investigation turned into institutional racism.

Survivors of the attack on stage as actors in
Survivors of the attack on stage as actors in "The Gap"Image: Schauspiel Köln/Foto: David Baltzer

The Cologne crime on TV

The first TV documentary about the NSU, specifically Beate Zschäpe, the only survivor of the trio, has just been aired on German TV. "Last Exit Gera - Eight Hours with Beate Zschäpe" has turned information about the various attacks and the trial into a TV production, which was viewed by nearly 2.5 million people. The events were re-enacted based on the true story.

It will definitely not be the last film dealing with the horrible crimes committed by the NSU, as a local TV channel is already working on a new one.

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