Why are some people not interested in business?
"You think you can't put so much hope in Germany as a country" (by Mitat Özdemir & Matthias Quent)
I would like to ask you to introduce yourself very briefly.
My name is Mitat Özdemir. I am 73 years old and have been in Germany for 52 years. I have six children and I am married. All children grew up in Cologne. I have grandchildren and my children have studied. Everyone has their job. I am retired. I studied here in Germany - mechanical engineering in Cologne. Then I worked as an engineer in a company for years. At some point I could no longer stand the racist atmosphere in the factories. Then I quit and started my own business. That was around the mid-1980s. Then I opened a real estate business on Keupstrasse, later a textiles business and other shops. On Keupstrasse, I was chairman of the Keupstrasse interest group for eight years. Later I co-founded the Keupstrasse is everywhere initiative.
What did the NSU bomb 15 years ago do to you and Keupstrasse?
It is good that this question is twofold. First to Keupstrasse: Keupstrasse was important, back then people said: 'Keupstrasse is a street in Istanbul'. But that's nonsense, Keupstrasse was Keupstrasse, there were new developments, every year there were new shops and the existing shops were renewed and enlarged. A lot of migrants came from Turkey to live in Germany. This development was stopped with the bomb. Business did not go on, the businessmen were in despair. We knew the triggers for the bomb came from the right-wing scene. But you didn't believe it and we suddenly felt left alone by society. This bomb wasn't just any bomb, it was a nail bomb and we knew that a mass murder was planned. This bomb was supposed to kill a lot of people and destroy many shops in order to stop the development in Keupstrasse. We shouldn't feel human and normal here. And we didn't even know who to turn to. We could not contact the police because we immediately noticed that the police etc. are holding back, keeping our distance from us. We sensed hostility. Later we felt a lot of pressure from the authorities and those responsible. And that was incredibly difficult for the people of Keupstrasse. They couldn't imagine anything like this happening to them. And then it was worse than they could imagine. Business started up again later, there were repairs, etc., but Keupstrasse was no longer what it was before. And they criminalized the whole street, said we were all criminals - like foreign bodies.
As for myself, I have to go back a little: Before I came here, my father always spoke positively of Germany: 'German laws, German culture, Germany is good, everything works in Germany'. If possible, I should go to Germany and build something up in this country, but my mother was against it. That was a real conflict between my parents. My father was finally able to convince my mother. Since I always heard my father's sermon about good Germany, I also swallowed the racist attitudes and statements that I had to experience over the years. Of course we have all heard of the murders, of the 'kebab murders'. It was bad, but at the same time it was far from us. And then suddenly a bomb exploded in front of my nose. I had to sit down and thought: what is this? Where am I? And: Democracy and culture in Germany, as my father preached to me, that's not true at all. That was an important turning point for me. I had children and grandchildren here, I built something up and studied in Germany. I had friends and relatives here, built a little home, I felt good, also felt it as my country - and suddenly everything had to be called into question: a turning point.
In retrospect, what was worse for you: the bomb itself or that they were all left alone with it?
The bomb was bad. 24 people were injured, some very seriously, and business was no longer running. We felt very bad. Why a bomb on Keupstrasse? This question is still asked today. But then it started with the media, politicians, neighbors. They all pointed their fingers at us: Everyone on Keupstrasse is a criminal. And the highest political bodies have confirmed that this is a criminal street. So it couldn't have been political. The authorities had to look for the guilty party, the perpetrator, for seven years. People were constantly brought to the station and questioned with all harassment, it didn't stop at all. There were always different methods of trying to find something out on the street. We were played off against each other. One has played woman against man, man against woman. And even among us people have almost put the words in their mouths. We had to say who planted this bomb: 'maybe the neighboring shop or the next one, could be, say a name'. When a police investigator came to us in this form, we felt even more insecurity, even more fear, even more worry - and that for seven years. This political and legal bomb was, I think, worse than the bomb itself because you no longer felt safe. If something happens to me, the police, the authorities and the law should protect me. But that wasn't the case - they weren't there for us, not for Keupstrasse. The perpetrators certainly lived in Germany at this time, looking for other victims. They looked in vain for a suspect on Keupstrasse, pinned down individual people and said: 'Tell me, who could that be? If you say so, you will be favored with taxes ‘etc. So if I had gone and accused someone, then I would have been a hero to the police. But I said: 'No, these are right-wing extremists who planted this bomb on our streets.' And then I was the bad guy - following the motto: How could I say something like that? As a result, people have lost all trust and have become insecure. Even the injured, those affected, have experienced a nightmare for years. You had to deal with it on your own. The whole family was affected. It wasn't one, two or five stores. There were 108 businesses and their families. You have to imagine that.
How much do these experiences shape your image of Germany? And from your perception, how does the city of Cologne deal with this story?
In the seven years I have personally experienced a lot of negative things in Cologne. After three or four years, Keupstrasse had to try again to integrate into society. We had to try to explain that we are not bad, that we are normal people, normal citizens, a normal shopping street. But nobody did that for us. That was also my disappointment. An example: As the chairman of an interest group, I was asked to go to various associations. There are several clubs in Mühlheim, from diving clubs to shooting clubs and citizens' clubs. I tried to tell neighbors on the next streets etc. how great Keupstraße is and what we offer on the street. And then a woman said: 'Mr Özdemir, you can tell what you want. Keupstrasse was my street, but for years I haven't been in and out of the street. 'I said:' Dear woman, why? '-' No, 'she said,' It's bad, I have one too bit scared. The street has changed. It's bad there. ‘I noticed that it doesn't help; we can tell what we want, but the street has become a foreign body in Cologne. The street was condemned.
After 2011, after November 4th, 2011, it was finally understood that we are innocent, that we were not the perpetrators, but victims. The tide turned. Suddenly a lot of politicians and the media came and asked: What happened here? That was a different situation for us now. We had to learn to deal with it and assess whether it was all real or only temporarily. We had to carefully feel our way forward because the disappointment and fear were very great. We even thought: 'Watch out, since there are so many interested people on Keupstrasse now, that could cause another bomb.' And then neighbors came up to us, showed a lot of interest and we held an event with a lawyer and a meeting with a lot of people on Keupstrasse, where we exchanged ideas about everything that had happened in the past few years. And finally we founded the Keupstraße ist everywhere initiative, which was supposed to help as many people as possible. That's how it happened. This initiative is still working today and we have given a lot of help. 34 victims from Cologne testified in court in Munich. We were there on buses and did not leave those who testified alone.
Suddenly it wasn't that bad on Keupstrasse anymore. Other institutions came to help us - e. B. the city theater, the Cologne theater. The play 'Die Lücke' was written and it is still on. A guided tour is connected to this drama, i.e. a guided tour with information on the street and then watch the play together. There were also other people who wanted to have a guided tour on the street, who wanted to know how people are doing, what kind of shops are there, how the shops started and why the shops started here. I was also someone who showed interested parties through Keupstrasse - groups of trade unions, of schoolchildren, of students. And the tours are still there. A lot of people have been coming to Keupstrasse for more than five years to find out more. That did very well. The residents and business owners of Keupstrasse sometimes seek a conversation with the groups, offer biscuits or welcome them, discuss with people, etc. In my opinion, these tours have brought a lot. Keupstraße was able to build up a little trust in this company again and we noticed that we are not alone. If the people here on Keupstrasse are interested in our history, then there must be a large part of society that doesn't agree with what was done to us back then.
Do you now celebrate a Keupstrasse festival on the anniversary of the bombing every year?
We held big parties for four years. We organized the 2012 festival ourselves, the Keupstrasse festival, the meeting festival. The city of Cologne helped us and 50,000 to 60,000 people came. In the following three years the city of Cologne took over the whole organization and invited many famous people. Then came over 170,000 people. It was proof to us that we are not alone in dealing with this injustice. Many people in Germany, in Cologne, made their way to us and set an example. We haven't been able to hold the party for a year, and there are financial reasons for that. The city of Cologne organized it four times and has now stopped.
In the summer of 2018, the NSU trial in Munich against five defendants ended. How do you rate the outcome?
At first I had very high hopes for the complete clarification, as the Chancellor had promised. We thought, 'So now they're in, a couple of people, but it can't be just a couple of people. There have to be people sitting on higher floors to push the button. ‘When I read the indictment, I was disappointed. It has only been limited to those four or five people whether they are guilty or not. And today we are there after years of litigation and some penalties have been handed out, but that was not what we expected. We would like a complete clarification with all structures and backers. As long as this does not take place, we are still afraid and we are not doing very well. That is why it is a disappointing end to the process for the victims from Keupstrasse, including for a large number of migrants who live in Germany.
And if you look to Thuringia: How do you rate the country's handling of the NSU complex and, above all, how it deals with the relatives and survivors of the victims?
You can't expect me to find all of this great and wonderful. No! You only try to do what is necessary - they tried to educate in Thuringia and paid compensation to the victims. That's okay. I think that if you look at the entire Federal Republic of Germany, Thuringia is doing a little better, but not 100 percent. An example: I have contact with victims on Keupstrasse. The hairdresser Yildirim, who was harassed by the police for years, including his family, and who had lived a cruel life for seven years, did not get a penny. He hasn't even been given an apology. Why? Because he wasn't there that day. You don't understand that. So I cannot be satisfied.
Do you have a specific suggestion as to what Thuringia still has to do?
Thuringia really has to move forward, not run along. Thuringia has to show that it is dealing with the NSU complex, fighting right-wing radicalism and making it public. But not only to make people known, but also to prove them with deeds - for example in the case of migrants. I have heard that some victims will be invited to Thuringia shortly, but I do not know what this invitation is about.
The second committee of inquiry report is presented there. Presumably it is an invitation to this event.
Such a thing is good. That has to be done more often - for the victims - and that has to be passed on to the media. You have to invite the victims to Thuringia more often. Thuringia and other countries have to show themselves, really make an effort and bring what has happened into focus. Thuringia has a problem with the NSU complex that has to be overcome. Swallow it down, according to the motto: 'That's it, that happened and we're going to live with it' - no, please don't. What comes from Thuringia can also help us a lot.
How do you perceive the political development in Germany in recent years?
Scary. I am very worried. The AfD is so strong. Germany is not just any country that allows itself to do this. In terms of world politics, it is currently not ideally democratic, but rather to the right. Germany cannot afford to do that, the country can lose a lot as a result. This policy, which Germany has so far taken lightly, must not continue. People have repeatedly made fun of migrants, accused migrants, and even said that they are taking our jobs away from us or that they are strangers here, they do not integrate - such accusations. And when something happened to us, they kept still. That is very dangerous. That can no longer happen in Germany because it is currently five to twelve in Germany.
Do you have any suggestions as to what politics and society should actually do?
You have to stop discriminating against migrants. You have to meet on an equal footing - and also not talk about poor foreigners, poor migrants. Migrants need more rights. For example, I've been in Germany for 52 years and I haven't even voted. That is the case with millions.
Don't you have a right to choose?
No. Because I don't have German citizenship. In order to vote in this country, I would have to get citizenship. I have to give up the Turkish citizenship in order to get the German citizenship. As long as I am not a German citizen, I am not allowed to vote. So the right to vote is important and apparently they don't want us to vote. I ask myself why. That is where democracy begins. So this problem should be resolved urgently. If you have been living, working and having a residence permit here for four, five or eight years, you should also have a say in who will become Federal Chancellor.If that were the case, the AfD would certainly not have reached these percentage points.
There are many other suggestions: Even the foreigners who have lived in Germany for years should slowly feel at home here. There would have to be a program or something similar so that they could say: I don't have German citizenship, but Germany is my country. Such a feeling has to come. I always preach to my children and those around me: 'Just feel that you are at home here and that you have the land here. You belong here You have been in Germany for over 30, 40, 50 years, and even if you do not have the right to vote, you belong in Germany, Germany is your country. ‘
It has also been made easy for the AfD: Many German citizens with any disappointment, personal disappointment vote for the AfD. But that is wrong: if I experience disappointment with the government, then I cannot give a lesson with the AfD. That is dangerous for democracy, this danger has to be made public. Politicians could do that, for example by apologizing for their mistakes and false promises.
I have another question. You don't have to answer it if it's too personal for you, but it crossed my mind during our conversation. I would be interested in how your children and family perceive this - whether they shaped the bomb, the investigation, and racism?
There are often discussions in the family. We're a big family and we don't all share the same opinion. I accept all opinions and also like to listen. There are family members who say that there is no other way to expect it from Germany. That hurts me. You hear a lot in the media, in Turkish or Italian media, and the AfD in Germany is strong. They think they can't put so much hope in Germany, they can't invest so much. They are vigilant and want to run away when it bangs - to put it bluntly. That makes me sad. And the older people, including my wife, are sometimes very worried about the future of their grandchildren and children. The grandchildren or the children do not notice this, but the older ones ask what they did wrong in Germany and whether it was right to settle here and raise children. There is a bad mood from the AfD, they murder a politician, they throw a bomb. It doesn't stop there, it doesn't get any less. It becomes more and more. I think a lot of migrants carry this worry with them inside, isolate themselves and that is not good for a society.
Many Thanks. Is there anything else that is important to you that we have now forgotten?
There is still a lot to be said: For example, there will soon be a citizen invitation on Keupstrasse. It's about a memorial on Keupstrasse. There are many, including on Keupstrasse, who are against a monument. There are some who feel that we must slowly forget about this. That's sad. That is bad. I'm trying to convince a few other people, the people who don't want a monument, that we should stick together. In 2011 the self-exposure took place, in 2015 there was no person on Keupstrasse who spoke out against a memorial. Everyone said it should come and it must be sustainable. Today it looks very different. And that is also because the others have become even stronger and are putting even more pressure on society. That's why I always say: It's shortly before twelve. This monument is currently my concern. I don't know if we can still realize it at some point. I hope we will succeed - I have now made that my life's work.
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