40 years of the Munich Oktoberfest attack: the first right-wing lone perpetrator

September 26th marks the anniversary of the crime. The worst terrorist attack in the history of the republic remains unsolved.

The mug shot of the Bavarian LKA from 1980 shows a photomontage by the 21-year-old student Gundolf Köhler Photo: Handout Polizei / dpa / picture alliance

As early as 1982, when Attorney General Rebmann stopped the investigation for the first time and presented Gundolf Köhler as a frustrated, lovesickly afflicted individual without political motives, a number of disagreements put this decision into question.

As if preprogrammed, the investigations at the time resulted in the thesis of the apolitical individual perpetrator. This is also made clear by the interrogations of Köhler’s friends. The investigators asked extensively about sexual preferences and romantic relationships. Questions about political background or contacts with right-wing groups, on the other hand, were asked rather sporadically and hardly followed up in detail.

Despite these tendentious investigations, it was completely obvious that Gundolf Köhler adhered to anti-Semitic, National Socialist and racist ideas and did not hold back with them. In the interviews there was repeated mention of a picture of Hitler over the bed or of statements against Jews.

Over the years, thanks in particular to victim lawyer Werner Dietrich and journalist Ulrich Chaussy, more and more contradictions came to light, of which the missing hand is probably the most prominent. Said hand was found at the crime scene after the explosion. Then as now, the investigators attributed it to Gundolf Köhler.

Internal betrayal

But that cannot be: Serologically it could not be assigned to the assassin and, in contrast to the rest of Koehler’s body, no traces of the bomb component nitrocellulose were found on the hand. Finally, a former BKA explosives expert came to the conclusion that the hand, which was barely damaged by burn marks, could not have come from Koehler because his hands and forearms were probably torn into tiny pieces by the force of the explosion.

Today, a DNA examination of the hand could determine whether it came from Koehler – but both the hand and the forensic medical report were made to disappear in the course of the investigation.

In 2014, the Federal Prosecutor finally gave in to the pressure and resumed the investigation into the Oktoberfest attack. However, the results with which she announced the hiring five years later are thin. It is true that the strategically communicated figures of the many surveys conducted and did not check traces of their target and were found in almost every press article. But the amount of individual investigative measures cannot outweigh what the investigations as a whole failed to do.

So the question arises why the Federal Prosecutor’s Office entrusted the Bavarian LKA with the investigation instead of the Federal Criminal Police Office, and thus precisely the institution that had carried out the original investigation without success. Bearing in mind the obvious assumption that these investigations were severely disrupted and influenced, for example, by the theft of evidence or the betrayal of internal investigations, this decision seems simply wrong.

Linked to this is a second omission: the resumed investigations did not deal with the errors of the first special commission as an independent investigation objective. However, this omission is incomprehensible in view of such fundamental errors as the disappearance of the hand. For what motives, with what effects, to what extent and with whose participation the investigations were sabotaged in the 1980s, was never the subject of the resumed proceedings – another knowingly missed chance to clear up the background to the attack.

Destroyed traces

The investigators were also unable to identify possible accomplices and associates of Köhler. The men in the green parkas, who were observed by various witnesses talking to Koehler immediately before the explosion and shortly afterwards on the run from the crime scene, remain unknown, as is the young woman with whom other witnesses saw Koehler at the scene. The traces from Köhler’s car are also puzzling: Who owned the green parka that was found in the car, to whom did the 48 cigarette butts of different brands and with different saliva accumulations belong? A DNA comparison is also ruled out here; the traces were destroyed.

The press release closes with the succinct statement “that questions remained open and that individual issues could not be fully ascertained or assessed”. These open questions and the failure of the highest investigative authority, which is badly concealed in this sentence, should form the core of the assessment, because the open questions touch the core of the subject. Who were the men Koehler was seen with just before the explosion? How was the bomb detonated, how did Koehler get the explosives, where and by whom was the bomb built? Who did the hand found at the crime scene belong to and who made it disappear?

A look at Italy shows that it is not a law of nature that investigations must remain inconclusive after 40 years. Later that year, the right-wing terrorist Gilberto Cavallini was sentenced to life imprisonment for providing logistical support to the attackers in the 1980 attack on Bologna train station.

It borders on insolence that 40 years after the bloody attack in Munich, on the one hand, not having contributed anything to the investigation and at the same time proclaiming the banality that the act was politically motivated.

The lone perpetrator

The termination of the investigation is a scandal. It reveals the entitlement of the bereaved, the injured and the dead to the investigation of the crime and the determination of the guilty. This claim remains unpaid. The attitude is also momentous in that it is historiography and thus works equally in the past and present. She contributes to the construction of a historical figure that never existed and that still causes damage today: the right-wing lone perpetrator.

The decision is doing the historical subject an injustice, because weighty circumstances indicate that Köhler did not act alone. It also contributes to the fact that present and future right-wing terrorism is not understood as the work of networks. Victims remain unpunished and perpetrators unknown.

The attack on the Munich Oktoberfest on September 26, 1980 remains unsolved and challenges us. Bertolt Brecht’s sentence applies: “Only as much truth prevails as we enforce.”

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Attack on Oktoberfest: Compensation 40 years later

Decades after the Oktoberfest attack, the victims should still be compensated: with 1.2 million euros. A victim lawyer thinks this is not enough.

Oktoberfest attack in Munich in 1980 – corpses are removed in coffins Photo: Werek / image

BERLIN / MUNICH taz | The bomb detonated on September 26, 1980 at 10:19 p.m. at the entrance to the Munich Oktoberfest. It killed 13 people, including the right-wing extremist Gundolf Köhler, and injured another 211. It is the most serious right-wing terrorist attack in the Federal Republic to date. And many victims continue to suffer from the act. Now they are being compensated.

Federal Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht announced on Wednesday that those affected – 40 years after the attack – should receive “support payments” totaling 1.2 million euros. The attack remains “a deep turning point in post-war history,” said the SPD politician, with injuries to this day. The aim of the compensation is to “send a late but important sign of solidarity with those affected by this devastating attack”. The state must “be more there for those affected by right-wing extremism, racism and hatred”.

The fund is to be financed by the federal government and the Free State of Bavaria at EUR 500,000 each, plus EUR 200,000 from the city of Munich. The federal government had approved the post on Wednesday in its draft for the federal budget 2021. The Bavarian cabinet had already decided its part on Tuesday. In Munich, the city council is still pending a resolution.

Bavaria’s Minister of Social Affairs, Carolina Trautner (CSU), also called the fund a “sign against right-wing extremism”. “It is indescribable how much suffering the attack on the Munich Oktoberfest caused.” For Munich’s Lord Mayor Dieter Reiter (SPD), the joint fund comes “much too late”, but it shows “that all political levels are willing To give people of this incredibly cruel right-wing terrorist attack the attention and financial support they have long deserved ”.

Reassessment of the attack

The compensation comes about because the federal prosecutor’s office reassessed the attack in July. For almost six years, the authority had reopened the investigation after the single perpetrator thesis was repeatedly questioned and new indications of accomplices were found. The search for clues was unsuccessful – the federal prosecutor’s office now officially classified the act as right-wing extremist for the first time. The conviction of the assassin and his relevant contacts to the right-wing extremist military sports group Hoffmann speak for this.

The victims had long fought for this recognition as a right-wing extremist act. Shortly after the reclassification in July 2020, Lambrecht’s Ministry announced compensation from the federal government. Now, shortly before the 40th anniversary of the assassination, this is being redeemed. The federal government, Bavaria and the city of Munich had struggled to the last about what the fund should look like and how it should reach the victims. Reiter was satisfied with the solution on Wednesday: It was Munich’s claim to “help the survivors as unbureaucratically as possible”.

Shortly after the attack, the Free State paid the injured person 500,000 DM as a kind of compensation for pain and suffering. From 1982 the city of Munich raised one million DM as emergency aid for the victims, and in the following year another 200,000 DM, also collected with donations. From 2018, the city paid a further 100,000 euros to finance treatment costs for those affected that were not paid by the pension offices. However, these payments were not considered official compensation.

Victims were “treated shabbily”

The Munich lawyer Werner Dietrich, who represents 16 victims of the attack, had long been demanding compensation from the federal government. According to his information, many of those affected never received the first compensation for pain and suffering from 1980. Dietrich was ambivalent about the current fund. “It is a success and great progress that the long stories of suffering of those affected are finally recognized,” he told the taz. Some of the victims had been “treated rather shabbily” by the authorities in the past. A “quick and unbureaucratic” payment is now decisive.

At the same time, Dietrich considers the sum of 1.2 million euros to be too low. The lawyer assumes there are still almost 100 victims of the attack who, according to his opinion, should be paid between 30,000 and 100,000 euros depending on the severity of the injury. The 1.2 million euros would not be enough for that. It would therefore have made more sense to have a “breathing upper limit” for the compensation, said Dietrich.

The victims of the attack will be remembered with a memorial ceremony on Saturday in Munich. In addition to survivors, Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Bavaria’s Prime Minister Markus Söder (CSU) should also speak there. At the same time, a new documentation site is to be opened for the attack.

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Ulrich Chaussy on Oktoberfest attack: “Who covered up there and why?”

The investigation into the Oktoberfest assassination has ended. This is not enough for journalist Ulrich Chaussy. He calls for a committee of inquiry.

A coffin is carried away from the devastated crime scene at the Oktoberfest in Munich on September 26, 1980 Photo: Werek / image

taz: Mr. Chaussy, you have been dealing with the 1980 Oktoberfest attack for decades and have uncovered many inconsistencies in the investigation. The Attorney General has now stopped the investigation into the case. Was she surprised?

Ulrich Chaussy: No, I just hadn’t expected the timing. It had long been very quiet about this special Theresienwiese commission. I didn’t know if they were working diligently or if the investigation was just pending.

Are you satisfied with the result?

At least it shows me that it was not for nothing to have pointed out for decades that it was completely absurd how the assassination was classified: as an event that is not supposed to have anything to do with politics and right-wing extremism. The perpetrator Gundolf Köhler was described as a young man who was just frustrated, lovesick and had no future prospects – and therefore let the bomb go off. The new investigators did not allow themselves to be fobbed off with this psychogram of a desperate man and clearly came to the conclusion that the attack was motivated by right-wing extremists.

The former Federal Attorney General Harald Range spoke of the “most serious right-wing extremist attack in the history of the Federal Republic of Germany” back in 2014, when he had the investigation resumed.

He simply anticipated that and simply negated the results of the old investigators. But nobody had believed in anything else at the time.

The first investigations immediately after the attack were rather disastrous. One of the biggest criticisms was that the then Soko immediately shot at the thesis of the individual perpetrator. But even now, the investigators came to the conclusion that there was “insufficient evidence for accomplices or instigators”.

Of course it’s frustrating. But also logically: Today’s investigators cannot be blamed for the fact that colleagues did not do the bare minimum at the time. This is simply no longer repairable. It clearly hurts that the crucial questions are still open: Who were Koehler’s key words? Who were his contacts? The fact that these questions were choked off during the first investigations is now taking its toll.

You have before Years described how a main witness on the day of the attack a round 20 minutes permanent Köhler’s conversation with two men was observed hat. Another saw Köhler arguing with the occupants of a roadside car just before the explosion. are not “sufficient clues”?

68, is a radio journalist and has been researching the background to the Oktoberfest attack since 1982. He has already received several awards for this. In September the book “The Oktoberfest Assassination and the Double Murder of Erlangen is published. How Right-Wing Terrorism and Anti-Semitism Have Been Suppressed Since 1980 ”- an updated and expanded edition of his classic on the attack on the Oktoberfest.

Yes, in my opinion, of course. There are a few points in the conclusions that the new investigators come to that I do not want to leave as it is. For example, the hand thing.

They mean the almost undamaged severed hand that a policeman found near the scene a few hours after the detonation.

Exactly. In the first investigations it was referred to as Köhler’s hand. And the new investigators have now joined in. An explosives expert from the Federal Criminal Police Office, whom I interviewed, clearly stated that this is simply impossible from a scientific point of view.

The force of the explosion must have completely powdered Koehler’s hands. The serological analysis at the time also proved that the hand must have belonged to someone else. That requires being soundly examined.

Do you suspect that it could have been the hand of an accomplice?

I have no theory, I just want every effort to be made to find out. I’m not sure if the new Soko did that. I also found it irritating how their investigators initially behaved towards witnesses whom I had named to the federal prosecutor. The former police officer who found the hand in particular had an occurrence that showed a deep bias of the interrogating investigators. That made me frown.

The current Soko could not find that the success of investigative measures was thwarted.

The bombingat the main entrance to the Munich Oktoberfest on September 26, 1980 is considered the most serious attempt in the history of the Federal Republic. Thirteen people were killed and over 200 injured.

Investigators came to the conclusion at the time that the perpetrator, the student Gundolf Köhler, acted alone and for personal reasons. In doing so, he had close contacts with the right-wing extremist military sports group Hoffmann.

In 2014Attorney General Harald Range resumed the investigation. Now the investigation has been stopped – with the result that the crime is now classified as clearly right-wing extremist. There were no indications of accomplices.

This is simply wrong. The head of state protection at the Bavarian Ministry of the Interior, Hans Langemann, revealed the name of Köhler to a magazine immediately after the fact. When the investigators then came to his hometown Donaueschingen, everyone was warned there, including the one to whom the investigators bought the psychogram of the desperate, apolitical individual and whom they practically raised to be the key witness. This gave them all the opportunity to cover up traces, to make statements and so on. That was exactly the consequence of this betrayal of the time.

Would it be not time the Kapitel to close and the Historians to left?

For me, the question still arises: Who covered up there and why? It’s a question I wish it wouldn’t leave other people alone. Only in the case of Langemann, the ministerial official, can this be clearly stated in one person. There were even more events in the investigation at the time, which cannot be explained only with sloppiness or coincidence. This also includes the disappearance of the evidence containing DNA.

If certain traces have been systematically erased, this needs to be investigated. I want to be able to trust that after a terrorist act, all forces will try to clear it up. And if there is evidence that it is covered up instead, you have to investigate it.

But who should do that now?

It is now the hour of parliament. I would not find a committee of inquiry bad.

In the Bavarian state parliament? Or in the Bundestag?

It can be both. It was a crime that took place in Bavaria, but it also had nationwide significance. It is still the worst terrorist attack in German history.

The official classification of the act as right-wing extremist terror facilitates compensation for the victims. The SPD and the Greens have already requested a corresponding fund, just like the victim lawyer Werner Dietrich.

I support that. The best news at the end of this investigation is that the victims now know why they lost relatives here, why they suffered injuries: because this extremist potential has grown in the political arena.

Seeing and recognizing collective responsibility also means that you have to think about things now to help the victims. When the victims were most in need, they were alone. No one cared for them in the eighties, they had to see how they coped with the situation. It’s actually too late. But what can still be done now should be done.

Mayor Dieter Reiter wants the victims to be compensated from federal funds.

I would have another idea: People should continue to go to the Oktoberfest as soon as Corona allows it, celebrate and enjoy the escape from everyday life. But if you put one or two cents on the mass and chicken that are put into the victim fund, you quickly get 150,000 euros a year.

That would be a form of solidarity that also takes note of the victims. This attack could have hit everyone at the time. There is always a lot of talk and ranting about the beer price increases at the Oktoberfest. But would you know a better reason for a beer price increase?

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