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Memorial concert

Interview: Jürgen Brendel / gsw
June 7, 2014

On June 9, 2004, a bomb exploded at Keupstrasse in Cologne, a street home to many Turkish immigrants and their businesses. German rock band BAP is performing at a memorial concert to honor the victims.

Wolfgang Niedecken
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

DW: Mr. Niedecken, 10 years after the attack, you are performing with your band BAP at the memorial concert on June 9. How did that come about?

Wolfgang Niedecken: I was asked relatively early on if I wanted to participate - and when it comes to our fellow Turkish citizens, you don't have to ask me twice. In the early years of BAP, I lived in a house together with Turks, Greeks and Italians, and I was welcome in all of their families. It's an issue that's close to my heart. If I hadn't been asked, I probably would have wondered why not and would have volunteered - so it's something I want to do.

What can you - as an artist and musician on stage - achieve with people?

I don't see us so much as politicians. I think our task is to articulate feelings or cause people to think, but also to celebrate. We shouldn't arrogate to ourselves the role of solving political problems. That's why we have our democracy, our representatives, who are supposed to take care of these matters on our behalf. But of course, I can also take an occasion here and there to say: Hey, wait, have you all not thought about fostering a more humane country here? It's ultimately about integration, and I'm happy to remind people of that fact.

The members of BAP in Cologne
BAP sing in the local German dialect of Cologne, where the Keupstrasse attack occuredImage: picture-alliance/dpa

How might that look in practice?

It's almost like a chemical reaction, where people suddenly realize: Hey, I could do something about that. Even if it's as small as someone deciding to go shop in the Keupstrasse, who normally would never go to Mühlheim (Ed. note: The Cologne district in which the street is located). Or if it's someone who no longer turns up his nose when he smells a Turkish restaurant - simply becoming more open.

What evidently wasn't so open were the investigations into the Keupstrasse bombing. Many missteps were taken…

And I had to take a good look in the mirror there - that for seven years, I thought it was a problem within the Turkish community that someone had detonated a bomb there. Myself, I didn't even think of the possibility of it being a right-wing attack. And that's a bitter thing. How must people have felt - law-abiding people who had done nothing wrong - who had to constantly deal with the suspicion of having committed a crime. In retrospect, you immediately see that you had a blind spot.

What are your thoughts on, for example, writing a protest song in response?

Protest songs raise the hair on my neck. Even Bob Dylan - when it comes down to it - only wrote five protest songs, and everyone thinks he's this big protest singer. He isn't at all. It should always be stories where people decide for themselves how they want to think about them. After all, people are capable of empathy.

Wolfgang Niedecken, performing on stage
Niedecken is the sole remaining founder performing with BAPImage: picture-alliance/dpa

A major break came in your life after you suffered a stroke. Did it change your outlook?

I became more decisive - I noticed that. I'm more quick to make decisions, which isn't always a pleasant thing. Before the stroke, I was someone who was maybe a bit more relaxed, like: Things will work out, don't worry about it. And then I realized that we're finite. I knew that of course, but I had never really perceived it. Now, I sense it and think to myself that I don't have any time to lose. When I have a clear opinion, then I speak out. That can have implications that aren't so easy to take, but at least I've settled things.

Wolfgang Niedecken, 63 is the songwriter and frontman of the German rock group BAP, which got its start in Cologne in 1976. Niedecken remains the sole founding member in the group. He is known for political activism, including for Rebound, an aid program for child soldiers in Uganda, and he holds Germany's Order of Merit. Currently, he is on an unplugged tour with BAP.

Interview: Jürgen Brendel / gsw