Photo-journalists are sitting in trees. They have been promised enormous amounts of money for the first shots of the victims. School children are asked: what do you know about the abuse case? The neighbours often don't even know the number of interviews they have given. One camera team clings to the next one. To say that the Austrian city of Amstetten is a city under siege is an understatement.
This is the aftermath of the discovery of the abuse case of 73-year-old Josef Fritzl who held his daughter victim in a technically ingeniously built dungeon in the cellar of his own house, and fathered seven babies with her (one died soon after its birth). Three of them were then held captive, only seeing daylight for the first time in their lives on April 26th 2008.
The "Beast of Amstetten", as Fritzl was labelled soon after by many media, has taken a whole town hostage. No, a whole country, it dawns on me as I take a look at the news and the non-stop reporting. From Kenya to Tasmania, from Alaska to Wladiwostok this is the Number One story. The term "House of Horror" is coined handily—and off goes the media-avalanche, burying a whole city.
"You are automatically labelled here," says an acquaintance of mine from Amstetten, who had to witness an abuse-case in his family as well. I will call him Thomas, for the sake of simplicity. Many memories come up with Thomas; but what does the media mop sweeping over Amstetten care for him?
What´s important is every detail about what is perhaps the most incredible crime case in history. For that, 300 Euros can easily change hands for the use of a balcony to take photos of the House of Horror (Sensitivity when dealing with the Amstetten residents is not in great demand.) But it´s easy to judge others doing better isn´t? I find myself grabbing one of Vienna´s free daily papers that reports extensively on the case. One has to be able to join in a conversation—no?
The question the sole protester raises on one of the signboards he put up in front of the House of Horror in the city of 23,000 inhabitants—why did nobody notice anything?—is bothering CNN and Reuters as well as the "catastrophe-tourists" that come in droves. Amstetten is situated on the A1 highway. Germany isn´t far away. The young man with the signboards came from there, too.
It is truly hard to believe that a whole city didn't notice anything of the martyrdom of the daughter Andrea Fritzl—not even her mother. But for the people who know Fritzl this didn't come as a surprise. "He was said to be very dictatorial. Like 'this is my patch, stay away from it. Nobody has any business there'," reports another acquaintance from Amstetten.
Little could have been expected from the neighbours and subtenants that Fritzl let into his house, in which he seemingly felt very secure. Who would suspect that people would be held captive in the cellar? A former subtenant tells the media about knocking sounds, but when testifying before the police doesn´t mention it.
But let´s return to my acquaintance Thomas. He asks me to think about the people who live in Amstetten when I write my article. "People are really affected by what happened", he says. "In Amstetten a world has broken down." He can´t understand the lack of compassion shown not only for the family, but also for Amstetten.
"The focus is purely on the sensation. You can´t feel compassion from the media". Later, sitting in the show of Dieter Nuhr, a famous comedian from Germany, his words come to my mind.
Right at the beginning of his performance, there it is—a joke about Amstetten. Does this have to be? "Making fun isn´t funny", says Thomas. A slap in the face, ready-to-print, for all those who approach the topic for a few laughs.
On the way home from the comedy-show a line from one of the songs of Rosenstolz, a German band, keeps coming to my mind: "The greatest trick the devil ever played was to convince the world he doesn´t exist".
Okay, Agent Kujan, you´re right – that quote originates from The Usual Suspects. Great movie, great Kevin Spacey. But that has got nothing to do with us.
I mean, that the movie and Kevin Spacey are great has nothing to do with us.
Having a discussion about evil in the world does have something to do with us. Seems not to be a hip topic.
"Values are something that become completely indivualised," says a colleague of mine.
That´s why a discussion about values and about the moral state of a society is not a public and serious one when it seems to use other people´s suffering only to satisfy its own craving for sensation or to feel better than others.
If the ORF-journalist Christoph Feurstein—famous for his exclusive interview of Natascha Kampusch after her escape from another dungeon in Austria two years ago—is right, there will be many more cases like that of Mr Fritzl.