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Mayor of Cologne takes up office after attack

November 20, 2015

Knifing victim and newly elected Mayor of Cologne Henriette Reker has begun her duties in public a month after a suspected anti-immigrant extremist stabbed her while she was campaigning. Reker is a pro-refugee advocate.

Henriette Reker tritt Dienst an
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/R. Vennenbernd

Reker told a packed conference on Friday that residents of the Rhine river metropolis of Cologne should live their lifestyles undeterred by attacks such as the one she survived - or last Friday's jihadist terror attacks in Paris, in which 130 people died.

Referring to Germany's approaching Christmas market season, when residents normally flock to open-air stalls in many inner cities, Reker said: "I am deeply convinced that we should not alter our life styles."

"It is our city and I can only encourage everyone to live as they did beforehand," said the 58-year-old jurist and social welfare official, who last Sunday expressed sympathy for the victims of the Paris attacks, especially "the many wounded," as she began duties from home.

Reker, an independent candidate, won Cologne's election on October 18 while in a medically induced coma after having sustained severe knife wounds.

Addressing the issue of a resurgent far-right in Germany, Reker said: "I want to tell those in the far-right corner very clearly, violence and hate belie themselves. They can never be the solution. There is no alternative but dialogue."

Charges of attempted murder

Her 44-year attacker, a Cologne man with a past record of far-right activities, faces charges of attempted murder and causing grievous bodily harm for attacking Reker and four members of her team, who were standing at a campaign stall in a well-to-do Cologne suburb.

Köln Messerattacke auf OB-Spitzenkandidatin Henriette Reker
The scene after Reker and her team were attackedImage: picture-alliance/dpa/F. Gambarini

Reker said she was handing out roses when the attacker pulled out a knife while smiling in a friendly way and lunged at her neck. She fell to the ground and tried to hold the wound together.

The knife severed her windpipe. City officials said earlier this week her convalescence was well advanced and that Reker would initially be guarded by police.

Federal prosecutors in Karlsruhe have said the suspect picked out Reker because of her determination to find housing for newly arrived refugees in her pre-election role as director of Cologne city's social welfare department. The assailant had wanted to create a "climate of fear."

Cologne's University Clinic

Detailing events for the first time at Friday's press conference, Reker said she only learned of her 52.7 percent majority win in the election for mayor of Cologne four days after the poll.

Her husband, Perry Somers, an Australian golf trainer based near Cologne, brought the news to her in the intensive care section of a Cologne hospital.

His words were: "Darling, you have won the election," Reker said, adding that while still in hospital she formally accepted the vote.

"I had luck, lots of luck," Reker added. "Even though the brand new coat which I wore for just 15 minutes on the day of the attack is now in the police forensic exhibits depot, it's a good-luck coat."

"I was not completely unconscious and took in every second. I wasn't terrified to death but did have fears that I would be left disabled," she added.

Cologne's University Clinic (Uniklinik), where Reker was treated, ran out of vases as floral tributes poured in from well-wishers, she added.

Swallowing still had to be practised, but "I feel from day to day all the more present," she said.

Independent politics

Reker said the violent experience had strengthened her determination to overcome long-standing rivalries between political parties through her win as an independent politician.

Her task, she said, was to create majorities on specific issues and not depend on "bloc" thinking along party lines within Cologne's city council, and after various city scandals, including the collapse of its archive in 2009.

As independent mayoral candidate, Reker was nominated by the ecologist Greens and also backed by the city branches of Chancellor Merkel's Christian Democrats and the Free Democratic Party (FDP) liberals.

Köln Oberbürgermeisterwahl Kandidat Jochen Ott
Social Democrat Ott trailed Reker in resultsImage: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Skolimowska

As mayor, Reker replaces Jürgen Röters of the center-left Social Democrats, whose candidate Jochen Ott ended up with 32 percent in the October poll.

One of Reker's first official functions on Friday evening is to present a literary prize in Cologne's Museum Ludwig to Romanian-born author Herta Müller.

Planning 2006 World Cup

Reker began her career as jurist in Germany's statutory health system by representing health funds in court.

When Germany hosted the 2006 World Cup finals, Reker led the tournament planning team in another city of North Rhine-Westphalia state, Gelsenkirchen, which hosted five games in the Schalke stadium.

ipj/jm (dpa, Munzinger, AFP)d