A year later, Columbine's aftershocks are felt near Berlin
A German student is charged with planning a massacre to coincide with the US tragedy.
BERLIN — Some parents in Mncheberg won't be sending their children to school today.
In the small town east of Berlin, a teenage girl is being charged with planning an attack in her geography class on April 20, the first anniversary of the Columbine massacre.
Living in a society with strict gun-control laws, Germans have long believed they were immune to the type of violence that has drawn world attention to American schools. But two killings in the past six months have made many think twice about whether youth violence isn't the latest cultural export in a country already flooded with American influence.
Just last month, a student at a private school in southern Germany shot and killed his principal before taking his own life. In November, a student in an eastern German high school killed a teacher with a kitchen knife.
"If the media report daily about Columbine, then students also want to get into the paper," says Bettina Schubert, a psychologist responsible for conflict prevention at Berlin's schools. "The media aren't to blame, but children and teenagers want to get attention. If that means breakdancing, rollerblading, or wearing their baseball caps backwards, they'll do it."
Ms. Schubert says that while incidents of violence at Berlin's 1,000 schools have remained fairly stable - with some 200 cases reported annually for half a million students - the number of threats to teachers doubled after the Columbine massacre.
"The absolute numbers of youth violence have not increased," she adds. Only a handful of incidents in Berlin actually involve a weapon.
Weapons, but no guns
"We have all sorts of weapons, but we never carry them - and we don't have firearms," boasts mit Temel, a teen from a working-class district in Berlin. "It's not like we're psychopaths or anything." After school, he hangs out with his friends on park benches next to a playground surrounded by low-rise apartment blocks. "There's not so much to do. We sit around on these benches and fool around," he says, peering from under the visor of a Notre Dame baseball cap. "Sometimes we go to the gas station around the corner and get a Coke."
The boys all wear the jeans, sweatshirts, and sneakers that make them indistinguishable from their US counterparts. They sheepishly confess they are not trendsetters, but rather followers. Preferred musicians are names such as Tupac Shakur and Puff Daddy. mit says he hardly knows any German musicians.
Though their neighborhood has a rough reputation - a drug dealer recently was shot in broad daylight on a nearby street - the boys say violence at school is not an issue. Of the "gangsta" existences glorified in the music they listen to, they only understand about half.
When teenager Hannes Heiduczek says that they are "like prisoners" in their neighborhood - a tidy housing complex with excellent public transport - it sounds like an exaggeration.
Psychologist Schubert says that strict gun laws and a more egalitarian socioeconomic climate make violent crime less of a problem here than in the US. In Germany, there is no legal or historical tradition of citizens - except hunters and police - bearing arms.
"Everybody here has Rollerblades or a CD player," says Schubert. "But in German society, not everybody has a gun. In America anybody can." She says that recent school incidents are rare exceptions.
"It's not as if young people here watch movies from America and say they want to be just like that," says Jens Grosspietsch, the principal at a high school in central Berlin. "Rather, it's a contributing factor for kids who are already vulnerable to that sort of behavior. It doesn't have an effect on those in stable families."
Mr. Grosspietsch says that beside the usual schoolyard fights, violence has not increased at his school. He says that while firearms certainly exist in Germany, it usually requires a "criminal energy" to get at them. The boy who killed his teacher in Bavaria used a gun he had stolen from his father, a hunter.
Picking and choosing
Even in Berlin neighborhoods notorious by German standards, youths reject the proliferation of firearms in the US, while embracing most other aspects of American pop culture. On a basketball court in Kreuzberg, a neighborhood with a large Turkish minority, teenagers taking a break from a streetball match take a surprisingly critical position.
"Sure I watch NBA games live. But not because basketball is from America, but because I love the game," says a high school student who identifies himself only as Serkan. He wears a Los Angeles Lakers tank top, is well-informed about the East and West Coast rapper rivalries, and works in a restaurant called "Arizona."
"We take the positive things from America," says his friend, Daniel. "You can relax to soul music, and Americans make the kind of clothes that feel good. But most of us know that not everything [from the US] is good."
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society