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A retrospective after 25 years

Tuesday, August 22nd, 2017 | World News

The pictures of the burning sunflower house in Rostock-Lichtenhagen went around the world in 1992. 25 years later there is much different. There is a memorial culture in the city, but some still struggle with it.

Jochen Schmidt will never forget these pictures. "If there's only one tensioning ceiling over you, and you hear screams from below, you see fire and smell smoke, if you do not go left and not right, you'll lose the courage." On 24 August 1992, Schmidt was a hospitant of a ZDF camera team in Rostock – more precisely in the district of Lichtenhagen, in the Sonnenblumenhaus, so called because of a facade image. In front of the block of flats, one of the most difficult foreigner-hostile riots of German post-war history. They became symbols of racist violence.

"And then everyone up there really has silently finished up with life," remembers Schmidt. With about 150 former Vietnamese contract workers, who lived in the house, and colleagues, he rescued himself to the eleventh floor and then to the roof. Downstairs residents and neo-Nazis attacked the dormitory for Vietnamese workers and set a few apartments on fire.

  Registration by a needle eye
At the time of the neighbors the head office for asylum seekers from Mecklenburg-Vorpommern was located. For weeks she was completely overcrowded. All asylum seekers had to register through this bottleneck before being distributed to lodgings throughout the state. Many camped in front of the house in the middle of the residential area – without toilets and food. Some did their emergency. In the shops, theft increased rapidly. There were warnings and protests among the population. But those responsible did not react.

From August 22, 25 years ago, the tense situation escalated. Young people and local residents gathered, throwing stones and brand sets on the house and the police. "In the beginning, the inhabitants were on the spot, the young people, who were completely hopeless," says the SPD regional deputy and chairman of the local council, Ralf Mucha. "I am aware of the fact that racists from the Rostock scene were among them."

 From August 22 to 28, 1992, up to 1200 mostly youthful right-radical perpetrators rampaged in front of the Central Asylum-seekers' Home in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern in Rostock-Lichtenhagen. The pictures went around the world. (Source: Jens Kalaene / dpa)

Neo-Nazis from all over Germany
Later neo-Nazis came from all over Germany. The police did not manage the situation. On August 24th, the authorities decided, after long hesitation, to vacate the reception. From then on, the violence of the neo-Nazis and the thousands of people who were slaughtered finally turned against the Vietnamese living in the neighborhood. Several apartments were lit.

The former foreign affairs commissioner Rostocks, Wolfgang Richter, stayed in the house for several days. He remembers many conversations with local residents who said, "But we do not mean the Vietnamese, we've been living with them for ten years, but that did not help them, because this xenophobic violence, once broken, did not make any difference . " Schmidt says: "Rostock is something like a prototype of right-wing violence, and how easily agitators can move masses."

The sunflower house today
The meadow in front of the house, on which the scenes took place, does not exist today. For many years the area has been built before the eleven-storey high-rise building – with a service center, a home improvement store and a parking lot. It has become the center of the district. There are shops, snacks and medical practices. "I am opposed to saying that Lichtenhagen is a focal point for the city, which is not the case," says the SPD man Mucha.

The Sonnenblumenhaus in Rostock-Lichtenhagen, which was the site of hostile riots in August 1992, was taken on 15.08.2017. (Source: Bernd Wüstneck / dpa)

Lichtenhagen, which means today: a good 14,000 inhabitants, 5.7 per cent foreigners and an unemployment rate slightly below the Rostock average. "It is a mixed district," Mucha points out, in which entrepreneurs as well as "educational families" lived. The community accommodation for refugees "is accepted, it is supported," emphasizes Mucha.

Memorial week in different places
During the memorial week various thematic stelae are inaugurated in various places: at the Sonnenblumenhaus, the town hall, the "Ostsee-Zeitung", the police inspectorate and the left "youth alternative center". The role of media, politics and the police as well as the left protesters should be taken into account.

Rostock is "a remarkable example of the fact that we can learn from history, even from the most recent times," says the chairman of the Central Council of German Sinti and Roma, Romani Rose. "It deserves recognition and respect."

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