BERLIN—The body of a mother in her late twenties was found in a park in Frankfurt earlier this month. Irina A. owned her own real estate company. Originally from Moldova, recent photographs show a pretty woman with swept-back bleached blond hair, a no-nonsense expression, and a bling Star of David pendant. One of the last pictures that she posted on her Instagram account carried the hashtag #theworldismine.
Her body had been dragged into the grass, and her face had been mutilated beyond recognition. There were “around 20 stab wounds,” according to the state attorney’s spokeswoman. Her purse was missing, and, according to a police report, so was her jewelry.
The man who was arrested two days later for Irina A.’s murder is a 50-year-old starsucker and financially flailing restaurateur named Jan Mai, who had persuaded her to invest in one of his clubs two years earlier.
The German public already knew his name, and hers, in a particular context.
Last year, in an attempt to get some free publicity, Mai had the idea to offer Germany’s best-selling newspaper, Bild, a story about “50 Arab men” who stormed into his bar on New Year’s Eve 2016, groped “the girls,” and stole their jackets.
The resulting double-page spread was headlined “Sex Mob Rages on Frankfurt Restaurant Strip,” and Irina A. was the star witness. She had been groped everywhere, she told the Bild reporter: “I was lucky I was wearing tights.”
The story harked back to the attacks in Cologne during the New Year’s Eve celebrations in 2015, where gangs of predominantly Moroccan and Algerian men without work permits gathered at the central train station and intentionally encircled women, cutting them off from their friends.
Some of these young toughs had been making trouble around the city for years. But the Cologne incident was incendiary, coming as it did at the height of the refugee crisis, when Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel had decided to allow a million people into the country, most of them from Muslim backgrounds, many of them fleeing the war in Syria.
The impact was that much worse because at first the mainstream media appeared intent on ignoring it. “A cartel of silence” is how one conservative politician criticized the German media for not covering the Cologne sexual assaults straight away. When they did, the impression remained, paradoxically, that it was taboo to talk about the origins of the accused.
But since then, Bild, in particular, has devoted a disproportionate amount of coverage to crimes by foreigners, according to a recent study. (The tabloid is very righteous. It is run by an editor who, as Der Spiegel revealed last month, once coordinated the character assassination of a female colleague after she accused Bild’s former editor in chief of raping her at a party at his lake house.)
“A woman who stands up and says ‘I was a victim of sexual violence’—that’s an accusation that you have to take seriously,” as one Frankfurt reporter said after Irina A. appeared on the cover of Bild. Except that Irina A. was not even in Frankfurt that night—she spent New Year’s Eve in Belgrade. And that is one of the reasons both Jan Mai and Irina A. were due to report in court next month for falsely reporting a crime.
By the time the Bild editors apologized for publishing fake news, the story had gone viral. Breitbart covered it. And it also resonated with the kind of Facebook groups in Germany that rail against neighborhood asylum homes (“No to the home!”) or laud “The Patriots of Central Saxony,” a small group of leather-clad middle-aged men who record themselves waving Germany flags and strumming guitars while they promise to die so that “Germany must not sink.” Now, more than one year later, many of these mini-protests have died down, while new movements have popped up.
A few months ago, hundreds of men came out on the streets of Berlin with signs that read “Headscarf ban for Germany” and “Stop Islamization.” The march was advertised as a “Women’s march” against, among other things, “the sneaking introduction of Sharia law.” Few women showed up. But it hardly mattered, because, according one prominent far-right male publicist, “We are the real feminists.”
The men had been told to walk behind the women, so that they could “secure” the path from the cozy and increasingly gentrified Kreuzberg neighborhood to the green lawn in front of the Federal Chancellery. Women who “were afraid to come out here alone,” according to one marcher, had requested this. On the day, the men took over the front of the crowd, too, in order to “send a signal” to any counterprotesters who might be undercover antifa activists. (Like one elderly punk called Arne who had come into the city by night bus and was now standing by the “International Women’s Space” stall and singing along to the Scissor Sisters.)
And when the counter-protesters did scream “Nazi” and “You’re giving me a headache” at them, the men with the signs did not look ashamed. Some held onto the hands of their children. They caught sympathetic looks from several police officers, because at least they weren’t adding to the law enforcement workload by covering their faces like some of the leftist kids.
“I liked it!” the enthusiastic organizer of the “women’s march,” an ex-banker who now works as a research assistant for the far right Alternative für Deutschland Party, told us. Specifically, she liked it “that German men said we won’t allow it.” Many of the men who came did not have wives or daughters, she said. “But they were there to say: I am a German man and I stand here for women in Germany.”
Jan Mai is a German man with big muscles and rumored connections to a motorcycle gang. He reportedly likes fighting dogs and is annoyed by “social romantics.” For this guy, things were still looking good when a private TV network came to visit a few days after the Bild “Sex Mob” story.
“They streamed inside here,” Mai said, speaking confidently on breakfast television about the Muslim horde, his blue eyes opened wide: “They put on the jackets of the guests and marched outside with the jackets. They grabbed the girls from behind.”
After the publicity plan backfired, Jan Mai shut down the bar. Irina had played along, but now she wanted her investment money back, according a “close friend” quoted by Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. That’s allegedly why she met Mai in the park on Wednesday night.
Mai had recently come back from a holiday to Dubai with his two teenage sons. The family had flown business class, and Mai claimed to have plenty of money. Apart from his bars and clubs, he bragged about owning 600 apartments. But when he and Irina argued about her money, Mai allegely took out a knife he’d brought along and started stabbing away, according to the police (his blood was found at the crime scene).
Aleksey Antoni was a friend of Irina A.’s from the time they went to primary school together in Moldova, where they both were born and grew up. After graduation, she moved to Frankfurt and he to London. When they talked, she told him about the bar and her responsibilities in it. She never mentioned Mai. Antoni says he only knew Mai’s existence from photos that Irina A. was tagged in online.
“Irina was like a sister to me,“ Antoni told The Daily Beast. “We are alike: when we want something we go and get it. I wanted to come in August to visit her, to see everything with my own eyes, but I was too late.”