Cologne is setting a sign against racism, populism and violence with a light show.
On New Year’s Eve 2015, hundreds of North African men gathered around the central station of Cologne, Germany. They threatened and raped women passing by. Yet, the police did not interfere due to a lack of information and preparation. These terrible events were then exploited by right-wing political parties such as the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party and used as a populist spin to discredit refugees.
The citizens of Cologne, known to be loud, colorful people who are open to everybody, refused to accept that their city would be remembered as a place of fear, violence and hostility. This New Year’s Eve, the city installed a light show at the cathedral, next to the central station. The weeks prior to New Year’s Eve, all the inhabitants of the city were encouraged to send words that they relate with Cologne to the city council. More than 90% of these words then appeared in the light show. “Tolerant”, “peaceful” and “welcoming” were only some of these words that were featured in the show, quite literally casting a positive light on the city.
Later that night, around 400 North African men arrived at the central station. The police did not let them leave the station due to the fear that they would attempt to repeat the sex attacks of 2015. According to The Telegraph, “Security forces were taking no chances after they were criticised last year for failing to stop hundreds of robberies and sexual assaults around the city’s main station that were blamed mostly on men of North African and Arab origin”, thereby detaining them. At the same time, the acts of the police received much criticism by many who viewed this as an incident of “racial profiling”.
The press reactions were enormous. Some journalists accused the police to be racist. They stated the police would have made use of racial profiling in order to choose which passengers had to be controlled. In other newspapers, the men were criticized for an intentionally provocative act. Most importantly, however, events like last year’s did not take place and the people of Cologne can look forward to the upcoming season of Cologne Carnival.