Trial of German skinheads who kicked immigrant to death leaves widow in fear

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The late afternoon sun filters through the trees in the city park on to a rectangular stone that marks the scene of the grisly crime. Two engraved flowers climb up the side of the simple memorial to Alberto Adriano, a 39-year-old Mozambican who was trampled to death in June by three neo-Nazi thugs. Bunches of flowers lie before a black-and-white photo of Mr Adriano.

The late afternoon sun filters through the trees in the city park on to a rectangular stone that marks the scene of the grisly crime. Two engraved flowers climb up the side of the simple memorial to Alberto Adriano, a 39-year-old Mozambican who was trampled to death in June by three neo-Nazi thugs. Bunches of flowers lie before a black-and-white photo of Mr Adriano.

His expression is ambivalent, as if he were on the verge of either smiling or bursting into tears the very next moment.

A shadow lies over the town made famous by the Bauhaus arts movement. While right wing attacks are endemic here in the former communist eastern half of Germany, Dessau was spared any serious incidents of right wing terror - until the night Mr Adriano walked across the park where he often played with his children. Not 200ft from the door of his apartment block, three skinheads shouted at him: "What do you want here in Germany?" In less than five minutes they beat him into a coma, stripping him naked and stomping on his head and stomach.

"He didn't resemble my husband any more," stutters Angelika Adriano, recalling the horrific sight she encountered in the hospital the next morning. "The left side of his brain was totally smashed." Three days later he died.

Mr Adriano had lived in Germany more than half his life, arriving in the GDR as a so-called "contract labourer" from a fellow socialist country. A year before the collapse of communism he met his German wife Angelika. Together they had three children, the youngest of whom is only six months old. Mrs Adriano says that before the murder of her husband, the couple had never been confronted with any form of racism.

It is exactly Dessau's provincial normality that makes the savagery with which Mr Adriano was killed so frightening. The town now boasts a McDonald's, a multiplex cinema and the big west German chains. But Dessau still carries the scars of the Nazi era. During the Second World War its factories churned out Junker aircraft and Zyklon B cyanide tablets, used to gas hundreds of thousands of Jews in the death camps. In Allied air raids, more than 80 per cent of the city was destroyed. The low-rise housing blocks, hallmark of Communist architecture, still dominate the cityscape.

In the town of 84,000, there are 20 to 40 hardcore skinheads, says Police Chief Gerald Kohl. According to police statistics, there have been only six xenophobic attacks in the past three years, and Mr Kohl is quick to point out that Mr Adriano's murderers came from out of town. For the city's foreigners, that's hardly any comfort.

"Dessau is not a bastion of right wing extremism," says Henrik Klemm, Dessau bureau chief of the Mitteldeutsche Zeitung.

"But that's beside the point. The latent xenophobia is the same everywhere. And it could happen again at any time."

The dominance of xenophobia in the East, Mr Klemm says, can be traced back to the relative lack of foreigners in the GDR and the disillusionment that followed after the first heady days of unification. With 21.4 per cent of its workforce unemployed, Dessau has the second highest jobless rate in the state of Saxony-Anhalt. Two years ago, the right wing extremist German People's Union moved into the state legislature with a record 13 per cent of the vote.

Yet Mr Klemm rejects the common argument that unemployment is a primary cause of right wing extremism. More significant, he says, is that many people in the East have not internalised the civic values enshrined in the German constitution.

Cops on the beat in Dessau are the first to point out that right wing youths usually have apprenticeships or jobs. Kommissar Ricko Heuke says that the resentment begins when they see African asylum seekers selling drugs in the park and buying themselves expensive clothes with the proceeds. But Mr Heuke repeats similar stereotypes when he cruises past dilapidated terraces on the edge of town. "These are flats for Germans," he says. "But when people see how foreigners come here and get council housing, it becomes socially explosive."

A lack of curiosity among Dessauers to find out the real situation of the town's 1,600 foreigners frustrates activists such as Razak Minhel, head of the Multicultural Centre. "I'm depressed," says the Iraqi-born engineer who came to Dessau 24 years ago. "We thought we had accomplished a lot with our meetings and events. And then something like Mr Adriano's murder happens." Most of the visitors to the Centre's readings, slide shows and cultural events were foreigners to begin with.

"In the place of curiosity is anxiety, independent of whether someone has lost their job or not," says John Greene, a Californian psycho-therapist who set up shop here four years ago. A middle-aged white man with the air of an American college professor, Dr Greene looks the least likely target of right wing thugs. After all, the German word "Ausländer," or foreigner, often carries the connotation of a dark-skinned non-European.

Yet sitting in local restaurants with American friends, Dr Greene has heard people at the next table grumbling about "foreigners again". And when skinheads are on the train, he finds it prudent not to read the International Herald Tribune.

"The death of Mr Adriano brought together foreigners here in a way that wouldn't have happened otherwise," says Dr Greene. A month ago he helped found the Anti-Discrimination Office to deal with complaints from across the state. Also since the murder, interest in Dessau's Alliance Against the Right has swelled - it now has 30 regular members, roughly the same number as the town's incorrigible skinheads.

Mrs Adriano is still too shattered to join any of the initiatives. On 22 August she will have to attend a court hearing where she will face those accused of her husband's murder for the first time.

"Things won't be so calm after the trial begins," she says. "I'm counting on getting threats, especially once the sentences get handed down."

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