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'No one asks Cologne women what they feel'

Dana RegevJanuary 7, 2016

German politicians and media have reacted to the attacks in the center of Cologne on New Year's Eve, with debate focusing on refugees entering the country. But did anyone stop to ask women how they actually feel?

Deutschland Köln Proteste nach sexuellen Übergriffen
Image: Reuters/W. Rattay

Almost a week after the attacks, including sexual assault and robbery, on scores of women at Cologne's central station, the atmosphere is still tense.

Police are patrolling the area and security guards from Germany's railway company Deutsche Bahn seem more alert than ever. Armed officers stand by their vehicles, waiting for something to happen. However, many claim, it's too little - much too late.

"There were definitely more police officers today than there were on any other day," a worker at the Starbucks branch located at the station told DW. "And less customers," she added.

The Cologne station, which is usually frequented by more than 400,000 passengers a day, seemed a bit slower than usual during rush hour today, with announcements alerting commuters every few minutes to take care of their personal belongings.

Regular commuters said that they were already notified on the train to remain alert after getting off, a rather unusual step for German rail operators.

However, not everyone is fazed by last week's incidents. "We decided to have a fun day in Cologne, even though we heard about what happened," a young student from the German city of Munster told DW, accompanied by a visitor she was hosting from Sweden.

"We heard about the attacks, but what can you do? You cannot stop your life after every incident, otherwise you simply won't have a life at all," the Swedish tourist added. "You have to live your life normally."

Generally, they said, the presence of police officers was noticeable all across the city.

'These things happen all the time'

A few kilometers away, in the "Multi Kulti" center in the neighborhood of Mülheim, several women have gathered in an attempt to work out what measures should be taken to make the streets of Cologne safe again.

"No one is talking about the fact that this is happening to women every day," Tanja, an activist and one of the initiators of the event told DW.

"People are insisting on making this a political story, trying to shift the focus on pro- or anti-refugees. But in fact, no one is listening to what we have to say - the women who have been suffering from this violence in the streets on a daily basis long before refugees even came here," she says.

Köln Hauptbahnhof
Most of the attacks took place in and around the main station in CologneImage: DW/D. Regev

The violence on New Year's Eve was not different from that during any other big-scale celebration in the city, according to Tanja. "Because refugees are now a burning topic, the media all of a sudden report about these events, but what nobody wants to admit is that these things happen all the time. I'm sorry to break this to you, but German-born men also harass and rape."

For others, this was just another ordinary day in Cologne. Nina Gschlössl, a 30-year-old freelance photographer, was visiting the central station, as she does at least twice a week on her way to university.

"I didn't feel strange or afraid in a way," she says. "I think that after traveling to other countries I'm not really the type of person who is easily scared of such things, especially not in a German city," she adds.

"Still, being here made me wonder about how such an attack can happen and about the strange political debate following it."

Köln Hauptbahnhof Bahnhofsvorplatz
There were few people, but a noticeable police presence in the area almost a week onImage: DW/D. Regev

'Talking over our heads'

Tanja says she had several friends who were at the central station while the attacks took place. "Even they told me that they don't want the debate to become a refugee topic again. This is yet again to talk over our heads, to ignore our reality."

At the Multi Kulti center, she says, they all get together: Turks, Syrians and other migrants and Germans.

"Sure, politicians are trying to hijack this attack for their own purposes. Some of them want to create refugee quotas; others want to increase the amount of asylum seekers - and these poles also exist among the German public," she explains.

"And it's a positive thing at the end of the day that you get these opinions which balance each other. But you know who is forgotten at the end of the day. Women themselves. The ones who will experience this also after the media hype is over."