Tanja Hofbauer

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Guns seized in Marburg, Germany, on Aug. 17
Germany

How A Website Used Anti-Immigration Fears To Sell Guns

MUNICH On Oct. 5, German doctor Alexander Haase* opened his web browser and dropped merchandise he wanted to purchase into a checkout basket. He paid 590,99 euros — money that went into a Hungarian bank account. A few weeks later, an inconspicuous brown package arrived by DHL delivery. He opened it. There was a revolver inside.

Haase has no firearms license.

The gun and bullets were delivered to his workplace, a medical office. He voluntarily revealed his name, address, email, phone number as well as IP-address, not knowing that all this information was stored in a large database that ended up with journalists. A couple of months later, these journalists rang Haase's doorbell to ask him why he had purchased a firearm on a website called "Migrantenschreck" ("Migrants-terror").

Last year, hundreds of people in Germany purchased weapons from the website, according to a database this newspaper and technology magazine Motherboard have access to. The orders originated from 12 countries. "Easy, fast and discreet — that's our motto," promised Migrantenschreck. While the transactions might be easy and fast, they are far from discreet. Both public prosecution departments and Federal Offices for the Protection of the Constitution have gotten hold of the client data.

The website's success shows how easy it is to make a lot of money by the rabble-rousing of right-wing extremists, how receptive the "middle-of-society" is to such purchases, and how difficult it is for authorities to clampdown on it. It takes months to build a case against sellers and customers.

For months, Haase had no idea that authorities had already linked him to the website. One winter evening, two journalists stood outside the door of his medical practice. The visitors wanted to know if Haase felt he needed to protect himself from refugees.

Migrantenshreck screenshot

Haase, a tall, stocky man appears to be good-natured as he offered his visitors a cup of coffee. "I don't have a problem with my need for security," he said. He's just interested in weapons. A patient told him he could buy a gun on Darknet or on the Migrantenschreck website. Haase said he feels no grudge against refugees.

Haase opened the box he received from the website to show his visitors the black revolver. He would neither shoot Germans nor refugees, he said. When shown martial product videos that are displayed on the website, he shook his head in disgust.

"Crude," he said. But at the same time he added: "Obviously, people from other countries have different ideas of how to behave in society. Uncontrolled immigration is a problem."

Haase didn't seem aggressive. Instead, he appeared insecure. He offered perspective when he felt his remarks crossed a line. He felt a "duty to help," he said. He had no idea that he was breaking the law. And yet, he does have reason to worry. Migrantenschreck shipped products that were legal in Hungary but not in Germany, where they require a permit.

SZ.de and Vice-linked website Motherboard spoke to a dozen clients of Migrantenschreck since the start of the year: men and women, young and old, professionals and graduates. They included a former policeman who ordered a replacement for his service weapon, a single mother who wants to protect her baby from refugees even though she has never had a bad experience with them.

Haase said he purchased the weapon not because of, but despite of, the website's name. Others attribute their purchase to the migrant crisis. A car mechanic from Berlin warned of the "invasion of migrants' and a "civil war." He said he "wouldn't want to kill any refugees. It's just about teaching them a lesson."

Tale of two men

Journalists came to know about these buyers because of two men — one, a petty crook, and the other, an idealist. Mario Rönsch ran "Anonymous.Kollektiv," a Facebook page that engaged in propaganda against Muslims, refugees and politicians. The page, which had almost 2 million "likes' on the social network, also advertised the illegal weapons store.

Anonymousnews.ru, the successor to Anonymous.Kollektiv, reaches hundreds of thousands of readers. Migrantenschreck shipped weapons worth hundreds of thousands of euros to buyers from the page.

Frank Schreiber* was the opposite of Rönsch. He was not interested in money and power, and worked anonymously. Without Schreiber, investigators wouldn't have anything to hold on to against Migrantenschreck. Schreiber arduously documented each and every step in Rönch's criminal career. Thousands of documents are on Schreiber's hard disk, which contains 37 gigabytes of meticulously organized material on Rönsch.

Rönsch made one big mistake that Schreiber latched on to. "Suddenly this document comes up and I can't believe my eyes," Schreiber said, recalling one night in October when he got his hands on the data of hundreds of Migrantenschreck's customers. The majority of entries correspond to real weapon purchases. Almost all the people who Motherboard and SZ.de paid a visit to bought something on Migrantenschreck.

The website said it offered fair prices for weaponry but it wasn't true. Migrantenschreck sold weapons for more than double the price it purchased them from Hungarian producer Keserű Művek. By the end of January, the store had a turnover of 150,000 euros, according to Zeit Online.

Migrantenschreck has since disappeared from the Internet. Rönsch, who had operated the arms trade from Budapest, now posts pictures from holidays on the Black Sea Coast on Facebook.

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The Kleine-Levin syndrome is also known as the Sleeping Beauty syndrome
Germany

A Real Sleeping Beauty Wakens To Fairytale Romance

Beth sometimes sleeps for months. She suffers from a rare disorder — the 'Sleeping Beauty' syndrome. Her boyfriend Dan sits bedside every day. A different kind of timeless love story.

MANCHESTER — There was that afternoon in November when Beth wanted to take a nap after lunch. She lay down on the couch, and slept. When it was tea time, her mother Janine prepared two cups and called her. No answer.

"Beth?" What was wrong with her? For days, it went on and on. Beth got home from school and nothing, no Facebook, no laughter, no "Mum, I'm going out shopping" — nothing but the couch. Was she still weak from a throat inflammation? That had been weeks ago.

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Germany

A Woman's Biggest Enemy Is Womanhood

Our author attends a women’s conference in Berlin, and reaches a brutal conclusion about the very idea a 'being a woman.'

BERLIN — I am a woman. Up until now, that fact was something I'd always enjoyed. Then, I was invited to attend a conference in Berlin on "being a woman today."

We were gathered, it turns out, because a major consumer product company has launched a study concerning working mothers, set to be published in Berlin. In the audience: 100 women between the age of 20 and 65.

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Danger 2.0.
Germany

Cyber Security — Is The Internet A Sitting Duck?

-Analysis-

MUNICH — The recent attacks on the Internet would be great material for a movie. But it would be more a horror film than action flick — and it could be a low-budget production since the victims could just be you and me. No need to pay high-priced movie stars.

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Not a matter of years
Germany

Wisdom Doesn’t Come With Age, But It Can Be Learned By All

Waiting and hoping that wisdom will come with time is futile. You have to work at it.

MUNICH — Rick Levenson, a professor of psychology at Oregon State University, has conducted research at several esteemed U.S. institutes and published an impressive number of scientific papers. This is laudable, obviously, and yet is just part of a typical academic life. What distinguishes Levenson comes from a sentence uttered by his Austrian colleague Judith Glück: "Rick is the wisest person I've ever met."

It's especially huge praise, coming from a scientist who has been studying the essence of wisdom itself for years. Glück's recently published book in German "Wisdom, Five Principles Of A Successful Life" offers some somber is not necessarily surprising findings: Absolute wisdom does not exist. And wise people are scarce.

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Sharp difference
Germany

Pink Tax, Why Women’s Products Cost More

MUNICH — At first sight, it looks like a real bargain buy: five disposable razors for 85 cents, with Aloe-Vera sliding strips, "ideal for the bikini line." No hesitation, the pink razors are in the basket.

But wait: Two shelves to the right, there's what looks like the same kind of package, but in blue. Same brand, same characteristics. But not the same price: 1.45 euros for a pack of 10. If you do the math, you'll find that the women's razors are 17% more expensive.

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Heading up, toward the light.
Germany

The Real Scoop: Our World Is Far Better Off Than We Think

MUNICH — What a crappy year you were 2016. With your terrorist attacks, the British going mad with Brexit and the Americans electing a Twitter troll as commander-in-chief. In Syria and other war zones, people were drowning all year in blood. On top of all of that, many of our most beloved artists and performers left the stage, forever, last year. And yet ...

Yes, folks it is high time to interrupt all of this turn-the-calendar mourning and shout out loud and clear: People around the world have never been better, healthier and happier. It's the mind's natural predisposition to record only bad news, and no doubt there has been plenty. But that's also one reason why all the good news goes unnoticed – Another reason is that positive developments often happen more subtly, they build up over decades and therefore never really make big blips on the human emotional radar.

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Xi Jinping speaking in Davos on Tuesday
Switzerland

Sorry Davos, Xi Jinping Is Not Your Free Trade Savior

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Is this China's big moment? The World Economic Forum in Davos is welcoming Chinese president Xi Jinping as a special guest. It's the first time a Chinese leader has attended the event. It marks a historic moment, not least because it comes just a few days before Donald Trump will be sworn in as the new president of the United States of America. Trump symbolizes chaotic populism. His trademark attacks include lashing out at "the elite" and the free trade that has governed the last century — exactly the sort of things the Davos gathering stands for.

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Security staff at a Berlin refugee center on Jan. 4
Germany

In Germany: Trying To Keep Up With The Next Terrorist Who Might Strike

BERLIN — One recent underreported case of a 24-year-old Afghan in Germany is a perfect example of how hard it is for security authorities to track potentially dangerous Islamists. The suspected radical, who has disappeared near Hannover in Lower Saxony, had previously traveled to Afghanistan to be trained in the handling of explosives. Since July 2015, he has been registered as "presumably dangerous."

There are two sentences that have been repeated over and over, like a mantra, by police investigators and domestic security agents. "It's just a matter of time before there will be a big attack"; and "it's almost sure that we will already know the culprit." Of course, on Dec. 19, these two dark prophecies became a brutal reality. Anis Amri, the alleged culprit in the Christmas market truck attack in Berlin, certainly didn't "come out of nowhere" for German authorities, as it had apparently been the case in relatively smaller attacks last year in Frankfurt, Würzburg or Ansbach. Since last February, the Tunisian-born had been labeled as: "presumably dangerous'. They knew that he'd kept company with Islamists, visited mosques with extremist elements and hung around with ISIS sympathizers. And they knew about his intentions to commit an assault.

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The central station in Cologne
Germany

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.

-Essay-

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

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Herero war prisoners circa 1898
Namibia

In Namibia, Open Wounds Of Germany’s “Other” Genocide

Thirty years before Hitler's crimes, Germany's southwest African colony was the scene of mass killings of ethnic Hereros, whose descendants are still waiting for answers.

WINDHOEK — Outside, the spirits of the past are set to rise from the desert's dust. Men, women and children are glaring at the enemy, while soldiers in khaki bark out orders. The commander of the troops, proudly wearing a black-red-golden ribbon, walks towards the pond and opens a bottle to pour the liquid content in. This oasis of water could have saved the fugitives in the desert, but is now poisoned. Soon, the first bodies will begin dropping, lying motionless on the floor.

Each year the Herero people recall their history with this amateur theatrical reenactment. None of the cruel details are spared. These descendants, here in the modern state of Namibia, should know who to thank for their forebear's misery: Germany.

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Port of Hamburg
Germany

Export-Dependent Germany Faces Reckoning As Protectionism Spreads

The entire German business model, based on exporting its goods and services, may have to change as populists forces surge in its leading trading partners.

-Analysis-

BERLIN — Germany's economy is successful because of its exports. But that success may be coming to an end as nations that buy Germany's goods and services are facing serious political crises.

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