Necessary Surveillance

March, 2014

Berlin -- A recent encounter with surveillance reminds me of the frightful days of the 1977 "German Autumn", when prominent German citizens were being kidnapped and murdered. That was the season terrorists hijacked an airplane to Mogadishu and demanded the release of the Baader-Meinhof gang from Stammheim prison in Stuttgart in exchange for the lives of the passengers and crew of the aircraft.

Annette and I dropped by her parents' home in Stuttgart one evening in the autumn of '77 before driving in her Citroen 2cv (deux-chevaux) to France. Their neighborhood was under heavy guard, as the sentencing judge who had put Andreas Baader and others in prison for life lived there. The judge was a prime terrorist target. A few days later we were in Mulhouse, Alsace, on the day the body of German industrialist Hans Martin Schleyer was found in Mulhouse in a car trunk. Soon we knew that commandos had stormed the hijacked aircraft in Mogadishu and killed the hijackers, and that the prisoners in Stammheim had committed suicide.

Or were murdered. It put a stop to the hijackings, but Schleyer was executed in retaliation by the terrorists.

Last Sunday morning in Stuttgart, March 2, 2014, I drove over to the common grave of Andreas Baader, Gudrun Ensslin, and Jan-Carl Raspe. It is in a remote cemetery down the hill from Stuttgart-Degerloch. It was a chilly, misty morning; the cemetery was deserted. I found the grave, took some photos of it (a white rose had been placed on the gravestone in recent days), and played Mozart (piano concerto #23, which could bring peace even to terrorists' hearts) aloud from my iPhone. After about twenty minutes, I walked back to my car. A police car was parked in a driveway behind me. Two policemen looked at me; I thought nothing of it. I started my car, they started theirs. I turned mine off to wait for them to leave, not wanting to be followed by a police car. They didn't move. So I re-started my car and drove off. They followed me about two kilometers, through a few turns. I finally drove into a side street and parked. They drove on. Most likely there is a camera at the grave to keep track of any admirers (or accomplices) of the Baader-Meinhof gang. Good; I am not one.

In Berlin this week I decided to visit the grave of Ulrike Meinhof, who committed suicide in Stammheim prison in 1976. About that there is also considerable doubt: she slipped a note out of the prison beforehand saying that if she was found dead, it would be murder, not suicide. A fresh tulip was on the gravestone, which is in Mariendorf. Again I took photos and played the same music. Nothing from the police.

But Ulrike Meinhof still has her admirers. Last evening at a panel discussion at SPD headquarters in Berlin, marking Frauentag and commemorating the "Women 68ers", a panelist suggested women had not found their theme until a few years later, which then led to the women's movement. A heckler in the audience shouted that Ulrike Meinhof had already found her theme. The moderator cancelled the planned questions from the audience. Murder of prominent Germans at the likely hands of the RAF continued into the 1990s, at least.

Sometimes surveillance and caution are necessary.