A Year After Cologne: The Quiet Submission Of German Women

What has Germany done to make people feel safer after the events of last New Year's Eve, when hundreds of women were sexually abused in Cologne and other cities? Not much, writes author Birgit Kelle.

The central station in Cologne
The central station in Cologne
Birgit Kelle


BERLIN — "No harm done." That's all I've been hearing for months now and it's driving me crazy. It's what the women I've spoken with say each time I ask about their uncomfortable encounters with men who are "new here," as we now call them

It's what they say, shiftlessly, when I ask them: "Have you reported it to the police?" No, because nothing bad really happened. In each case, the woman got away, after all. Sure, it was scary. But it won't happen again, they say. Now they know what to do.

There's the neighbor who keeps ringing the doorbell, desperate to know where she can take the same self-defense class I took last spring. Now she really needs it, she says. All she'd done was go for a walk in the park with her son. "You can't go there anymore." She'd said the same thing last summer. That time, she blamed her light dress. Blamed herself. But now it's winter, and it happened again. Then there's the friend from Munich who avoids taking the subway early in the morning because strange and intimidating groups of men hang around on the station platform.

Nothing serious happened in any of our cases, thank god. We got away, or home, quickly enough, unlike that girl in Bochum who was raped, or the one in Freiburg who was killed. The suspects? Refugees in both cases. And here we are again, in the midst of a heated discussion about the Islamic perception of women.

But what were we supposed to report? That we were scared? Women like us don't appear in the statistics, because nothing really happened. We don't appear in the statistics because we didn't report anything. But it's a vicious circle, because then we're told that there's no reason to be scared. Just look at the statistics, nothing bad happens!

Concerning the murder of Maria, the 19-year old student in Freiburg, Chancellor Angela Merkel warned us not to blame all refugees. The main suspect is a 17-year old Afghan. The police officers union, headed by Oliver Malchow, makes the same argument, cautioning us not to succumb to the media hype over Maria and the rape victim in Bochum. Last year's sexual crime numbers, the union points out, were the lowest since 2001. Maria from Freiburg is, indeed, a cynical case. It's tragic that we need it in order to discuss the problem. It's tragic that something that dramatic, and certainly not representative, had to happen for us to even admit that there's a problem.

Personally, I thought — naively, it turns out — that the night of New Year's Eve in Cologne was the wake-up call. I wouldn't have thought it was possible for the politicians to go back to day-to-day business that quickly and without any concrete consequences. But I was wrong. You don't have to finish this article either, by the way, this is just my personal opinion. And I've been told before that this subjective perception of danger doesn't match reality and the facts.

If we're looking for a reason to phase-out nuclear power in Germany, it's OK to objectively acknowledge the danger, for instance, of a tsunami, as unlikely a possibility as that may be. And yet when it comes to talking about the dangers women in Germany face, the "tragic and yet isolated cases' aren't enough.

Instead, we ignore the problem and deny what we're really feeling. First it was the attack on the magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris. "We're not going to change," we said. "Because if we do, then they win." They being the people who don't respect our values. Je suis! Really? What am I?

We didn't want to limit ourselves. We needed to set a good example, to be courageous and self-confident, open-minded and tolerant. In reality, though, we have adapted. We have changed our lives. All that began a while ago already. We just don't acknowledge it. The submission has already begun.

We women and mothers — and also fathers — are doing our part to keep the crime statistics low. For some, that means taking a taxi instead of walking. Or driving our children to places they'd normally have gone on their bikes. We're taking preventative measures. We're not going to wait for something bad to happen. Some of us choose to dress differently. We don't let our children go swimming alone anymore. We're being careful. And as a reward, the statistics still paint a favorable picture. They tell us that we're still safe.

Well done. So now let's take down the half-naked women from the billboards. That way we'll be safer still. Hooray! But of course this doesn't really solve anything. One year after the events of New Year's Eve in Cologne, we are still standing in front of a mess that nobody wants to clean up. And as usual, the people in charge are standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the headscarf wearers who celebrate their disguise as a symbol of female power.

But let's not be unfair. I have heard that the politicians are doing something to enlighten young refugees about how to behave correctly with German girls and women. In Cologne, for instance, boys are being summoned to the health office, where they are being taught — on designated websites and in the language of their choice — what the sexual customs, practices and positions are in Germany.

A young man who confided in a friend of mine was devastated after finishing one of these sessions. He comes from a village in Afghanistan, has grown up with women wearing burkas. Now he can look up — in his mother tongue — how to correctly use a dental dam while practicing oral sex. Safer sex is important, after all. They didn't spend all that taxpayer money designing websites for nothing. He was also told that he could ask his German girlfriend, openly, to have sex with him. Because German women are like that. He even learned — with the help of a plastic penis — how to properly use the condom he took home as a give-away present.

Eventually, the young man did learn about how to behave toward women in Germany, about what to do or not to do. But not because of the tax-funded workshop he took. He learned it from his German foster mom, who took the time to talk to him, who wasn't afraid to really break things down for him. And she did it for free.

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A Mother In Spain Denied Child Custody Because She Lives In Rural Area

A court in Spain usurps custody of the one-year-old boy living with his mother in the "deep" part of the Galicia region, forced to instead live with his father in the southern city of Marbella, which the judge says is "cosmopolitan" with good schools and medical care. Women's rights groups have taken up the mother's case.

A child in Galician countryside

Laure Gautherin

A Spanish court has ordered the withdrawal of a mother's custody of her one-year-old boy because she is living in the countryside in northwestern Spain, where the judge says the child won't have "opportunities for the proper development of his personality."

The case, reported Monday in La Voz de Galicia, has sparked outrage from a women's rights association but has also set off reactions from politicians of different stripes across the province of Galicia, defending the values of rural life.

Judge María Belén Ureña Carazo, of the family court of Marbella, a city on the southern coast of 141,000 people, has ordered the toddler to stay with father who lives in the city rather than with his mother because she was living in "deep Galicia" where the child would lack opportunities to "grow up in a happy environment."

Front page of La Voz de Galicia - October 25, 2021

Front page of La Voz de Galicia - Monday 25 October, 2021

La Voz de Galicia

Better in a "cosmopolitan" city?

The judge said Marbella, where the father lives, was a "cosmopolitan city" with "a good hospital" as well as "all kinds of schools" and thus provided a better environment for the child to thrive.

The mother has submitted a formal complaint to the General Council of the Judiciary that the family court magistrate had acted with "absolute contempt," her lawyer told La Voz de Galicia.

The mother quickly accumulated support from local politicians and civic organizations. The Clara Campoamor association described the judge's arguments as offensive, intolerable and typical of "an ignorant person who has not traveled much."

The Xunta de Galicia, the regional government, has addressed the case, saying that any place in Galicia meets the conditions to educate a minor. The Socialist party politician Pablo Arangüena tweeted that "it would not hurt part of the judiciary to spend a summer in Galicia."

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