A Perfect Crime —
Streaming giant’s first German documentary will look at case of reunification official who was shot dead at long range
Three bullets fired from a long-range rifle, a prime suspect who died before he could confess, and enough unanswered questions to spawn numerous conspiracy theories: the death in 1991 of Detlev Karsten Rohwedder had all the hallmarks to become Germany’s version of John F Kennedy’s assassination.
The murder of the Social Democrat politician tasked with overseeing the de-nationalisation of thousands of state-owned businesses after the merger of East and West Germany will attract renewed speculation from Friday with the launch of A Perfect Crime, the first German documentary commissioned by the US streaming giant Netflix.
The four-part programme reconsiders Rohwedder’s death from the views of three possible perpetrators: the Red Army Faction (RAF) terror group who claimed responsibility for the murder in a statement left behind at the scene, disgruntled former members of East Germany’s secret police, or an unspecified West German “deep state” actor using the spectre of extreme-left militants as a cover.
The series launches a week before the 30th anniversary of German reunification on 3 October, an event it portrays not as a giant rapturous party in front of the Brandenburg Gate but the advent of a much darker period, marked by rising unemployment, growing anti-government protests and the beginning of new distrust and resentment between east and west that lingers to this day.
“Modern Germany is seen as this very mature and clean country, but there are still phantom pains from very recent violence,” said the programme’s producer and co-author, Christian Beetz. “We continue to be a divided country.”
As manager of the Treuhand (Trust agency), Rohwedder oversaw a process that would lead to 94% of companies owned by the socialist state in East Germany being taken over by West German and international investors, with millions of previously secure jobs axed in the process.
With increasingly aggressive demonstrations outside the Treuhand offices in Berlin, and Helmut Kohl’s government pushing to overhaul the East German economy at breakneck speed, Rohwedder sought to leave the role in December 1990. But Kohl talked him around, former finance minister Theo Waigel recalls in the documentary.
Four months later, the 58-year-old was dead, shot through the window of the first-floor library at his home in Düsseldorf. Only the ground floor had been fitted with bullet-proof glass.
A statement left at the allotment where the sniper had taken aim claimed the crime for the Red Army Faction, also known as the Baader-Meinhof gang, at the time going through its third reincarnation following the deaths and arrests of its founding members. Criminal investigators found that the plate used to print the group’s logo matched that used on previous letters.
A hair was found at the same spot, but techniques to extract its DNA were only developed 10 years later. By then the hair’s match, RAF member Wolfgang Grams, had died in a shootout during his attempted arrest in 1993, under circumstances that remain unclear.
Alternative theories about the forces behind Rohwedder’s murder began to surface soon after, including a 1993 book by an author who would go on to publish works putting forward conspiracy theories about 9/11 and the moon landings, many claiming the RAF’s “third generation” never actually existed.
In A Perfect Crime, similar doubts are raised by a former undercover officer for Germany’s Federal Criminal police, interviewed anonymously, who is sceptical that after 1987 the RAF was able to carry out “precision attacks” such as those on Rohwedder or Deutsche Bank chairman Alfred Herrhausen, who died in a hi-tech roadside bomb attack in 1989.
— more on the Guardian