Martin Kielbassa has been fighting crime for over 40 years. As a chief detective, he reports on cases that still concern him years later and what still gives him courage after all these years.

It is 7:28 a.m. in Essen-Steele. I press the bell on an aging brick building. “Essen Police Headquarters.” It buzzes. Essen’s Chief Detective Martin Kielbassa (62) steps towards me on the speckled terrazzo tiles. Jeans and a blue sweater instead of a uniform and a gun. He seems relaxed. His eyes are sparkling. From the very first moment I sense that this is someone who is passionate about his job and the people.

Two floors up. We are sitting in front of two screens. Martin skims through the reports that came in during the night. It is important to him to “get ahead of the wave”. He reads up on two burglaries, a drug offense, a robbery and an attempted extortion. The phone rings. “Yes, I read that, I’ll talk to the big office group later. No, everything went normally at the Rot-Weiss Essen game this time. Good luck!” Steam rises from two coffee cups with the inscription “Green into Gray”.

7:57 a.m. A babble of voices. Ten men and three women have squeezed into their boss’s room for the Thursday staff meeting. A green Advent wreath is on the table. “Does anyone have matches for the candles?” “What was that about ‘no open fires in offices’?!” Laughter. “Vanessa, I wanted to help you push your car off the intersection earlier, but that’s when the state security called…” someone says. Another jokes: “You push your Smart with one hand.” Laughter. Gingerbread is passed around. Martin moderates, listens carefully, takes notes. “Please hand in your vacation requests for 2024. And once again a big thank you to the two who have volunteered to be on call on New Year’s Eve. Incidentally, two of us are being seconded to the homicide squad next week.”

Then he lets the group go free and reports what happened in Essen and Mülheim an der Ruhr last week. “A person ordered a large quantity of explosive substances from Amazon. Our colleagues put two and two together and seized a large quantity of fireworks during a house search. We are currently investigating whether a criminal offense has been committed…” “In the case of the scooter thefts, we have arrested four young people. I expect the first results of the investigation in the middle of next week.”

“There are now good pictures of the robbery of the two supermarkets on the wanted persons portal. The guys were very conspicuous, they will definitely be caught soon.” “After our observation, the SEK went to the old man. He had set up a small command bunker in the basement. Weapons were confiscated. He is more likely to be ill than dangerous. He was admitted to the hospital.” “A doctor in the university hospital was attacked with a glass bottle. We classified the whole thing as attempted murder.” “An attentive neighbor alerted us to drug dealing in her neighborhood. We were able to arrest the suspect. In his hand he had a plastic bag with everything your heart could desire…”

8:55 a.m. We are on the road in the car. Today Martin is accompanying two youth contact officers in schools in Essen. I learn: “Prevention is the best protection for victims.” First we are stuck in a traffic jam. The cell phone is silent. Opportunity to ask. “Have you always wanted to be a police officer?” Martin laughs and shakes his head. “My father was a locksmith. He said that secondary school was enough for me to become smart. And too much intellect only hinders the Christian faith.” So Martin does no more than he has to, and after the 9th grade he learns the trade of car mechanic. In the German army he ends up with the military police. They work together with the police. He discovers: This is “a great job, I enjoy it.” He gets his high school diploma, goes on patrol as a police officer, enrolls to study at the police academy, becomes a detective, heads arson, environmental crime, burglary, ATM bombing and murder investigations and the youth investigation team. The traffic light turns green. Things are going well, for him and in traffic.

9:28 a.m. Essen Nord comprehensive school. Grey instead of green. Large holes gape in the ceiling. A crack runs across the wall. An old blackboard, the smell of a damp sponge wafts through the room. A yellowed ZEIT article “Off to Mecca” is displayed on the pinboard. The youth contact officer Vanessa greets the 8c. The young people seem shy. “Are you always so quiet?” The keywords “videos” and “bullying” get things bubbling. “Can I hit the guy who insulted my mother? He was just a smack!” Vanessa listens, empathizes, asks questions, but doesn’t hesitate. With the gun in her holster, she also represents a state that is able to speak and defend itself. Four teenagers push their way to the front. “Youth detention is like a trial stay in prison,” one of them blurts out amusedly. “I know the spokesman’s father and his brothers. If they’re already in prison, it’s difficult to get out of the family’s life story,” Martin notes thoughtfully on the way out. Prevention work is Sisyphean work, but “it’s worth it, because every euro we invest here means we don’t have to spend on education and the penal system afterwards.”

11:17 a.m. Thanks to the green arrow, we are allowed to turn right. The streets and squares on the way to the next school tell crime stories. “I once arrested a car thief in the driveway there.” “Here on the corner we observed a blackmailer.” “Over there, an ATM was blown up.” “A high-spirited student threw a sparkler into the open window on the first floor. A woman died in the ensuing apartment fire.” “Is there a case that still haunts you?” I ask. “Yes, I would even come out of retirement to solve this story,” the 61-year-old blurts out spontaneously. A man reports his wife missing. He gets tangled up in the interrogation. “But despite intensive investigations, I only had circumstantial evidence. The body has not been found to this day. The prosecutor told me: ‘Martin, that’s not enough,’ even though I’m 100 percent sure that he’s the perpetrator.” I sense that this is still bothering him, even years after the investigation was closed.

12:29 p.m. “Glückauf” secondary school in Essen. This school also lacks greenery. 10th grade. Eleven boys and three girls are present, twelve are skipping school today. Jürgen, the youth contact officer, is giving a talk on the subject of “online safety”. He fills the room with a lively presence, a healthy self-confidence, enormous background knowledge and quick wit. The former IT expert has found his calling here. The police officer manages to get the students’ attention despite their constant trips to the toilet and interruptions and to sensitize them to more cautious use of the Internet.

1:45 p.m. Martin’s stomach is rumbling. But there are no bakers to be found between betting parlors and shisha bars. He has been a police officer in Essen for almost 40 years. “What has changed over the years?” I ask. “Respect for the police has decreased. We are dealing more with people from other cultures. Clan crime has become a problem, and in the past there was no prevention. They just investigated and locked people away. Today I want to stop people from committing crimes. My goal is to get ahead of the wave. I’m passionate about that,” he says, waving a woman with a stroller across the pedestrian crossing. While he accelerates again, I probe. “What would be desirable in your view?” Martin doesn’t think for long. “I want parents again who take on their educational role and set boundaries early on. If mom and dad aren’t role models, what will become of the kids?” Martin’s words now flow like the traffic in front of us: “As police, we have an educational role. It motivates me and my team to offer help to young people so that they do not commit crimes (anymore).”

2:05 p.m. Back at the headquarters. Martin has found an apple strudel. He pours me a coffee. I sense that the 61-year-old still enjoys his job. Curious, I ask: “How have you kept this freshness? How do you stay positive in the face of all this evil?” “My Christian faith gives me support, strength and confidence every day. I believe in a God who created me, who also wants and can repair me. And this God does not differentiate – you are guilty, regardless of whether you have killed someone or lied to someone. Because he is a God of second chances, I want to give them to others too.” Martin is open about his Christianity. Sometimes people tease him. “As a Christian, you do that?” Or he is called “The Merciful Martin”. The phone rings. “Martin, can you take over the management of the prisoner collection point at the Rot-Weiss Essen football game at short notice this weekend?”

3:18 p.m. Time for administrative stuff. Martin groans. But he likes being a manager. His aim is to help employees develop in the right places. “I want to keep the people on my team free. They should be able to play freely here. If they are happy, they will perform well,” he says, and in the next breath he quotes his favorite Bible verse. “Whoever wants to be the greatest among you must be your servant” (Matthew 23:11). He heads to the kitchen to wash the pile of dirty coffee cups.

6:35 p.m. Martin is behind bars in Bochum Prison. Thirteen inmates are sitting around him in a circle in the chapel. He listens to the prisoners, encourages them, talks about his faith as a Christian and celebrates a service with those he and his team put behind bars that morning. He happily picks up the strings of his guitar and belts out “Lift up the door” with them in the Advent chorus.

Rüdiger Jope is editor-in-chief of the men’s magazine MOVO. Since January 2024, he has been a volunteer youth lay judge at the Hagen District Court.

By Rüdiger Jope

The original of this article “Chief Inspector Martin reports on 40 years of police work” comes from Movo.