The brutal knife attack in a regional train on Wednesday shocked. A 33-year-old man killed two people, 16 and 19 years old. It’s not the first time something like this has happened on a train. FOCUS online spoke to trauma expert Thomas Loew about the terrible incident.
Fear of death, shock, despair. The knife attack on Wednesday afternoon leaves Germany stunned. A man kills two people and injures seven others on a train from Kiel to Hamburg. The perpetrator: A 33-year-old, so-called stateless Palestinian. The victims: A 16-year-old girl, a 19-year-old man.
FOCUS online spoke to trauma expert Thomas Loew about the incident. About how those affected can cope with such a situation. How relatives can now find help. But also about the methods and structural changes that could be used to avoid such terrible events in the future.
Thomas Loew teaches psychosomatic medicine, psychotherapy and social medicine at the University of Regensburg. As chief physician, he heads the relevant departments at the University Hospital and the Dounaustauf Clinic. For 30 years he has been dealing with the consequences of traumatisation, one of his most well-known publications is “Brain Theater of War”. On his website www.prof-loew.de he also gives tips for self-stabilization.
2016 in Munich, 2017 in Aschaffenburg, 2021 in Rommerskirchen: It is not the first time that such an accident has happened on a train or at a station. Again and again it happens that armed men attack other passengers, seriously injuring them and killing them.
After the knife attack, the state government of Schlesiwg-Holstein set up a help line for those affected. State Minister of Justice Kerstin von der Decken (CDU) pointed this out on Wednesday. You can reach them on this number: 49 800 0007554
“I suspect in this case there is an indication that the perpetrator did not plan his act long in advance,” Loew said. After all, he has no way of running away on a train after his crime. Rather, it seems as if he got angry, upset – and then acted aggressively. “A kind of Raptus act.” The fact that he had a knife with him can presumably also be attributed to the man’s cultural background. According to the investigators, there is also no evidence of a terrorist background.
However, the fact that the incident took place in a closed room made the situation much worse for those affected. Because they couldn’t run away either. “To have to witness something like that, to see this sheer, brutal violence – it’s extremely traumatic,” said Loew. He advises those affected to seek professional help. It will probably accompany you for a lifetime, he is realistic. At the same time, however, they should be aware that this is a one-off event. That from then on it was not part of her life to experience such things. That they were among the survivors.
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The psychiatrist also wishes family members strength, professional help and a safety net. “It can help to grieve together,” he says. “At least that’s a bit of a comfort.” Parents should explain the situation clearly to children without glossing over it. “You don’t have to give any details,” says Loew. “But if the kids hear about it and feel the need to talk about it, parents should do it with them.”
The event also does something with the people who only learn about it from the news. The fear may not be as acute, not as present – but still there. However, there are tactics and methods to deal with such stress. In such moments of excessive demands, the trauma expert recommends certain breathing techniques. “It sounds so simple and so little – but it’s so effective,” he emphasizes.
Normally we breathe ten to twelve times a minute. “To slow things down, we halve that to six times a minute,” explains Loew. This number corresponds to the breathing rhythm during sleep. That means:
“4610” is the abbreviated name. By deliberately slow breathing, we fooled our bodies into thinking we were sleeping. He reacts accordingly and shuts down many activities. This shutdown lowers aggression and fears. It also affects blood pressure and heart rate. And we literally regenerated ourselves down to the molecular level in all cells.
What is behind this reaction: Decelerated breathing starts in the brain, more precisely in the central region that controls the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. There is a general calming down – which EEG tests clearly show.
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It is not yet known what the attacker’s motive was. Loew can only make assumptions. “Probably a mental illness wasn’t recognized,” he says. Especially in the case of people who aren’t from Germany, it’s only noticed later, in this case too late. “A German might get professional help sooner. Or get professional help earlier Searching for help.”
Loew knows a lot about people who come from war zones. In fact, he has been to Gaza himself. Experienced the conditions under which people grow up there. “I know the local circumstances,” he explains.
As chairman of Gewiss e.V., Thomas Loew is also committed to helping refugee children and young people from war zones who have had traumatic experiences there and on their way to Germany. The initiative, which trains so-called trauma helpers, has now become active and will also offer such care in Poland on the border with Ukraine. As Thomas Loew told FOCUS Online, he got in touch with the partner universities there on Thursday.
Gaza City is about the size of Munich, half of the population is under 15 years old. Surrounded by a ten meter high concrete wall, delimited by a barbed wire zone several hundred meters long. Growing up like that triggers anger in many young people. Aggression, envy, a life apart from the rest of the world. “It’s not easy to get out of there,” emphasizes Loew. “But whoever does it, whoever makes it to Germany – is often highly qualified.” There are universities in Gaza, tens of thousands of educated people. academics.
Of course, not all would be engineers or doctors. But many still ended up in good jobs. “We must not generalize here,” emphasizes Loew. “Of course, in a terrible situation like this, the focus is on the negative aspects. Of course there are black sheep. And this act cannot be excused.” The man was previously in custody for assault. For Loew also an indication of structural problems.
“The better we succeed in approaching such people, the better we will be able to demand integration from them,” he explains. In Germany we are still not in a position to tailor a suitable offer for those affected with mental problems. “We have long needed specialist outpatient clinics for people from this cultural area or clinical facilities with special wards,” he demands. Low-threshold virtual information and therapy offers would also be a possibility. It is important to train and educate the staff, including native speakers, in order to be able to recognize acute psychoses, for example.
Loew is also hoping for even better training at the railways themselves. “Apparently there are always such arguments and violence on trains. Staff should be given strategies for both their own mental health. But also when dealing with suspicious people.”
And in general he demands: “We have to strengthen our country’s civil courage.” The case now shows how important that is. The perpetrator was stopped because courageous passengers intervened.