In what authorities labeled a terrorist attack, in December a Tunisian man hijacked a truck and drove it into a crowd at a Christmas market in Berlin, killing 12 people and injuring 56. There were anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, and anti-Christian incidents, including physical and verbal attacks against religious minorities, attacks against religious property, and statements appearing in the media. Authorities attributed the incidents to adherents of the extreme right as well as to some Muslims.
On December 19, a Tunisian man killed a Polish truck driver and drove his truck at high speed through a Christmas market on Breitscheidplatz in Berlin. The attack killed 12 persons and injured 56. ISIS claimed responsibility and, in a video which surfaced on the internet after the attack, the accused attacker pledged allegiance to ISIS. Four days after the attack, he was killed in a shootout with police near the Italian city of Milan. Chancellor Merkel, Interior Minister de Maiziere, police, and the public prosecutor all condemned and labeled the incident as a terrorist attack. In her annual New Year’s address, Merkel said “It is particularly bitter and sickening when terror attacks are committed by people who claim to seek protection in our country.” At the same time, she defended her government’s decision to accept refugees, stressing the importance of helping those in need of protection.
According to the 2015 OSCE report (the most recent available) on hate crimes, published in November, police authorities recorded 192 anti-Semitic hate crimes and 339 crimes based on religiously-motivated bias against Christians and members of other religious groups. In the same year, according to the OSCE, 11 local civil society groups reported 134 anti-Semitic incidents consisting of 58 violent attacks, 10 threats, and 66 attacks against property; five anti-Muslim incidents consisting of two violent attacks, one threat, and two attacks against property; and 26 incidents against Christians and members of other religious groups consisting of six violent attacks, three threats, and 17 attacks against property.
According to a report from the Ministry of Justice, there were 2,083 criminal investigations of anti-Semitic incidents in 2015 committed by right-wing attackers, compared to 773 in 2014. According to the ministry, due to an error, the 2014 figures did not include statistics from Berlin. In addition, the ministry used a different methodology than the police in compiling its statistics.
According to the most recent federal OPC report, authorities categorized 29 violent incidents in 2015 as manifestations of anti-Semitism motivated by right-wing extremism (down from 31 in 2014).
Federal authorities generally investigated offenses that were reported as anti-Semitic. Government officials stated it was sometimes difficult to classify reported incidents as anti-Semitic because the motivation of the perpetrators was not always clear. Nonviolent incidents, including verbal assaults on, and harassment of, Jews occurred in public places, such as public transportation, sports events, and school grounds. NGOs and members of Jewish communities stated many anti-Semitic incidents, especially among youth in and near schools, were not reported.
According to two surveys by the evangelical NGO Open Doors Germany, there were 743 cases of religiously-motivated criminal acts against Christian refugees in asylum centers between January and September, and the number of incidents accelerated over the period. Incidents included sexual and other violent assaults as well as death threats. Respondents reported fellow Muslim refugees were among those responsible in 91 percent of the incidents. An NGO and several media questioned the methodology and accuracy of the surveys, stating that two thirds of respondents came from a single parish in Berlin, that the motivation of some respondents may have been to move to more comfortable accommodations, and that many incidents in overcrowded shelters may not have been religiously motivated.
The CDU/CSU parliamentary caucus hosted an expert workshop in April on the issue of religious freedom and violence against Christians in refugee shelters in the country. The experts concluded that, while religious persecution of Christians existed, it was difficult to quantify and to separate acts of religious discrimination from other criminal acts.
On January 1, in Nuremberg, an intoxicated man shouted at another man that he smelled bad and that he was Jewish. The man pushed the victim onto the subway tracks, stamping on the victim’s head and fingers to prevent him from getting back onto the platform. A subway employee blocked the tracks for trains until police subdued the perpetrator. In October the man was sentenced to five years in prison.
On April 16, a bomb exploded at the entrance of the Sikh temple in Essen, NRW. Three persons were hurt, one of them seriously. On April 21, police classified the attack as an act of terror. Police arrested five people. In July one person involved in the attack received a 20-month suspended sentence, 100 hours of community service, and mandatory participation in an Islamic de-radicalization program. On December 8, another person involved in the attack received a prison sentence of 2.5 years. The trial against the remaining three defendants began on December 7 and was continuing at year’s end.
In June a 27-year-old man shouted anti-Semitic slurs at a 75-year-old man near a subway station in Berlin and broke a glass bottle on his head, injuring him. Police arrested the perpetrator and released him shortly after.
On December 16, a 12-year-old boy was held on suspicion of an attempted bomb attack in a Christmas market in Ludwigshafen. Prosecutors said he left a backpack with explosives in a Christmas market in Ludwigshafen on November 26 and then placed another explosive device near the town hall on December 5; both explosives failed to detonate. The public prosecutor’s office in Frankenthal did not bring the case to trial because the boy was underage.
On September 26, a bomb exploded at a mosque in Dresden. There were no reported injuries, and no one claimed responsibility. On December 9, the police detained a 29-year-old man suspected of having carried out the attack. The daily newspaper Bild reported the man had spoken at a PEGIDA rally in the summer of 2015 about “criminal foreigners” and “lazy Africans.” According to the police, the suspect was acting alone.
On January 12, the offices of the Central Council of Muslims had to be evacuated under police protection after receiving a threatening letter according to the head of the council. After the incident, he expressed concerns about Muslims being used as scapegoats for criminal incidents throughout the country.
Daily newspapers FAZ, Die Welt, and Die Zeit reported some refugees had chosen to convert to Christianity. The newspapers stated reliable numbers on this issue were not available. Die Zeit reported a church in Berlin baptized approximately 850 Iranians from 2011- 2016. The spokesperson of the Baptist Church in Germany stated their congregation baptized approximately 700 Afghans and Iranians in 2015 and 2016. He noted a “clear increase, especially among Iranians.” Frankfurter Allgemeine reported on refugees from Iran who chose Christianity out of protest against the Islamic lifestyle in their country.
According to NGO Network against Discrimination and Islamophobia, there were reports of discrimination against women wearing headscarves during the job application process, partly because job resumes in Germany often include photos of the applicants. A study by the research institute Bonn Institute of Labor Economics reported in September that women who wear headscarves have to apply to four times the number of jobs as women who do not wear headscarves in order to gain employment.
In February the Dortmund Technical University closed its nondenominational meditation space after Muslim students turned it into a prayer room with a separate space for women and laid out Qurans and prayer rugs. When more than 40 students complained about the closure, the university leadership published an open letter stating the university had an obligation to maintain gender-equal treatment and the space was neither intended to be gender-separated nor to be converted into a Muslim prayer room. The Technical University (TU) of Berlin and the University of Essen Duisburg also closed their prayer rooms. The president of TU Berlin stated higher education and religion should be kept separate, while the University of Essen Duisburg stated in an official letter that with over 130 nations represented at the university, rooms could not be offered for every religion and culture.
On June 28, the head of the Munich Forum for Islam (MFI) and former Mayor of Munich Christian Ude declared the temporary suspension of the construction of an Islamic Center in downtown Munich due to lack of funding. The project was unable to raise the 4.5 million euros ($4.7 million) needed to secure the designated property from the Munich government. Ude said he would continue to pursue a “scaled-down version” of the center which he hoped would facilitate integration of Muslims in Germany.
On August 24, the Dusseldorf Jewish community opened the “Albert Einstein Gymnasium,” the first Jewish high school in NRW and the second in the country. Starting with 37 enrolled students, the school’s goal was to increase the student body to 500, from all religious backgrounds, in coming years. The school included Hebrew instruction and mandatory Jewish religion classes. The Dusseldorf Jewish community also operated a primary school in the city.
The Catholic Church and the EKD continued to oppose COS publicly. “Sect commissioners” of the EKD and the Catholic Church investigated “sects and cults” and publicized what they considered to be the dangers of these groups. EKD “sect commissioners” warned the public about what they said were the dangers posed by the COS, the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (Unification Church), Bhagwan-Osho, Transcendental Meditation, and Universal Life. “Sect commissioners” produced print and internet literature portraying these groups unfavorably.
In October according to media reports, a waiter refused to serve coffee to an Israeli tourist at a fast-food restaurant in Berlin. The waiter stated, “I don’t serve Jews.” Police were investigating the case at year’s end.
A November 2015 Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency study published in March found that 80 to 90 percent of approximately 1,500 respondents living in the country held positive or very positive attitudes towards Jews, Buddhists, Christians, and those who have no religion, while 64 percent held positive or very positive attitudes towards Muslims. A third of respondents saw the growth of religious plurality as positive, while 50 percent were concerned it could lead to conflicts. Almost half of the respondents (47 percent) approved of easing restrictions on new non-Christian religious buildings such as mosques, while just over half of respondents rejected the display of religious symbols by teachers at school – such as the wearing of crosses or headscarves.
In June the president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany warned of rising Jewish fears of new cases of anti-Semitism as a result of recent immigration. He stated many Arab immigrants had grown up in environments where anti-Semitism and hostility towards Israel was common. He also stated, “Jews in Germany are afraid that, if unchecked, this anti-Semitism rooted in Arab culture and politics could grow rapidly.”
The director of the Berlin American Jewish Committee said in a press statement in March that many Jews felt increasingly insecure because of growing attacks and anti-Semitic hostility. According to the director, who said she had observed anti-Semitism in the country for 30 years, “Fewer Jewish people identify themselves in public as being Jewish.”
According to British newspaper The Daily Mail, on the anniversary of the 1938 anti-Jewish pogrom Kristallnacht on November 9, the neo-Nazi group Free Forces Berlin Neukoelln posted on Facebook a map of the names and addresses of 70 Jewish-owned business, kindergartens, and cemeteries. The Berlin State Protection Office was investigating the case at year’s end.
In February a Bavarian blogger was sentenced to eight months of probation and fined 15,000 euros ($15,806) for posting a video referring to a rail workers union as “vermin” who “should be gassed”. He further said, “You know how Jews were transported to Auschwitz? That’s where these train drivers should be taken. I’ll drive the train… for free.” He posted images of Auschwitz prisoners alongside the video link.
In March protesters stood outside of the screening of an anti-Zionist documentary film about the occupation of Palestine in Berlin. When the film ended, film attendees shouted, “Jews to the gas!” at the protesters.
The PEGIDA movement continued to organize weekly demonstrations in Dresden. Amid calls to curb immigration, PEGIDA supporters regularly expressed anti-Muslim sentiments during the rallies. Journalists reported being pushed and threatened when reporting on the demonstrations. The number of participants at PEGIDA marches decreased to approximately 2,500 protesters per rally, down from 5,000-10,000 protesters per event in 2015, according to several media reports. Similar, smaller groups, such as “Thuegida” in Thuringia and “LEGIDA” in Leipzig, held protests in several towns and cities across the country.
In February deputy leader of PEGIDA Tatjana Fersterling called for refugees to be shot and for Europeans to “forget about decency” in fighting mass immigration. She also stated headscarves should be banned and radical mosques should be closed. “We need to make life uncomfortable for them,” she said.
During the height of PEGIDA demonstrations, thousands of counterdemonstrators gathered throughout the country to support tolerance. On April 18, 200 integration officers from the federal, state and local levels, who help integrate migrants, joined the anti-PEGIDA protesters in Dresden. In advance of a planned right-wing demonstration in Berlin on July 30, Berlin Mayor Michael Mueller called for counterprotests to demonstrate tolerance and inclusion.
An atheist man in Muenster was fined 500 euros ($527) in February for breaking the blasphemy law. A court ruled the anti-Christian slogans painted on his car defamed Christianity.
Approximately 85,000 copies of the republished edition of Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf were sold during the year. Since 1948, the copyright had been with the state of Bavaria which prohibited publishing of the book. The copyright ended in December 2015 and on January 8, the Munich Institute for Contemporary history presented an annotated edition stating, “The edition unmasks Hitler’s false allegations, his whitewashing and outright lies.” Opinion was divided among the Jewish community. Some Jewish community leaders said the “anti-Semitic diatribe” should not be republished while the President of the Central Council of Jews said he welcomed the publication of the annotated version as it would serve to “undo the myth of this book” and show how “completely wrong and ridiculous Hitler’s theories” were.
Muslim groups condemned the use of terror and violence via press statements that were also published on their homepages. The Central Council of Muslims published its “strong condemnation” of the attacks in Brussels, Nice, and Munich; DITIB declared “shock” about the attack in Munich; and the Association of Islamic Cultural Centers strongly condemned the Brussels attack and called the Nice attack “a cowardly act of inhumanity.”
In April the archbishop of Cologne spoke out against anti-Muslim hatred, specifically by the AfD. He said, “Anyone who denigrates Muslims, as the AfD leadership does, should realize prayer rooms and mosques are equally protected by our constitution as our churches and chapels.”
Civil society representatives spoke out against anti-Semitism. The Amadeu Antonio Foundation and the Anne Frank Center organized the “Weeks of Action against Anti-Semitism,” consisting of four weeks of workshops, concerts, and youth exchanges dedicated to fighting anti-Semitism. Referencing the forthcoming 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s posting of his 95 Theses, the EKD assembly condemned Luther’s anti-Semitism and stated a special responsibility to oppose any type of hatred toward Jews.
On April 24, a ceremony on the 71st anniversary of the liberation of the Brandenburg-Gorden Prison recognized the persecution and extermination of Jehovah’s Witnesses during the Holocaust. More than 200 guests attended the ceremony. The Brandenburg state secretary for finance delivered remarks commemorating the victims.
In March in Hanover, an annual dialogue on anti-Semitism took place between representatives of the Jewish community, Catholic bishops, and Protestant church leaders. The Protestant church collaborated with the Coordinating Council of Muslims on a mutual manifesto to “support the encounter between Christians and Muslims in Germany.
In April DITIB reported 99 attacks on mosques in 2015 (up from 73 in 2014). There were seven cases of arson, nine of threatening letters, 21 of burglary and vandalism, 13 of incitement to hatred, one of an extremist flyer, and three of graffiti.
In October a pig’s head was found in front of Brandenburg’s only mosque. The imam blamed the incident on the “Islamophobic AfD,” which had protested in front of the mosque two days earlier.
On January 27, Holocaust Memorial Day, unknown perpetrators overturned six headstones in the Jewish cemetery in Kropelin.
According to the Amadeo Antonio Foundation NGO, the incidence of Jewish cemetery desecrations, previously one of the most common anti-Semitic acts, had decreased substantially in recent years. In contrast, anti-Semitic threats and hate speech, much of it online, have become relatively more common.
On February 5, the walls of a Jewish community nursing home in Frankfurt-Bornheim were defaced with Nazi symbols. At year’s end, police had made no arrests.
On November 7, the mayor of Frankfurt condemned anti-Semitic graffiti at a Holocaust memorial in the city and stated the city of Frankfurt would continue to fight anti-Semitic acts.