News The Tattoo

German students react to school massacre

Outside a German high school. (Katie Grosser/YJI)

MESCHEDE, Calle, Germany – After a former student’s deadly attack on a German high school last week, teens are talking about what could have prevented the massacre.

Seventeen-year-old Tim Kretschmer gunned down a dozen people – nine students and three teachers – in his former school in the small town of Winnenden in Southern Germany on March 11, and killed three more during his flight before taking his own life.

The rampage sparked a public debate in German government, media and in communities about increased school security, further gun controls and other precautions.

Some German students interviewed said they didn’t see a need for more security.

“I still feel safe going to school,” says Felix Karger, 18, from Eslohe, Germany, who attends the Benediktiner Gymnasium in Meschede.

Karger said he didn’t think it likely that his school would be the site of a similar massacre.

“Metal detectors and security guards would be nonsense – students wouldn’t feel comfortable in school anymore,” said Anne König, 19 of Eversberg, another student at the Gymnasium der Benediktiner. “They would feel controlled and I think that this might be understood as a threat and therefore provoke problematic students into toying with the idea of running amok.”

Schools should be places where students feel comfortable and secure, said Königs’s classmate, Verena Köster, 19, from Warstein.

Even a law forbidding the possession of guns, Köster said, would “just make having a gun more interesting and might actually lead to students going on a rampage.”

Still, for some students, the possibility of school violence remains.

Karger admitted to “thinking about what I would do if something like that happened here.”

His classmate, Alina Wolf, 19, from Wennemen, agreed.

“I’m not scared,” Wolf said. “But Winnenden made me question the adolescent generation and how something like this is possible. But one thing is certain – there is hardly anything you can do to prevent people from running amok.”

Karger is of the same opinion.

“There will always be massacres like Winnenden, no matter how they change the law or what they do,” he said.

But Anne Stolpe, 18, of Wallen, attends the public Gymnasium in Meschede and concedes that maybe more security could have prevented the shooting.

“Here in Germany, schools don’t have as much security as in the U.S. and maybe that made it easier,” Stolpe said, for Kretschmer to go on his spree.

But Stolpe said schools shouldn’t be under constant surveillance through video cameras or the like. Instead, she said, there should be “more school psychologists to deal with the outsiders and actually take their problems seriously.”

It is clear that the teachers themselves cannot do very much more in terms of dealing with possible perpetrators, said König, whose parents both are teachers.

“It would be hard for teachers to recognize problematic cases and take care of them because they lack both the time and the right qualifications,” said König. “They have so many students throughout the day and can’t look inside their heads. If even the parents cannot see it coming, what are the teachers supposed to do?”

What teachers can do, students said, is talk about what happened in Winnenden in class.

Köster was disappointed that none of her teachers raised the topic.

“We should be talking about it because no school can claim that something like that would not happen to them,” said Köster. “It could happen anywhere. Teachers should talk about how we can react when people run amok.”

Stolpe, on the other hand, talked about the rampage in class and was happy to have done so.

“We discussed the shooting and it helped me to sort my thoughts and deal with what happened,” Stolpe said.

However, Stolpe said, talking about alternatives to violence is not the teachers’ obligation but a discussion that should be had at home.

“The problem is,” Stolpe said, “that many parents obviously don’t do that.”

Another heavily discussed topic is the use of violent computer games.

Köster is in favor of forbidding them because “playing violent computer games is very widely spread, especially with boys.”

Stolpe, however, thinks that the computer games actually help adolescents to reduce their aggression rather than to build it up.

“Of course those games can lead to a lost sense of reality, but I don’t think that they alone trigger a rampage,” Stolpe said.

Although König. Stolpe and Köster are aware of the problems and were shocked by the Winnenden shooting, none of them is actually scared of going to school.

“I don’t really think about it much because thinking about it doesn’t help,” said König. “Theoretically such a rampage could happen here, but there is nothing I can really do to stop it. I mean, what am I supposed to do, quit school? That would be the only way to be completely safe.”

Stolpe is of a similar opinion.

“It’s on the back of my mind all the time but I suppress the thoughts,” Stolpe said. “Most of us feel immune, I think, as if something like that wouldn’t happen here, at our school.”

But Stolpe admitted she has thought about who at her school might actually be capable of violence.

“I have only really heard of something like that happening in Germany twice – once seven years ago in Erfurt and now in Winnenden. I don’t think anyone here could actually do something like that. I don’t really think about the possibility of a rampage here at all,” Köster said.

Stolpe and Köster said the only thing they can do is to be more attentive.

“It’s hard for the school officials to figure out who truly is a threat and who is just bluffing,” said Stolpe. “There are outsiders everywhere and people who are bullied by others – whom do we take seriously and whom do we not?”

Perhaps, Köster said, “paying more attention to outsiders and putting a stop to bullying might prevent something like this from happening again.”

Katie Grosser is a Senior Reporter for Youth Journalism International.