In Hanau, a memorial service commemorates the victims of the racist attack. The city is still processing the deed. Initiatives like the “International Weeks Against Racism” want to fight xenophobia.

It was less than two weeks ago that a mentally ill man went through Hanau in a murderous manner and killed nine people for racist reasons. This attack is omnipresent in the small town in Hesse – even when John Kannamkulam meets like-minded people in downtown Hanau to set an example against racism. Kannamkulam was born in Hanau, son of Indian immigrants.

He has been committed for years and has co-founded the “International Weeks Against Racism”, which have been taking place across Germany for 25 years and in Hanau for eight years. “The important thing is that we show presence on this day,” says Kannamkulam, “and that we send out a strong signal and stand together against racism in solidarity.”

This year, the International Weeks, which begin on March 9th, is inevitably marked by the racist attack with readings, film screenings, and workshops. For Kannamkulam, the attack was aimed at everyone, not just those with a migration background. “It’s about our democracy, which is under threat. If you don’t understand it, you’ve already lost the fight.”

Germany International Weeks Against Racism in Hanau |  John Kannamkulam (DW / L. Hänel)John Kannamkulam wants to give a voice to people affected by racism

Seven companions of Kannamkulam came to Hanau’s city center on this day. They set up their information stand in front of a shopping center. Two posters advertise the “International Weeks Against Racism”, the flyers are printed in a striking pink. It says “100% human dignity”. The activists swarm in all directions to distribute flyers.

The fight against racism is of interest

Wolfgang Kischel is the head of the coordination council, which coordinates the individual initiatives and events of the International Weeks Against Racism. Between two conversations with passers-by, to whom he hands over the flyers, he says that there were concrete inquiries for the first time this year.

“Schools asked me, for example, to bring our program brochure over to them or to send them. It hadn’t happened in previous years, so we had to make sure that we all got rid of it. Now we have around 800 of about 3500 brochures left, the rest is among the people. “

The distribution campaign in downtown Hanau is just the beginning. Now they want to start with larger promotions. Out of respect for the victims of the attack, Kannamkulam and his comrades have waited until the great act of mourning

Germany International Weeks Against Racism in Hanau |  John Kannamkulam and Wolfgang Kischel (DW / L. Hänel)John Kannamkulam and Wolfgang Kischel hand out flyers against racism in downtown Hanau

But it soon becomes clear in Hanau’s city center that there is interest in combating racism. After less than an hour, the flyers brought along are distributed. Even the city’s mayor was there for a short time. He was traveling downtown to talk to people about their concerns after the attack.

Kannamkulam wants to bring a few more flyers to the city’s cultural forum. In the house in the center of Hanau, there is a library, public reading rooms, and event rooms. Kannamkulam meets Elke Hohmann in one of the inviting open rooms with deep windows. She heads the Hanau City Adult Education Center.

Attack always present in Hanau

Here too, the attack is quick. There will be an open discussion group in the Kulturforum on two Fridays in March. Everyone can come and express their thoughts and concerns after the racist attack. “In Hanau, there is a lot of talk about the attack. I think it’s about processing and also about the feelings that go with it: worries, fears, and anger that can arise,” says Hohmann.

This would also affect the “International Weeks Against Racism”: “I cannot imagine that there will be an event that takes place during the” International Weeks Against Racism “that does not address the attack.”

For Kannamkulam, who has been experiencing racist hostility since childhood, combating racism begins with listening: “This is my first need. I want people to listen to me authentically and to turn to me credibly to understand this insult. Racism means dehumanization, it makes me an unequal person. ” 

But the work doesn’t stop there. A separate language had to develop from this. “My parents have had some racist experiences, but they haven’t talked about them and they’ve gotten smaller and smaller as people. They were speechless,” says Kannamkulam.

Germany International Weeks Against Racism in Hanau |  John Kannamkulam and Elke Hohmann (DW / L. Hänel)John Kannamkulam and VHS director Elke Hohmann in the cultural forum of the city of Hanau

He made the decision to fight for a more open and diverse society. Kannamkulam can look back on years in various committees and initiatives. For him, racism can only be combated by sensitizing people on the one hand and persecuting extreme right groups on the other with all the strength of the rule of law.

Kannamkulam still sees his hometown Hanau in a phase of mourning a few days after the attack. He compares the processing of the attack with the five phases of grief: not wanting to admit, anger, negotiation, grief, acceptance. He hoped that the Hanau city society could go through these psychological wave movements in order to ultimately find a new language of cooperation.

“But we mustn’t lose confidence,” he says at the end. “Given the centuries of migration history in this city, including my family and many other families, we will be able to do this together.”


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