How New Year’s Eve fireworks chaos sparked a racism debate in Germany

Following NYE celebrations that saw a death, fireworks-related hospitalisations, and dozens of arrests after revellers attacked emergency services, some conservative politicians have started blaming migration groups for the chaos.

How New Year's Eve fireworks chaos sparked a racism debate in Germany
NYE in Germany saw dozens of arrests after attacks on police and emergency services. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sebastian Willnow

What began as a debate over a fireworks ban has quickly become one on the state of racism in Germany.

German politicians have spent the last few days condemning attacks against Berlin emergency service workers in particular, which saw 145 New Year’s Eve revellers arrested for everything from firing flare guns at police cars, to throwing bottles at paramedics and firefighters.

While that has some politicians and calling for a ban on people buying or shooting off fireworks on New Year’s Eve, some conservatives are being criticised for suggesting that migrant groups are responsible.

READ ALSO: Germany debates fireworks ban after New Year’s Eve chaos

READ ALSO: Germany’s NYE celebrations marred by death, injuries and attacks

On Monday, Christian Democratic Union (CDU) MP Christoph de Vries tweeted one of the first such comments, saying: “If we want to fight against riots in our big cities and violence against the policy and fire crews, we have to talk about the role of people, phenotype: west Asians, darker skin type. To put it correctly.”

However what started as a viral tweet by one MP didn’t end there. Influential CDU MP and former Health Minister Jens Spahn told T-Online he was against a nationwide ban on fireworks because NYE violence tended to be clustered in neighbourhoods with high populations of people from migration backgrounds.

“It’s more about unregulated migration, failed integration and a lack of respect for the state instead of fireworks,” Spahn said.

German Police Society Head Rainer Wendt appeared to agree with Spahn. “Many emergency service personnel agree that groups of young men with a migration background are overrepresented in these riots,” he told Focus Magazine.  

Conservative newspaper BILD accused German politicians of “smearing the truth away” in migration.

CDU accused of trying to score political points

German progressive politicians hit back at the framing.

“The fact that colleagues from the CDU are using these incidents to instigate a racist discourse is probably due to the election campaign in Berlin and isn’t suitable for finding answers to these challenges,” Berlin Green MP Canan Bayram told Buzzfeed DE.

Berlin-Neukölln MP Hakan Demir called the debate “not good, but unfortunately typical,” accusing conservatives of using NYE as a chance to blame Germany’s ills on people with migration backgrounds.

He tweeted: “They are our young people. They were born here. So they are German young people. We can talk about higher penalties and a ban on fireworks. But we also have to talk about better political education, poverty and prevention.”

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No sign of terror motive in knife attack on German train

German prosecutors said Thursday there was no indication of a terrorist motive in a knife attack on a train that killed two teenagers and wounded several other passengers.

No sign of terror motive in knife attack on German train

German prosecutors said Thursday there was no indication of a terrorist motive in a knife attack on a train that killed two teenagers and wounded several other passengers.

A 33-year-old suspect named only as Ibrahim A., a stateless man of Palestinian origin, has been detained over Wednesday’s stabbing spree on the route between the northern cities of Hamburg and Kiel.

“There are no indications of a terrorist background,” Peter Mueller-Rakow, a spokesman for the local prosecutor’s office, told AFP.

The investigation into the attack and the suspect’s history was ongoing, he added.

A 17-year-old girl and a 19-year-old man were killed in the attack and five people injured, Sabine Sütterlin-Waack, the interior minister for Schleswig-Holstein state, told journalists.

Authorities had previously given the girl’s age as 16 and said seven people were injured.

Two of the wounded have life-threatening injuries and are still in hospital, Suetterlin-Waack said.

The two teenagers who were killed knew each other, she added.

The suspect also sustained minor injuries, but it was unclear how.

Investigators found blood in four carriages of the train, Sütterlin-Waack said.

Passengers helped overpower the suspect and restrained him until police detained him at a railway station in the town of Brokstedt.

“Due to the very dynamic course of the crime, a lot is still unclear,” Suetterlin-Waack said.

The suspect, of no fixed abode, had only recently been released from prison in connection with an assault case, said police.

He arrived in Germany 2014 and had several previous convictions, including for violent crimes, Sütterlin-Waack said.

READ ALSO: Two dead in knife attack on train in northern Germany