Racist murder trial drags up Germany's past: Steve Crawshaw, in Molln, writes about the town's deceptive cuteness

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The Independent Online
THE FIRST thing that strikes you is the cuteness of the place - a German version of a Cotswolds market town.

The pavement cafes are already beginning to fill up with the summer crowds. The 16th-century houses, decorated with inscriptions praising good-burgher virtues and the wisdom of God, gleam in the warm sunshine. Comfortable and respectable: that is the atmosphere of the little north German town of Molln.

And yet, it was the nightmarish events in this town that have forced Germany to face up to the dangers of the present, still overlaid with the horrors of the past. In a pleasant street called Muhlenstrasse, the clematis is in full bloom outside the half-timbered cottages. And, in the midst of the picture-postcard scene, a burnt-out house, that has become a deadly symbol for all Germany.

It was here on the night of 22 November - six months ago this Saturday - that three Turks were killed, after petrol bombs were thrown into their home in the early hours. The police received a phone call: 'It's burning, in Muhlenstrasse. Heil Hitler]' Bahide Arslan, 51, her niece, Ayshe, 15, and her granddaughter, Yeliz, 10, all died. Others were badly injured. Shortly afterwards, petrol bombs were also thrown into a house on the Ratzeburgerstrasse nearby.

The Molln killings led to an outpouring of shame and indignation across the country. Huge protests were held, to demonstrate to Germans themselves and - as importantly - to the rest of the world that this was not the old Germany, and not the direction in which the country wanted to go.

Two skinheads, Lars Christiansen and Michael Peters, went on trial this week, charged with the murders. At the same time, the people of Molln argue that the town itself has been put on trial. One Mollner complained this week: 'When people hear that I am from Molln, the first thing they ask is: 'So, are you all fascists there, then?' '

In reality, the number of extreme-right activists is small. The problems in Molln, a few miles from the east German border, are probably not greater nor smaller than in the rest of Germany. Arson attacks on foreigners' hostels are regular events in both west and east. There has been some let-up, following the nationwide wave of revulsion against the November killings. But the problem is far from under control.

Turks living in Molln continue to receive phone calls, whose opening line is 'Heil Hitler]' or 'You're next.'

Two men whom I spoke to (neither wanted their names to be published) both received threatening calls on the opening day of this week's trial; a third, living in the same street as his murdered compatriots, had gone ex-directory, to avoid the harassment. 'Whenever I hear a car stop in the street, late at night, I always get out of bed to see what it is. We live in fear,' he said.

The physical attacks continue, too. In March, a container where asylum-seekers are living was set on fire; only by chance, nobody was hurt. It is the asylum-seekers and the Scheinasylanten, the 'fake asylum-seekers', who are the focus of much of the worst resentment.

I asked Hajrush Mulici, living with his family in a room in one of the containers, if he felt he should have stayed at home in the Albanian-majority province of Kosovo, in Serbia, to avoid the present threats. In reply, he unbuttoned his shirt, revealing huge scars. 'In Kosovo, it was the Serbian police who attacked us. Here, the police can protect us. Of course it's better here.'

One message conveys the problem. Pinned to the door of the burnt-out house in Ratzeburgerstrasse, it asks: 'What future do we have, if we again forget, after such a past?'