It was Thursday, 30th April, 2015. I don’t know exactly when I read the message, but the post on Facebook at 5.32am simply read “Does anyone what was happening in Oberursel last night? SWAT team, explosives unit… where was it and why?”
Just as I was leaving to head into town the local radio answered the “where” part of that question: near Edeka on the Hohemarkstraße. Somewhere I was about to drive past. Minutes later as I passed the house number 143, there were police vehicles everywhere. I estimate that there were about 10 police cars and at least one van containing special equipment.
Hohemarkstraße 143 in Oberursel where the arrests took place
Soon information started to come out about the arrests of a couple who had been living there, apparently police had searched a flat and a car, finding explosives and firearms.
After I had finished my appointment in the town, I headed home picked up my camera and notepad and headed back on foot. Yes, this really was too close for comfort if I was able to walk to the scene of such a major incident. The roads were now crawling not only with police, but with radio cars, camera teams and later even a complete outside broadcast unit.
Some neighbours were talking to the reporters, but otherwise there was not much to see. Police were all over the place, with one guarding the entrance to the flat itself but many more underneath in the garage. Sometimes people in white protective suits could be seen moving around in the flat.
Then we received word that police were searching the Kanonenstraße – the road which runs out of Oberusel and up to the Feldberg, the highest point in the area.
I walked home, got back into my car and drove there to take a look. Sure enough, the road was blocked off and police were walking up the road, paying particular attention to the woods on one side of it.
I took some photos, and then went for a walk over the road on a footbridge for a better view. Some people passed by and asked if I knew what was going on. Then I realised that even more police were searching the woods on the other side of the bridge. In total, I now know that there were 200 people involved in the search.
The Kanonenstraße leading to the Feldberg
Since the police were not saying anything and press conference was scheduled in Wiesbaden for later that afternoon, I called the editorial office of the Oberurseler Woche to let them know what little I knew so far, and headed back to my own office to send them my photos.
After the press conference, even BBC news had picked up the story, and we knew how serious the situation was. A German national with Turkish roots and his Turkish wife had been arrested, with the Landeskriminalamt saying that they had not only found chemicals that could have been used to make explosives, but also a pipe bomb and 100 rounds of ammunition. There were also reports of an anti-tank rocket launcher.
Speculation began as to what the target could have been and almost immediately – although unconfirmed – the cycle race that was due to take place on Friday was being discussed. There were reports that the couple had been under observation for some time and in recent days one of them had been seen walking along the course on a number of occasions.
Finally, at 7.30pm at the beginning of the town council meeting it was announced that the cycle race was being cancelled. The meeting continued as planned, but there was a subdued feel to it.
I remember a distinct feeling the moment it hit home, that if the race had been the target, I would have been standing within about 50 metres of that flat, taking photographs of the race for the newspaper, with my children standing beside me. I don’t like to think about what the scene would have been if the race really had been attacked at that point.
Friday, 1st May, was a strange day. There was an eerie silence to the northern end of Oberursel. The trains and buses were not running, even though the race had been called off. Even the information systems on the platforms had been turned off. Being a bank holiday, there was hardly any traffic on the roads. Normally the roads would be lined with spectators for the race, but when I went out for a walk there were very few people to be seen.
The flat in the Hohemarkstraße still had one policeman in it, watching out of the window, and a police car was parked round the corner next to the N24 van. But even they left at around 1pm.