When the judge asks whether one of the defendants has anything to say, Muharrem E. stands up and says that he loves his daughter very much, despite everything.
His 20-year-old daughter Fatma is sitting on a plain metal chair. She has just testified as a witness, and in doing so she has accused her father, her mother and her brother, who are all sitting in the dock. When Fatma hears what her father has to say, she breaks down, starts crying, trembles and hides her eyes behind her black curls.
In courtroom B 309 of the Munich District Court, Muharrem E. and his daughter are separated by a space of only a few feet, by a small stretch of green carpeting and a wooden table. But what really separates the two is a fallacy: That Muharrem E., who left his home in southeastern Anatolia 34 years ago to emigrate to Germany, ever believed that he had integrated into German life. Because in his head, he had never left Anatolia.
Muharrem E., who is wearing corduroy trousers, sits down and places his thin hands in his lap. When his daughter leaves the courtroom, she is accompanied by a witness assistant. Muharrem E. lowers his head. Fatma's mother, Nimet, 54, lowers her head, and so does the brother. None of them looks at Fatma.
The family stands accused of having kidnapped a young German man one December morning at a Munich subway station, and of beating and threatening to kill him.
As they sit in the courtroom, they listen to what the judge has to say, and to the words of other witnesses, especially police officers, and of an expert witness. They listen to the story of their family being pieced together bit by bit, and the longer they listen to this story, the closer they come to understanding that it's a true story.
They left their apartment on Dec. 13, the date of the alleged crime, a Wednesday, shortly before 6 a.m. It was still dark out. They climbed into their white Fiat Tipo and drove away from their neighborhood in western Munich. The men sat in front -- Mehmet, the brother, and Muharrem E., the father -- both wearing caps and black leather gloves. They drove across the city's Central Ring and another eight kilometers until they had reached the subway station, where they waited.
They spotted Sascha as he walked along the sidewalk, passing the heavy traffic pushing its way into the city during morning rush hour. When Sascha reached the covered escalator, the two men grabbed him, first by his tracksuit and then by his right arm, and threw him onto his back.
"You know why," said the father, Muharrem E, even though he and Sascha had never met before.
Sascha, a 19-year-old blonde, his hair cropped short, a boy who liked playing football and was learning the interior decorating trade, had just packed his tape measure, a pair of scissors and his lunch into his bag. As was usual at this time of the day, he was on his way from his apartment to school, wearing tennis shoes with loosely tied shoelaces. And yes, he knew what they meant.
He was a German who had been dating Fatma, the family's youngest daughter, for two years. The couple had been living together for the past few weeks. Sascha felt the men's hands on his back and saw the car, with the mother sitting in the back seat.
"I'm not getting in that car," Sascha said.
Despite his protests, the men dragged him into the car and the father slapped him across the face twice. He then looked at the boy.
"Where is she?" he screamed.
Sascha knew that Fatma was at home in his apartment. She was cleaning the kitchen and getting ready for an appointment with a gynecologist. She was thinking about Sascha, and about the possibility that she could be pregnant.
Fatma knew that her parents had been trying to talk to her for some time, and that they had even threatened her. They wanted her to come home, but Fatma was no longer interested in going home.
"Where?" the father screamed again.
Sascha was silent. He was thinking of Fatma.
"Son of a bitch!" the father screamed at Sascha.
They wanted his mobile phone. Sascha, who was in tears by this point, kept insisting that he didn't have a mobile phone, until they pulled it from his pocket. They wanted to call Fatma, hoping that she would answer the call if she recognized Sascha's number on her screen.
They drove to a nearby athletic field in the Moosach neighborhood and parked the car. The brother turned off the engine, switched off the light and dialed Fatma's number.
But, as coincidence would have it, Fatma didn't answer. The men became furious. The mother sat in the back seat, saying nothing.
"I'd really like to kill you! The police won't find anything, I'm wearing gloves," the brother screamed.
"Give me back my daughter or I'll kill you!" the father screamed.
The family had already purchased one-way tickets from Munich to Istanbul, and one of them was issued in Fatma's name. Their plan was to return to the home they had left decades earlier and take their daughter with them. To them it suddenly seemed to be the best solution.
Muharrem E. sat in the car for a while and considered his options. It became light outside and started to rain. Then he ordered his son to drive to Sascha's apartment.
'Don't Say anything Bad, Don't Hit, Don't Curse'
When Sascha told them that he didn't have a key, that Fatma had it, they threatened to undress him.
Mehmet suddenly paused for a moment and said that he needed to use the bathroom.
It was a moment in which he may have realized that he lived in two worlds that are difficult to reconcile. In one of these worlds Mehmet is a German. He lives like a German, and he thinks and feels like a German. In the other world he is the son of a Turkish man, a man who, like his son, tries to think like a German, but is ultimately unsuccessful.
Sascha told the men that he also needed to go to the bathroom. When he had finished, he waited in the convenience store at the gas station. Sascha saw the father standing guard at the door, and he knew that this would be his only chance to get away. He knew that Muharrem E., 59 years old, an older, slower man, was his only adversary.
Sascha looked at the woman behind the register and said nothing. He turned around and started running. Just as he was about to reach the door he felt a rough hand grabbing him, but he managed to tear himself away. He stumbled and then kept running, past the pumps and into the street, losing his shoes, his tape measure and his scissors along the way, but managing to escape his captors.
A short time later, at 10:16 a.m., four-and-a-half hours after the family had left their building, the police were standing at the door. "Don't say anything bad, don't hit, don't curse," Muharrem E. told the police officers. He raised his arms like a man who is innocent. At the police station, Mehmet wrote a text message to his sister, who lives in Turkey: "Something went wrong. I'll call when I get home."
He was mistaken.
Mehmet never returned home. That afternoon he was taken into custody awaiting trial, as were his father and his mother -- in separate cells.
They would meet again, for the first time since that day in December, in room B 309 at the Munich District Court. But they don't exchange glances or words. They see Sascha sitting next to his attorney, the boy they abducted, a boy who is still terrified.
A week after the incident, the newspapers reported the story of an abduction, a case involving a Turkish family. The case, says the chairman of Munich's advisory board for foreigners, is a "sad and exasperating" example of failed integration. The family, he says, has learned nothing. In fact, says Christa Stewens, the Bavarian minister for social affairs, they have forfeited their right of residency. Those who, like the father, stubbornly refuse to respect a human being's right of self-determination and the democratic rule of law should be sent back to their country, says Stewens.
In none of the newspaper reports was it pointed out that Muharrem E. had been a seemingly well-integrated German resident for a long time.
He came to Germany in 1973, a single young man who had grown up in a town called Bezni in the southwestern portion of Turkey's Adiyaman Province, a barren, mostly flat landscape with many ruins. His father was an imam, and he had seven siblings. After attending school for five years in Turkey, Muharrem E. became a steelworker and went into the military.
After arriving in Munich, he soon found work with Krauss-Maffei, a weapons manufacturer. His job included driving a forklift and moving steel parts around the company's warehouse. He wore blue overalls, a blue parka and safety shoes. He got married in Turkey, and the couple's first child was a girl. As soon as he managed to find a bigger apartment in Munich, Muharrem E. brought his family to Germany -- and a new life.
They had another son and then a second daughter, Fatma. Every morning at 4 a.m., Muharrem E. rode his bicycle the three kilometers to the factory where he worked. He was often early and had to wait there until the factory gates were opened. He always rode home for lunch, where he would sit down to a hot meal, usually meat, and then ride his bicycle back to work. But even then he often arrived early.
Muharrem E. was more punctual than most Germans.
According to one of his coworkers, he never complained while driving and loading his forklift. In his 34 years at the factory, he was never late for work -- until the day of his arrest. That was the first time Muharrem E. ever pulled a no show at work. His overalls, the uniform Muharrem E. had been wearing since the days when he was still considered a good foreigner, remained in his locker.
His eldest daughter, Turan, became a dentist's assistant in Turkey. His youngest daughter, Fatma, finished high school in Munich and, like Sascha, entered a trainee program in interior design. Muharrem E.'s son, Mehmet, now 26, attended a business school after finishing high school, then a vocational school. After working part-time at MAN, a vehicle manufacturer, he entered a training program at the company in warehouse management, received his journeyman's certificate, spent his Saturdays learning to be an industrial mechanic, and was eventually hired full-time at MAN. During this period he also decided to attend night school to complete a business degree, attending classes every day after completing his early shift at MAN.
He bought a four-room condo built in the 1950sand, with his father's help, paid off the €46,000 mortgage.
These are the things Mehmet tells the judge when asked about his family history. The judge establishes three files. None of the files contains any entries for prior offences.
It's impossible to talk to Muharrem E. about his life. He is in prison and he's not interested in talking. But his eldest daughter Turan is willing to talk, about her father and about the hardships faced by a Turkish family that did its best to make it in Germany.
'You Can't Be Together with Her'
Muharrem E., says Turan, respected the law -- he never even ran a red light. He wanted to make sure, says Turan, that he would never make a mistake.
Turan, now 30, returned to Turkey, to Istanbul, 10 years ago when she married. When she read the text message her brother had sent her after the abduction, she immediately flew to Munich.
A few days after the hearing, Turan pays a visit to the Turkish Islamic Association, where she talks to the staff and walks through the rooms where her father often helped out, where the organization offers German language courses and where it holds open houses for German neighbors, hoping to break down their prejudices. She sits down in the office and pushes her sunglasses into her long hair, which she wears in a ponytail. She says that the family didn't tell her about her sister's German boyfriend for a long time.
Sascha and Fatma met in front of the bulletin board at their vocational school, when they were both signing up for classes on the first day of the program. The first thing he noticed about Fatma was her dark locks.
They went out for ice cream a few times. Then they began writing letters to each other. Fatma left one of Sascha's love letters on her desk one day, in the room she shared with her brother. Mehmet saw the letter, read it and wanted to know what it meant. That was three years ago.
Mehmet decided to meet Sascha. When the two met at a streetcar station, he asked Sascha whether he was serious about Fatma. Sascha nodded, which was enough for Mehmet. Later, when Fatma's mother asked Mehmet what was wrong with her daughter, who had begun wearing makeup, Mehmet told her that she was in love with Sascha, a German boy.
The brother and the mother called Turan in Turkey and told her the story.
Father Muharrem kept on reading his Koran, as he did every evening, and pulling out his prayer rug from a closet in the bedroom, laying it out on the floor and praying until sundown. Then he would watch the news on television, as he did every evening. But he knew nothing about Fatma and Sascha.
Whenever Muharrem E. visited the Turkish Islamic Association, he would laugh, tell jokes and serve tea and Coca-Cola.
Sascha and Fatma saw each other every morning, during school breaks and in the school's workshop, where she sewed and he upholstered furniture, and on the S4 streetcar in the afternoon.
Muharrem E. was kept in the dark about the romance for two years.
But when the two began skipping class to see each other and their grades suffered, and when Fatma failed her exams, her father became concerned. Suddenly Muharrem E., who knew that his youngest daughter had had a high fever as a baby and had been a slow learner, and who wanted her to complete her training, asked her brother and mother what was wrong with Fatma.
They told him.
One morning in the spring of 2006, Mehmet confronted Sascha on the school grounds and asked him why he was in love with Fatma. Sascha responded: "I just happen to love her."
"You can't be together with her," Mehmet said.
From then on Fatma was told to be home on time, and if she wasn't, perhaps because her train was late, her brother would hit her. He did it because his father had told him to.
The family went to Turkey on vacation in the summer. Fatma missed Sascha, and when they returned to Munich she went to Sascha's apartment and spent the night with him, for the first time.
The family reported the incident to the police, but they were told that Fatma was of age and living in Germany.
From then on, when he visited the community center Muharrem E. was no longer as jovial as he had once been, but no one knew why.
He sent his wife to the school, where she managed to talk to Fatma. They talked for 15 minutes, embraced and drove home together. One day, she had left her engagement ring on the living room table as she took a shower and it disappeared. After a week, she left the family's apartment a second time.
When Muharrem E. spent time in the hospital for a knee operation and asked to see his daughter, Fatma didn't visit. After that, when he would go to the community center, his friends asked him why he had suddenly become so angry and aggressive. Muharrem E. said nothing and started going to work at the factory even earlier than usual. Around this time, Mehmet starting thinking about moving out.
There were too many problems in his family. Mehmet wanted to be part of a world in which he was German, but he also wanted to remain his father's son. On a Sunday Muharrem, Mehmet and Fatma's mother sat down at the kitchen table and talked about what they should do. They put together a plan.
It was three days later, on Dec. 13, a Wednesday, when they left the apartment early in the morning, at 6 a.m., when it was still dark out.
That was when everything fell apart. The man who had managed to become a perfect German was suddenly a foreigner who had failed to integrate.
According to Turan, the eldest daughter, the people at the community center said: "The daughter of Mr. E. ran away." No one said: "Fatma ran away."
"Do you understand?" she asks.
The family's honor and reputation were at stake. People in the Turkish community had already started talking about Muharrem. Turan says that in many Turkish families things can only go well as long as German values and Turkish values don't collide. It's a common problem in the community, she says.
According to Turan, her father only realized that he had done something wrong when he was sitting in the courtroom, listening to what people had to say, when the prosecutor argued that he should be sentenced to seven years in prison without the possibility of parole, and when the judge rendered his verdict.
"In the criminal matter against Muharrem E., case number 114 Js 12862/06, the defendant is guilty of extortion and kidnapping, coinciding with aggravated assault," the May 24 conviction read. "The court imposes a prison sentence of three years and nine months, without parole." In explaining his decision, the judge said that the case bordered on the next step, an honor killing. The sentence, he said, was meant to send a message.
Mehmet was sentenced to three years and three months, without parole, and mother Nivet to one year and six months, also without parole.
The brother and the mother seemed frozen in place, as did Muharrem E., until the officers took them away.
They didn't even know what they would have done to Sascha -- whether they would have let him go, once they had reached Fatma on the phone.
Turan is looking for a home for the family's pet, a gray parrot, and she is thinking of selling the apartment. She plans to fly home to Turkey in a few days.
Mehmet was recently transferred to Stadelheim Prison, where his father is being held. The two will run into each other in the prison yard. They will see each other, but they will no longer speak.
Mehmet has decided to be part of a world in which he is German.
On the Saturday after the trial, Sascha and Fatma are sitting at his sister's kitchen table. The sun shines through the window while the sister's cats play on the floor.
Sascha is wearing a light-blue football jersey -- 1860 Munich, his favorite team. He has tickets for the evening match, but first he and Fatma, who are getting married this summer, will go to a carnival. As they sit at the table, talking, they flip through a magazine for young parents they picked up at the pharmacy. Fatma is pregnant.
Sascha says that he is doing well now. Fatma also feels good about herself and, despite everything, she says that she still loves her father very much.
Muharrem E. shares his cell with four other prisoners. He sleeps on the upper level of a bunk bed. His knee gives him trouble. He has a few articles of clothing and two pairs of reading glasses.
When he leaves the prison in three years, Muharrem E. will find himself standing where he was when he first came to Germany -- at the beginning.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan