“Gladbeck: The Hostage Crisis” on Netflix

Updated on 06/10/2022 at 5:53 p.m

The Netflix documentary “Gladbeck: The Hostage Drama” takes up the dramatic events of 1988 and only uses original images. These are frightening, voyeuristic and document the transgression of the media at that time. At the same time, they make you think and are a warning against too much sensationalism.

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One of the most impressive scenes in the new Netflix documentary “Gladbeck: The Hostage Drama” takes place away from the actual events. Friedhelm Meise, head of operations at the Gladbeck Criminal Police Office, addressed the journalists, photographers and cameramen present at a press conference. “My urgent appeal to you is not to report on these things until the hostages are released, until the hostage-takers are arrested. It is now up to you not to endanger the lives of the hostages through publications,” says Meise, loudly speaking to back up his claim.

Another camera captures the faces of the media people present. They look into nothing, at the ground in front of them or at their writing pads. The appeal of the policeman does not reach them. Because they have long been part of one of the most spectacular and dramatic criminal cases in the history of the Federal Republic of Germany and are on a really big story. Long before there were social media or live streams, the “Gladbeck hostage drama” was broadcast practically live in German living rooms. Director Volker Heise has now assembled the old recordings into an impressive documentary that has been available on Netflix since Wednesday.

RTL news anchor Hans Meiser called the hostage-takers

Immediately after Hans-Jürgen Rösner and Dieter Degowski attacked a Deutsche Bank branch in Gladbeck on August 16, 1988 and took the branch manager and an employee hostage, the phone rang there. “This is Hans Meiser, German television. Hello. Who are you?” asked the then anchorman of the RTL news. “The bank robber,” Rösner replied. When Meisner asked about the gangster duo’s escape plans, they ended the conversation, which was later broadcast on RTL during prime time.

What seems unbelievable was only the prelude to a 54-hour drama in which journalists followed the two gangsters at every turn and got closer to them than was professionally justifiable. A photographer became the middleman between kidnappers and the police. While speaking with Rösner, he snapped portraits of the smoking and tattooed criminal, who was happy to pose for the camera. A reporter from the “Kölner Express” even got into the getaway car and helped the criminals find their way out of Cologne, where their escape had taken them in the meantime.

Reporters interviewed the hostage Silke Bischoff

All lines were finally crossed when reporters interviewed hostage Silke Bischoff, who was later shot dead, while Degowski held a pistol to her neck. The fear of death could be seen in the eyes of the 18-year-old at that moment. The Netflix documentary shows all of these images but doesn’t comment on them. No contemporary witnesses are questioned or scenes are re-enacted. Director Heise simply lets the old pictures sink in, partly in poor quality and in the 4:3 TV format of the time, which doesn’t make them any less impressive.

Above all, Hans-Jürgen Rösner, who clearly enjoyed the attention of the media, was always looking to be close to the reporters. After the two criminals and their accomplice Marion Löblich hijacked a city bus in Bremen, Rösner gave an impromptu press conference on the spot, gun in hand. “We will make demands. And if they are not met, then something will happen. We’re done with our lives,” said the hostage-taker in the local dialect of the Ruhr area. A little later he put the gun in his mouth in front of dozens of cameras to demonstrate his determination.

This picture was seen in all the news programs and newspapers, the media outdid each other in their desire for sensation. The Press Council therefore later determined that journalists must not make themselves the tools of criminals and that there must be no interviews with perpetrators during ongoing crimes.

“Gladbeck: The hostage drama” is a reminder of where sensationalism can lead

The images that were created at that time are undoubtedly voyeuristic and a transgression of boundaries. The complacent criminals were given a stage, the cameras were on it when 15-year-old Emanuele di Giorgi, who was shot by Degowski and died shortly afterwards, fought for his life. The incomprehensible absence of the police and rescue workers was documented, as was the crowds of people who crowded onto a motorway bridge after the final attack by a special task force to get a glimpse of what was happening.

The fact that these pictures are now being processed again for the Netflix audience can be viewed critically. But director Heise manages to do this in a way that makes you think. The images seem like harbingers of an increasingly harsh media landscape that wants to be ever closer to the action. After all, today it is almost normal for videos to be made of every crime and every accident using a smartphone. “Gladbeck: The hostage drama” is therefore on the one hand a piece of contemporary history worth seeing and at the same time a reminder of where too much sensationalism can lead.

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