20 years after the Erfurt fury: things have changed at school

Updated 04/23/2022 12:10

  • It has been 20 years since 16 people lost their lives in a rage at a school in Erfurt.
  • What has changed since then in the Gutenberg-Gymnasium itself and in German schools in general – and what hasn’t.

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For months, director Christiane Alt has been receiving inquiries about the anniversary of the attack on the Gutenberg-Gymnasium in Erfurt. The fact that the media plays every year, “has been extremely annoying for 20 years, so to speak,” says the woman, who was already running the school on the outskirts of Erfurt at the time. This year is particularly stressful. Always the same questions.

“I think it’s irrelevant to keep going back to the day’s events. There’s merciless, endless archival material for that. That’s not what it’s about. And certainly not after 20 years. So when I’m asked, ‘You can say me of the day back then? ” No, I don’t want to tell it anymore, “says Alt.

On April 26, 2002, a former Gutenberg High School student killed 16 people. The nineteen year old shoots twelve teachers, a boy and a student, a secretary, a police officer and finally himself: it is the first school massacre of this magnitude in a German school. Previously, gun rages were a familiar phenomenon in the United States.

What has changed in German schools after the killing spree and what hasn’t

There is no doubt that the day was traumatic for all 700 students, teaching staff, emergency doctors and police officers. Today, 20 years later, we must rather ask ourselves what has resulted for the education system. “Because what happened then was not unique in Germany. There have been repetitions and we cannot rule out that it will happen again.” Events like those in Winnenden or Ansbach in 2009 or more recently in January at the University of Heidelberg come to mind.

Much has changed since Erfurt. Based on what happened in Erfurt, Thuringia and other federal states have checked the safety of their schools and installed and expanded alarm systems. Even from Alt’s point of view, this chapter is not closed. “We are all familiar with the desolate financial situation in the education sector or even with the school authorities.”

In addition to the technical requirements, the Thuringian School Law was also revised with direct reference to the Gutenberg-Gymnasium incident. Today it provides that high school students can obtain the Realschule certificate at the end of the 10th grade. The offender was expelled from high school and left without a degree. Since he was of age at the time, the school did not inform the parents of their son’s expulsion. This is also different today. Parents of adult students will be notified of special events by the school.

Erfurt Gutenberg-Gymnasium: the lessons were repeated only after three years

The most important step for Alt is prevention. According to his own statements, almost two decades ago he had been campaigning for schools to have social workers and a school psychological service.

On school days, around 650 students and 60 teachers come and go at the Gutenberg-Gymnasium. After April 26, 2002, extensive reconstruction and conversion work was carried out on the building. The school was not resumed at home until three years later.

“Then we got evicted and then they completely changed the school,” recalls former student Nathalie, now 32. “Then a lot of very famous teachers left. And even your home environment – the schoolyard and the tree you liked – suddenly it was all gone and different.” Daily school life was “really bad” long after the fact. Many would have tried to leave school. Nathalie wanted to change too, but it didn’t work out. Years later, she still ruled out an apartment near the school. The memory is too painful. She doesn’t like crowds, gun movies annoy her. But the memories of her fade over the years.

Commemorative event once a year

What has remained constant since 2002 are the annual commemorative events. In 2022, the day will be designed a little differently than in previous years, says director Alt. Victims should be portrayed in more detail in speeches with parts of their biographies. After 20 years, apart from 13 teachers, there are no more people in the school who are contemporary witnesses.

At the center, the commemoration is about being close to the victims, says Alt. Bringing them closer to those who didn’t know them, to convey the extent of the loss and respect for life. “One day there will no longer be contemporary witnesses in the form of teachers. Even then, the commemoration will be part of this school.” (dpa / tar)
© dpa

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