The investigation into the Oktoberfest attack is over. For journalist Ulrich Chaussy, that’s not enough. 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/imago
site: Mr. Chaussy, you have been dealing with the 1980 Oktoberfest attack for decades and have uncovered many inconsistencies in the investigation. Now the Federal Prosecutor General has closed the new investigation into the case. Did that come as a surprise to you?
Ulrich Chaussy: No, it’s just that I hadn’t expected the timing. The Theresienwiese special commission had been very quiet for a long time. I didn’t know whether they were working diligently or whether the investigations were just bobbing along.
Are you satisfied with the results?
At least it shows me that it was not in vain to have pointed out for decades that it was completely absurd how this assassination was classified: as an event that was supposed to have nothing at all to do with politics and right-wing extremism. The perpetrator, Gundolf Kohler, was described as a young man who was simply frustrated, lovesick, and had no prospects for the future – and therefore set off the bomb. The new investigators did not let themselves be fobbed off with this psychogram of a desperate man and clearly came to the conclusion that this attack was motivated by right-wing extremism.
In 2014, when the then Federal Prosecutor General Harald Range reopened the investigation, he spoke of the "most serious right-wing extremist attack in the history of the Federal Republic of Germany.
He just casually anticipated this and simply negated the present result of the old investigators. But no one had believed in anything else for a long time at that point anyway.
The first investigations immediately after the assassination went rather disastrously. One of the biggest criticisms was that the Soko at the time immediately focused on the single perpetrator theory. But even now, the investigators concluded that there was "insufficient evidence of accomplices or instigators."
Of course, this is frustrating. But it’s also logical: you can’t blame today’s investigators for the fact that their colleagues back then didn’t even do the bare minimum. That’s simply beyond repair. Of course it hurts that the crucial questions are still open: Who were Kohler’s cues? Who were his contacts? The fact that they stifled these questions during the initial investigations is now taking revenge.
You have already years ago years ago, you described how a key witness on the day of the attack had a 20 minutes Kohler’s conversation with two men has. Another saw Kohler arguing with the occupants of a car stopped at the side of the road shortly before the explosion. Are that not "sufficient evidence"?
68, is a radio journalist and has been researching the background to the Oktoberfest attack since 1982. He has already received several awards for his work. In September, the book "Das Oktoberfest-Attentat und der Doppelmord von Erlangen. How right-wing terrorism and anti-Semitism have been suppressed since 1980" – an updated and expanded edition of his classic book on the Wiesn attack.
Yes, in my view, of course it is. There are some points in the conclusions reached by the new investigators that I don’t want to let stand. For example, the thing with the hand.
You mean the almost intact severed hand that a policeman found near the scene of the crime a few hours after the detonation.
Exactly. During the initial investigation, it was identified as Kohler’s hand. And the new investigators have now agreed with that. An explosives expert from the Federal Criminal Police Office, whom I asked about this, clearly stated that this is simply impossible from a scientific point of view.
The force of the explosion must have completely pulverized Kohler’s hands. The fact that the hand must have belonged to someone else was also proven by the serological analysis at the time. This calls for a solid investigation.
Do you suspect that it could have been the hand of an accomplice?
I don’t have a theory there, I just want every effort to be made to find out. I am not sure that the new Soko has done that. I also found it irritating how their investigators initially behaved towards witnesses that I had named to the Federal Prosecutor’s Office. Particularly in the case of the former policeman who found the hand, there was a demeanor that revealed a deep bias on the part of the interrogating investigators. That made me frown.
The current Soko was also unable to establish that the success of investigative measures had been thwarted.
The bomb attackat the main entrance of the Munich Oktoberfest on September 26, 1980, is considered the most serious attack in the history of the Federal Republic. Thirteen people were killed and more than 200 were injured.
The investigators concluded at the time that the perpetrator, student Gundolf Kohler, had acted alone and from personal motives. He had close contacts to the right-wing extremist Wehrsportgruppe Hoffmann.
In 2014Federal Prosecutor General Harald Range reopened the investigation. Now the new investigations have been discontinued – with the result that the crime is now clearly classified as right-wing extremist. However, there are no indications of accomplices.
This is simply wrong. The head of the Bavarian Ministry of the Interior, Hans Langemann, revealed Kohler’s name to a magazine immediately after the crime. By the time the investigators arrived in Kohler’s hometown of Donaueschingen, everyone there had already been warned, including the person whom the investigators bought the psychogram of the desperate, apolitical lone perpetrator and whom they virtually elevated to the status of key witness. This gave them all the opportunity to cover their tracks, to agree on statements and so on. That was precisely the consequence of this betrayal of the investigation at the time.
Would it not time to close theapapter to close and the historians to to the historians?
For me, the question still remains: Who covered up and why? This is a question that I wish would not leave other people alone either. Only in the case of the ministry official Langemann can it be clearly linked to one person so far. There were even more events during the investigations at that time that cannot be explained by sloppiness or coincidence alone. This also includes the disappearance of the DNA-containing evidence.
If certain traces were so systematically erased, this must be investigated. I would like to be able to trust that after a terrorist act, all forces will make an effort to clear it up. And if there are indications that a cover-up is taking place instead, surely it must be investigated.
But who should do that now?
Now is the time for parliament to act. I wouldn’t think a committee of inquiry would be a bad idea.
In the Bavarian state parliament? Or in the Bundestag?
It could be both. It was a crime that took place in Bavaria, but it also had nationwide significance; it is still the most serious terrorist attack in the history of the Federal Republic of Germany.
The official classification of the crime as right-wing extremist terror makes it easier to compensate the victims. The SPD and the Greens have already called for a corresponding fund, as has the victims’ lawyer Werner Dietrich.
I support that. The best news at the end of these investigations is that the victims now know why they lost relatives here, why they suffered injuries: because this extremist potential was able to grow in the political arena.
Seeing and acknowledging the collective responsibility also means that you have to think about things now to help the victims. When the victims needed it most, they were alone. In the eighties, no one cared about them; they had to see how they could cope with the situation. Actually, it’s already too late. But what can be done now, that should be done.
Mayor Dieter Reiter wants the victims to be compensated from federal funds.
I would have another idea: People should – as soon as Corona allows it – gladly continue to go to the Wiesn, celebrate and enjoy the escape from everyday life. But if you add one or two cents to the Mass and the Hendl, which are put into the victims’ fund, then you quickly have 150,000 euros per year.
That would be a form of solidarity that also takes note of the victims. At the time, this attack could have hit anyone and everyone. There’s always a lot of talk and ranting about the beer price increases at the Wiesn. But would you know a better reason for a beer price increase?