(Fleigerhorst Kaserne – U.S. Army base – Hanau, West Germany)
There were soldiers everywhere, eyes tense, M-16 assault rifles in the “ready” position, German Shepherd dogs sniffing here and there.
Though there were approximately a hundred soldiers milling about — in squads of five, mostly — on several acres of the Army base, it was eerily quiet, and for good reason: FEAR! I speak from the heart for I, in fact, was one of those soldiers conducting late-night patrol.
The reason for this heightened fear factor was the Baader-Meinhof Gang, a.k.a the Red Army Faction/RAF, had taken credit for bombing a bar in nearby Frankfurt, West Germany. Word from Command was that any U.S. military installation was at a high risk of a similar attack, thus the high-alert status.
Giving high odds the majority of you never have heard of the Baader-Meinhof Gang, I’ll provide a brief synopsis, then attempt to tie all this together, so that it makes enough sense for you political science and world history majors to spring one on your professors.
The origins of the Baader-Meinhof Gang/RAF can be traced back to the student protest movement in West Germany. Industrialized nations in the late 1960s experienced social upheavals related to the maturing of the Baby Boomers to the Cold War, marking an end, some felt, to colonialism. Issues such as racism, women’s liberation and anti-imperialism were at the forefront of left-wing politics.
Andreas Baader was born on May 6, 1943, in Munich, West Germany. Though handsome, charismatic and in possession of a high aptitude, he obviously had a problem with structured society.
In the late ’60s, Baader and his girlfriend, Gudrun Ensslin, also West German (born Aug. 15, 1940), were convicted of bombing a department store in downtown Frankfurt. After being sentenced for the crime, they fled West Germany.
However, Baader was picked up early in spring 1970 at a traffic stop.
While being held in prison, Baader was granted an interview with Ulrike Meinhof (born Oct. 7, 1934), who worked as a journalist for the left-wing magazine “Konkret,” as well as being married to the magazine’s owner. However, little did prison authorities know that Meinhof’s scheduled interview with Baader was merely a ruse to help break him out. In May 1970, during the supposed interview, Meinhof and Ensslin did successfully break Baader out of prison.
Gudrun Ensslin is thought to have been the real brains behind Andreas Baader’s prison breakout, but the media dubbed it “Baader-Meinhof Gang makes successful escape from prison.” Though they had always referred to themselves as the Red Army Faction, the “Baader-Meinhof Gang” was a catchphrase forever embedded in the public’s mind.
So much so that Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof were compared to the outlaw team of Bonnie and Clyde, whom I wrote about a few weeks back.
Eventually, Baader, Meinhof, and Ensslin were captured, tried and convicted for charges ranging from sabotage to murder to forming a terrorist organization. All three received life in prison, to be served at the special-built Stammheim Prison in Stuttgart, West Germany.
Ulrike Meinhof committed suicide by hanging herself inside her cell on May 9, 1976.
Both Andreas Baader and Gudrun Ensslin committed suicide on the same day, Oct. 18, 1977. Baader supposedly shot himself inside his cell, while Ensslin hung herself inside her cell.
Plausible logic has it that the three had made a “pact,” and Baader and Ensslin committing suicide on the same day merely added to the lore, drama and many theories that ensued.
In no way advocating terrorism I’ve heard it stated the Baader-Meinhof Gang added a degree of “dark sex appeal” to terrorism, made it more chic and trendy than it had been prior. After all, as mentioned, Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof were compared to Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker.
I will agree that the Baader-Meinhof story is morbidly “dark.” However, I don’t find anything, whatsoever, “sexy” about hanging or shooting oneself inside a prison cell.