chapter capsules Chapter 4 — Praxis

May, 1967 – May 1970, 59 pages: The stories of the three major characters, Baader, Meinhof, and Ensslin, merge into one story in this chapter, and follow a straight narrative arc for the rest of the book. But first this chapter will look into the extremes of the student movement, exemplified by a West German student commune known as Kommune I. This free-wheeling experiment in communal living shocked and aroused many Germans, mostly for the communard’s embrace of nudity and sex.

Late in May of 1967 two members of Kommune I are arrested and charged with inciting arson. Fritz Teufel and Rainer Langhans had written a pamphlet advocating the burning of department stores as a just and proper attack on American-style Coca Cola Capitalism. After their trial in March of the following year Teufel and Langhans are found not guilty, the judge finding that the pamphlet was written “for theoretical considerations only, not to be taken seriously.” Someone forgot to tell this to the now inseparable Baader and Ensslin. They recruit two friends and head to Frankfurt. The four terrorists plant bombs in two department stores; the resulting explosions cause $200,000 in damage. The proto-revolutionaries are quickly caught.

Back in Berlin a young house painter stalks Germany’s most famous student leader “Red” Rudi Dutschke, shooting him five times in front of his apartment. Dutschke will live, but shocked German students immediately cry for vengeance, and attack the hated Springer Press headquarters (they believe that Springer’s relentless campaign against Dutschke surely inspired the attack on him). Meinhof attends the massive protest against Springer that night and a friend persuades her to use her car as part of the blockade of Springer’s printing plant. Wary of damaging her car, she parks it on the very end of the blockade. As tenuous as it is, this is Ulrike’s first timid steps towards putting her Marxist beliefs into action.

This is an ideal point to explore the Marxist ideology prevalent among leftist German students at the time. They would talk themselves silly debating the various flavors of Marxism, many firmly accepting of the notion of Revolution. However, few were willing to actually become revolutionaries. Most were only willing to participate in a demonstration or two, a method of actionthat was purely reactionary. This is why Baader and Ensslin’s actions in Frankfurt were so exciting to radical Germans; here were two people willing to take proactive revolutionary action.

This is also the appropriate time to discuss press magnate Lord Axel Springer. The virulently anticommunist Springer held a virtual monopoly on the press in Germany, controlling 40 percent of the daily newspaper circulation of West Germany and 80 percent of the Sunday circulation. Springer was the main bogeyman among German radicals, who believed that he was the source of all of their troubles. Unlike most other German businessmen during the Cold War, Springer did not flee Berlin. In fact Springer chose to build his headquarters, a 20-story gleaming glass monstrosity, 30 feet from the Berlin Wall as a statement to the superiority of Capitalism. In case the enslaved East Berlin masses did not get the message, Springer installed a Times Square-style reader board facing the wall to flash the news of the Free World. To German radicals, Springer’s skyscraper represented everything that was wrong with Capitalism.

Baader, Ensslin and their two comrades are tried for the arson late in 1968. Meinhof covers the trial for her newspaper. She finds a hero in Ensslin: a woman who so willingly gave up her life-style and her child for the Revolution. Though they are ably defended by the brilliant Marxist lawyer Horst Mahler, the four revolutionaries are convicted and sentenced to three years imprisonment. After a year in jail, they are granted temporary freedom pending an appeal of their case. When the appeal fails, Ensslin and Baader head underground. They travel to Berlin and meet back up with their former lawyer Mahler, who is attempting to put together an urban guerrilla revolutionary band—the true beginning of the Baader-Meinhof Gang.

Before the fledgling faction can cause much damage, Baader is captured by police. Ensslin is beside herself and can only think of freeing her beloved Andreas. She conceives of an audacious plan to free him using a ruse with Meinhof. Ensslin sets to work on Meinhof, trying to convince her to participate. It did not take long for Meinhof to be persuaded by her hero, Ensslin. The chapter ends shortly before the freeing of Baader —the anecdote that began the introduction to the book.