"I Was Very Dismayed, Right Here in Lübeck..."

– Reactions to the Arsonist Attacks in Lübeck

(Last modified 1997)

In January 1996, a municipal home in the town of Lübeck for people seeking political asylum went up in flames, stunning people in Germany and abroad. This time the flames were too visible, the death toll too high, for the media to run the usual cursory news item: "Fire in ... no evidence of xenophobic motives" This time, things were different. The fire fit into a pattern of previous fires. It seemed all too obvious that this was another racist attack by a Neonazi group. Then, the district attorney produced an uproar by releasing the (East) German youths who had been the first suspects and arresting a resident of the home.

How did citizens of Lübeck perceive these events? How did they then go back to "business as usual"? These questions were at the core of a survey undertaken a few months after the fire, in the course of which Lübeck residents - male and female, of various nationalities and from different social classes and different age groups - were interviewed. Twelve conversations were recorded on tape and transcribed. The analysis was aimed at ascertaining how respondents coped with the events, how they developed explanations and interpretations of the acts of violence in which refugees/asylum seekers lost their lives. Results showed that interview partners were not primarily interested in the perpetrators; instead, they focused on the relationship between majority and minority. Their anger took two directions: on the one hand, citizens had been harmed, on the other, they now had to live with the consequences.

The results of transcript analysis revealed various strategies for coping with grief, strategies which almost all respondents employed in their reasoning or choice of words. We have characterized these strategies, as they occur in these individual portraits, with the following four categories: the correction type, the understanding type, the scandal type, and the progress type.

The research report is available in the library of the Hamburg Institute for Social Research.