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How This One Night Changed Germany Posted by on Aug 29, 2019 in Culture, Language

Last week, there was finally an Urteil (verdict) from the Landgericht Chemnitz (District Court of Chemnitz). Alaa S. was convicted of Totschlag (manslaughter) and gefährliche Körperverletzung (dangerous bodily harm) on Daniel Hillig and is to go to Gefängnis (prison) for neuneinhalb Jahre (nine and a half years) Haft (detention). They are going into Revision (appeal), claiming that the Beweis (evidence) is shaky. This Rechtsfall (legal case) is a big deal in Germany. Here’s why, and how it led to a high-ranking public officer having to leave office.

Erstochen in der Nacht

The Gedenkort (place of remembrance) for Daniel Hillig in Chemnitz (Image by ChemnitzIstWederGrauNochBraunNochBunt at under license CC BY SA 4.0)

So what happened, exactly?

It’s 26. August, 2018 (August 26, 2018), 3:15 am. It is the morning of the last of three days of the Chemnitzer Stadtfest (Chemnitz City Festival), which celebrated the city’s 875th Jubiläum (anniversary). And it is a fateful hour. A German man is erstochen (stabbed to death) and two more Germans are severely injured after a fight. The news quickly spreads that the alleged Täter (perpetrators) are Syrian and Iraqi. Anti-immigrant Demos (short for Demonstrationen – demonstrations, rallies) were held the next day. While these were relatively small-scale, with perhaps 1,000 Teilnehmer (participants), controversy ensued when the following videos surfaced.

Hetzjagd gegen Ausländer

These would show evidence of a Hetzjagd (hunt) against Ausländer (foreigners). Journalist Johannes Grunert, who was following the Demos on the ground, claimed that “Sie sind auf jeden losgestürmt, der nicht Deutsch aussah” (“they rushed upon anybody that did not look German”). Especially the second video would show this well.

Maaßen and the video

There was a lot of Zweifel (doubt) and Unsicherheit (uncertainty) about what had really happened. There were Gerüchte (rumors) that the fight started as the Germans tried to help a woman that was being harassed by the Ausländer. However, the Polizei (police) said these were claims that circulated without reason to believe this was true. Even whether there was an actual Hetzjagd or not was hotly debated.

In the video above at 0.40, you can see an excerpt of Regierungssprecher (government speaker, similar to the White House Press Secretary) Steffen Seibert explaining the Position (position) of the Regierung (government):

Solche Zusammenrottungen, Hetzjagden auf Menschen anderen Aussehens, anderer Herkunft, oder den Versuch, Hass auf den Straßen zu verbreiten, das nehmen wir nicht hin. Das hat bei uns in unseren Städten keinen Platz.

(“Such riotous assemblies, hunts on people with a different appearance, different origin or the attempt to spread hate on the streets, that we do not accept. That has no place in our cities.”)

Seibert based this statement on the videos and news published about the events.

On the other hand, Sächsischer Ministerpräsident (Saxony’s minister president, similar to a State Governor) Michael Kretschmer was clear that there were no mobs and no Hetzjagd:

Hans-Georg Maaßen, President of the Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz (Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, or short BfV), said the following in an interview with the paper Bild on September 7, 2018:

“[Es liegen] keine belastbaren Informationen darüber vor, dass solche Hetzjagden stattgefunden haben”

(“No reliable information [is available] whether such hunts took place”).

He furthermore doubted the Authentizität (authenticity) of the video above, since it was posted by Antifa, a left-leaning group with a motive to spread misinformation on an extreme right Hetzjagd. Though there were no reasons to believe the video was fake.

These statements led to outrage from many political party leaders, who wanted clarity on why Maaßen thought this. The BfV is comparable to the FBI, responsible for domestic intelligence. What was it that Maaßen was saying here? Did he have information that was not publicly available that would shed light on what happened? And how come then, that Maaßen’s boss Merkel and her Regierungssprecher made contradicting statements?

Based on the information available, this was seen as irresponsible behavior and evidence for Maaßen no longer being fit for this office.

More back and forth followed, and this further escalated in the following weeks, culminating in Maaßen’s dismissal from his position.

As it later turned out from chat protocols of August 26 and 28, groups had indeed agreed to meet for Jagden on Neuzugezogene (new newcomers).


How did this night change Germany? To many, no matter which parts turned out to be true or not, it was a shocking display of Rechtsextremismus (right-wing extremism) in Germany.

And the Stadtfest?

The Stadtfest finished early on its last day due to the protests. The damage to the image of the Chemnitzer Stadtfest due to these events has prompted the city to not organize it in 2019! As a response, Bürger (citizens) decided to organize their own Bürgerfest (citizen festival) as an Ersatz (replacement), which took place last weekend.

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About the Author: Sten

Hi! I am Sten, both Dutch and German. For many years, I've written for the German and the Dutch blogs with a passion for everything related to language and culture. It's fascinating to reflect on my own culture, and in the process allow our readers to learn more about it! Besides blogging, I am a German-Dutch-English translator, animator and filmmaker.