Old Paradies Station Old Paradies Station

Center and periphery

The Paradiesbahnhof is a hub connecting the city centre with outlying locations. Stations, rails, bus stops and timetables symbolise connectedness, but also the distance between the different parts of the city and the surrounding countryside.

Public transport as a dangerous place

Trams and buses are the link through the city that thousands of people rely on every day. In this context, trams and buses have become and continue to become dangerous places and fear zones for people who are attacked by right-wing radicals and are not protected by bystanders.

In Jena, witnesses and left-wing historical records documented numerous assaults on migrants and visibly left-wing youths in public transportation and at train stations in the 1990s. The abundance of recorded incidents indicates the everyday nature of right-wing violence in the city. 

At the time, tram carriages were not interconnected and could become a trap if you got on with the wrong people. Contemporary witnesses report that they chose their carriage carefully and let some buses pass by. According to Margot Eulenstein, who was the commissioner for foreigners in the city of Jena in the early 1990s, foreign residents should sit in the seats immediately behind the driver.

Tram in Winzerla 1993, private collection/photo: Steffen Hege

Excerpt of a History of Violence: Attacks in Jena Transportation from February to August 2000

In February 2000, three right-wing extremist attacks were documented within just a few days. 

February 16: A 14-year-old neo-Nazi stabbed another youth in the stomach with a knife at the bus station.

February 19: A politically active refugee from Cameroon and member of The Voice was chased and threatened by neo-Nazis while getting off the tram in Leipziger Straße in North Jena. He was able to save himself in his apartment, but the pursuers continued to drum against the door for a long time.

February 23: Twenty neo-Nazis pursued and chased four youths who had been waiting at Westbahnhof for a train to Gera.

Two months later, neo-Nazis who had seriously injured a man from Zaire with a baseball bat in front of his apartment door in Lobeda used the tram to flee undetected. In August, a tram driver racially insulted a passenger who had fled because he had forgotten to stamp his ticket. He also physically assaulted him.


Not just history - violence in the Erfurt tram in 2021

A horrific scene from the Erfurt tram caused horror throughout Germany at the end of April 2021. In a short video, a neo-Nazi can be seen insulting and attacking a young Syrian man without being stopped by onlookers.

By October, the police were aware of two more racist attacks in Erfurt trams. In Jena, too, people are still being racially insulted and threatened on public transport. Some, for example, avoid speaking their native language on the tram because of this. 


Reflections on the spatial distance between centre and periphery

The city tour takes us through the city centre, but Winzerla and Lobeda are important places for the story told. This train station, where the trams to Winzerla left in the nineties, presents Jena as an unequal city. Who lived in the outskirts and depended on the tram ride to the centre, despite the possible dangers? Spatial distance, social inequality, and stigmatising narratives will be considered.

At first, spatial distance is simply a given. But if, as in Jena in the 1990s and today, resources are unequally distributed, i.e. if culture, shopping facilities, authorities or jobs are primarily in the centre, then distances create a power imbalance.

Samvel Babayan is a former asylum seeker who now himself runs collective housing for refugees in Jena's Spitzweidenweg. His life story demonstrates the importance of where you lived in the unequal city in the nineties. 

Samvel Babayan, Jena 2017, photo: Andreas Mehlich / Winzerla District Office

Samvel Babayan's story - a rocky road to the centre?

Samvel Babayan grew up in Armenia in the then Soviet Union and was working in Weißenfels as an officer in the Soviet Union's privileged Western Force when the Iron Curtain fell. When his company was scheduled to leave East Germany in 1993, he decided to stay and apply for asylum. He had a severely disabled daughter who could not have received the necessary medical care in Armenia at that time.

Like all asylum seekers who came to Thuringia, Babayan and his family first had to spend three days at the central reception centre in Tambach-Dietharz, in the middle of the mountains of the Thuringian Forest, far from the nearest town.

When his family was one of the first to be relocated to the new housing in Jena Forest, it was a huge step toward the centre. The housing was once again in a forest on a mountain, but at the foot of this mountain was the third largest city in Thuringia, Jena.

Central reception centre in Tambach-Dietharz and reception centre in Jena, Google Maps

In the interview, Babayan describes his arrival and life in the forest as follows:

We were scared when we came and [saw] this wall, there was still barbed wire and everything, and many of us were wondering, like - are they protecting us from someone, or someone from us? We thought they were protecting someone from us, probably. Although luckily there were no demonstrations there, because it was too far for the right-wingers to go.

Interview with Samvel Babayan, 22.10.2020

Original soundbite Samvel Babayan

When we had appointments in the city, I very often pushed both children through the forest, Mädertal, Magdelstieg and down to the children's clinic, and then pushed them up again. They were small, so both in the pushchair, and I pushed them. Only a handful of times did the housing director drive us down in his car. Otherwise, we had to walk up and down. I was exhausted.

Interview with Samvel Babayan, 22.10.2020

Original soundbite Samvuel Babayan

After the family had finally received a temporary residence permit for humanitarian reasons, they moved into the city as soon as possible. For a short time, they lived close to the centre in a Protestant community centre on Magdelstieg.

Then, in a roundabout way, like so many newly arrived people in Jena, the Babayan family found housing in Winzerla. Once again, they had landed on the outskirts of the city. This time, however, the social distance to the city centre was more important than the physical distance.

Reception centre in the forest, Jena city centre, Winzerla, Google Maps

Social inequality

As a result of the upheaval in 1989/90, the gap between rich and poor widened in Jena, as it did in all East German cities. The resulting inequality became imprinted on the cityscape.

The newly built prefabricated housing estates became symbols of the failed promises of the SED regime. Many of those who could afford it moved out of Winzerla and Lobeda into newly built homes in the Ringwiese and the suburbs or into renovated old buildings in the centre.

Types of housing in Jena

The simultaneity of the upheavals in all areas of life was a major challenge in the 1990s. Everywhere, people experienced a break in their biography and decline. However, due to the departure of younger and better educated people, problems that occurred were spatially concentrated in the prefabricated housing areas. 


Social Segregation in Jena

Social Code-II-quotas, population and social segregation index in relation to inner city areas, prefabricated blocks and suburbs in Jena 2005-2014, in: Helbig, Marcel/ Jähnen, Stefanie: Wie brüchig ist die soziale Architektur unserer Städte? Trends and Analyses of Segregation in 74 German Cities, WZB Discussion Paper, No. P 2018-001, Social Science Research Center Berlin (WZB), Berlin 2018, p. 191.

The German Social Code II (SGB II) regulates the benefits paid by the state to unemployed people and to their dependent family members who are unable to work. This refers primarily to recipients of unemployment benefit II (Hartz IV) and social benefits (family members, especially children of people receiving unemployment benefit II). The SGB II rate thus roughly indicates how many people are only able to make a living with state support. 


In an interview, an educator who worked in Winzerla at the time recalled that many students struggled with problems in their families at home. Numerous families had been disrupted by the upheaval, many parents were single parents, fathers or mothers were commuting, and children were experiencing economic problems first hand.

In this situation, the social authorities lost control of the district. This created more favourable conditions for right-wing extremist networking and space grabbing. Right-wingers marked the supermarket courtyard and the underpass at Damaschkeweg as „their“ territory through their physical presence and graffiti.

Even if they had other attitudes, the residents of Winzerla did very little to prevent the presence of radical right-wingers, and only stepped up in individual cases, such as when, for example, members of the Protestant Dietrich Bonhoeffer community covered up radical right-wing graffities in the underpass at the Damaschkeweg stop. 


Causes of East German Right-Wing Radicalism: GDR or Transformation?

Sociologist Wilhelm Heitmeyer has described the conditions above and other circumstances as „social disintegration“ and cited it as the main reason for right-wing extremist violence among the youth in East Germany.

Heitmeyer's theory, according to which right-wing youth need recognition and social integration above all, became the basis of youth work with right-wing radicals in Winzerla in the 1990s, which will be the focus of the next stop on the tour.

With his theory of social disintegration, Heitmeyer embodies one of the positions in the dispute as to whether right-wing violence in the 1990s is more attributable to continuities from the GDR (i.e. insufficient historical consciousness due to the myth of the anti-fascist state, a cover-up of the problem of right-wing violence by the SED regime, downplaying and depoliticisation as „rowdyism“ among other things ) or to the social ruptures, existential insecurity, and devaluation experiences in the transformation process after 1989.

While determining the causes of right-wing violence in East Germany in the pre-1989/90 period enables the West German majority society to project the problem of racist violence onto the already failed socialist state, East Germans use the reference to the consequences of the transformation as the main cause of right-wing violence in part to blame West German dominance and avoid critical self-questioning.

In this walking tour, we accept that the search for causes of right-wing violence in Jena is complex and will explore contributing factors both before and after 1989/90.

Divided Periphery

More people who personally experienced the upheaval as a decline and additionally witnessed a decay of public order and divided values in their surroundings rather lived in Winzerla and Lobeda than in other parts of the city. However, due to the inexpensive housing, many immigrants also lived in Winzerla and Lobeda. Lobeda, for example, became a centre for the Russian-German community.

Winzerla and Lobeda were socially precarious areas, in some places visibly occupied by right-wing radicals, but they were also migrant spaces. Samvel Babayan's memories of his time in Winzerla in the second half of the 1990s give an idea of the burden, even danger, that life in divided peripheral areas could mean for migrants :

We were on the third floor. The two floors below us were Nazis. [...] It was terrible when we moved in, and so we started looking for an apartment again. Because: terror, terror and terror.

Interview with Samvel Babayan, 22.10.2020

Original soundbite Samvel Babayan

In Winzerla I was really afraid to walk alone

More memories of Samvel Babayan about the neighbourhood in Winzerla

In Winzerla, I was really afraid to walk alone. Funnily enough, only in our entrance, in other entrances there were Russian people, late repatriates. All of them were nice. And interestingly, when there was shouting or noise in our entrance, nobody came out to see what was going on. Nobody, everybody closed their doors nicely, and that was it.

Interview with Samvel Babayan, 22.10.2020

Original soundbite Samvel Babayan

And I had a handicapped parking space right in front of the house, just because of my daughter. Every evening when I came home from work, there was a car there. Every time. First I would ring the bell, some would come, drive away, some wouldn't respond at all. They looked out of the window and saw I was there, they didn’t care. [I called the police]. They came and said, 'Your documents now!' I said, 'I called you.' 'Your documents!' After three, four times, the policemen came and said, 'Never call us again. We are not in charge. Call the public order office.' I said, 'In the evening, the public order office, I can't do that. Where do you want me to go?' 'Yeah, you don't call us.'

Interview with Samvel Babayan, 22.10.2020

Original soundbite Samvel Babayan

Stigmatising stories

Social inequality in the city was compounded during the transformation era by attempts to distance „better“ und „worse“ neighbourhoods from one another through prejudice. The „light city“ und „boomtown“ branding that Jena has created for itself is geographically tied to the city centre, to the university and the university tower, and perhaps to the new Zeiss campus.

The Jena in which the NSU was able to establish itself and had its networks is apparently located in a completely different place, in the prefabricated housing estates of Winzerla and Lobeda with their youth clubs. In actual fact, however, the picture was more complex and the entire city was riddled with fear zones and safe spaces. For example, the shop from which the main murder weapons came was only a stone's throw away from the university.

Questions for our view of the city

Which places in the city are described as fear spaces and by whom? Which places where radical right-wing attacks took place do we know other stories about, and which places are reduced to fear and violence in the narratives?

What do we associate with Johannisstraße in the city centre, which was a fear zone for visitors of the Junge Gemeinde Stadtmitte in the nineties on Tuesday evenings? What are the widespread associations with the prefabricated housing estate in Winzerla, where, at the same time, Samvel Babayan was racially threatened by his neighbours?

The narrated distance, i.e. the shifting of the problem of right-wing violence to a remote location, also affected Jena as a whole city in the nationwide outcry after the NSU exposed itself. The boomtown of Jena became the „brown East“. This made it easier for the West German majority society to distance itself from the violence that had been permitted for years.

The Doner Kebab Shop as a Fear Zone?

Steven Uhly's Visit to Jena in November 2011

On 18 November 2011, the ZDF magazine aspekte broadcast a feature in which the Munich-based writer Steven Uhly visited Jena. He has a history of migration through his Bengali father. Accompanied by cameras at the Paradiesbahnhof and in downtown Jena, Uhly reported that he perceives „the East“ as a fear zone and does not feel safe, even in the university city of Jena. From his West German perspective, he questioned the city's internal symbolic division into light city and prefabricated estate.

Samvel Babayan, who now runs an asylum centre in Jena's Schulstraße, commented in the interview:

When this NSU story came out, a reporter came to Jena and made a film, and he was so scared of Jena, he was a Turkish reporter, he came from the West. 'Oh, now I'm in Jena, now I'm scared' and so on. I was so angry. [...] He sat in a Turkish snack bar and was afraid. If he had a reason to be afraid, in such a Nazi city, why were there so many kebab shops and Asian restaurants [...]? And he sat there, drank his tea, ate his kebab and said: 'I'm afraid. I'll be happy [when] I'm out of here.' That was shot in a very, very fake way.

Interview with Samvel Babayan, 22.10.2020

Original soundbite Samvel Babayan

What made him, as someone who had lived in Jena for a long time and had many experiences with right-wing violence, so angry about the television feature was that the reporter felt threatened by right-wing violence in, of all places, a Turkish snack bar, a migrant space in the city.

The reporter overlooked the fact that this place was a safe space for Babayan, in a city that has many fear zones. The sweeping nature of the piece infuriated Babayan, as it did many other Jena residents. Uhly later distanced himself from the „undifferentiated report.“

Text: Emilia Henkel