Cats and Camper Vans: The Bizarrely Normal Life of the Neo-Nazi Terror Cell
The neo-Nazi terror cell of Uwe Böhnhardt, Beate Zschäpe and Uwe Mundlos managed to hide from the police for almost 14 years. But between murders, attacks and bank robberies, the trio led a surprisingly normal life. They kept cats, played computer games and even went on vacation several times together.
After 10 people were dead, two bombs had exploded and four post offices and six savings banks had been robbed, Uwe Mundlos, Uwe Böhnhardt and Beate Zschäpe went on a vacation together.
It was the summer of 2007. They had loaded up a van and driven north, and now they were staying at a camping site on the Baltic Sea island of Fehmarn, located near Germany’s border with Denmark. A few months earlier, the two men had killed a police officer and severely wounded her partner with a shot to the head. But now they were about to spend a few relaxing weeks on the beach.
Mundlos, Böhnhardt and Zschäpe, who went by the names Max, Gerry and Liese, strolled over to one of the nearby campers and asked whether anyone wanted to play cards. The campsite neighbors later said that they had quickly developed a friendly relationship with the trio. Böhnhardt bought an inflatable boat with an outboard motor, Mundlos went windsurfing with one of the neighbors and Zschäpe spent a lot of time sunbathing. Life was peaceful in that summer of 2007.
They didn’t discuss politics. None of the other campers had any idea that the three were leading a double life, that they had been on the run for almost 10 years, and that at least two of them were under the delusion that it was up to them to save the German people. Böhnhardt and Mundlos believed that enemies were lurking around every corner: in politics, in the media and — naturally — among leftists. They also thought they had enemies among ordinary Turkish greengrocers and owners of döner kebab stands.
They began running from the authorities in January 1998, when police found a pipe bomb, among other incriminating items, in a garage that Zschäpe had rented in the eastern city of Jena. Their lives as fugitives came to an end in November 2011, with the deaths of Böhnhardt and Mundlos in a camper in the eastern city of Eisenach. Thirteen years and nine months had passed in the interim.
What happened during that time? What was life like for the three fugitives? Was Zschäpe the lover of the two murderers, or was she their housekeeper? Or were the three merely a group of people that fate had thrown together, who could no longer find their way back to normal life?