Over a thousand people gathered on a cold December morning to bid farewell to a young woman who has been hailed as a modern-day heroine.
Tuğçe Albayrak, the Turkish-German student who was beaten after defending two teenage girls from harassment, was buried on Wednesday. Her death has shocked the country and provoked a debate about civil courage and how immigrants are viewed in Germany.
Ms. Albayrak died on Friday, her 23rd birthday, after her family decided to turn off life support.
The young woman, who was in her second year in university and training to be a German teacher, had been in a coma for two weeks after being beaten on November 15.
Her parents made the decision after doctors said she would never regain consciousness and was brain-dead.
Wednesday’s service took place at the small mosque in the town of Wächtersbach, near Frankfurt.
Her coffin, draped by a green cloth with Arabic script, was flanked by the German and Turkish flags.
Countless wreaths had been placed in front of the mosque. “Tuğçe now lives on as an angel,” said one. “Our angel, you will always be in our hearts,” read another.
Two weeks previously Ms. Albayrak was brutally attacked in the parking lot of a McDonald’s in the town of Offenbach, shortly after coming to the aid of two teenage girls who were being harassed by two men in the toilets.
The men were thrown out of the restaurant by other customers after Ms. Albayrak raised the alarm. When she and her friends left the restaurant an hour later, one of the men, Sanel M., attacked her and she fell to the ground.
Like countless citizens, I am shocked and appalled by this terrible act. Tuğçe has earned gratitude and respect from us all. Joachim Gauck, German president
CCTV footage of the attack was made public on Monday. It showed another man trying to restrain Mr. M., who is originally from Serbia.
Her brave act has seen Ms. Albayrak become a symbol for civil courage and also sparked a debate in the country about whether there is enough public spirit. The Berlin daily Die Tageszeitung wrote that her death "shows the importance of courage as well as its dangers."
In 2009 a businessman in Munich, Dominik Brunner, died while trying to protect schoolchildren from a gang of teenagers attacking them. He was kicked 20 times while lying on the ground in a train station.
Ms. Albayrak’s tragic death has also caused some soul-searching about how much immigrants’ positive contribution is recognized in Germany.
An editorial in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung wrote: “We all too often look at immigrants as problem groups.”
Ms. Albayrak was a member of Germany’s biggest minority group, with an estimated three million people of Turkish origin living in the country.
Her grandparents were part of the wave of Turkish guest workers who came to Germany in the 1960s and 1970s. Her grandfather got a job at the Opel car plant in Russelsheim and then brought over his wife and children.
The Turkish community was shocked when it emerged in 2011 that over the course of a decade a neo-Nazi cell, calling themselves the National Socialist Underground or NSU, had murdered 10 people, eight of whom were ethnic Turks.
The police had initially only looked into whether the victims had suspected links with Turkish criminal gangs rather than investigating a racist motive. Turkish community leaders later accused the authorities of institutional racism in connection with the case.
Just a year before the crimes were uncovered a book by the former member of the Bundesbank board, Thilo Sarrazin, which claimed migrants were dragging down the country, became a run-away bestseller.
However, a study by the Center for European Economic Research (ZEW) published last week showed that foreigners living in Germany contribute a net profit to the country's welfare system, even though two thirds of Germans believe that they pose a huge burden.
Meanwhile, President Joachim Gauck has said he will look at whether Ms. Albayrak should be awarded the Federal Order of Merit. A petition calling for her to receive the honor had gathered more than 173,000 signatures by Thursday.
Her warmhearted and generous nature set a worthy example for others to follow. Volker Bouffier, Premier of the state of Hesse
Mr. Gauck wrote to her family to say: "Like countless citizens, I am shocked and appalled by this terrible act. Tuğçe has earned gratitude and respect from us all."
"She will always remain a role model to us, our entire country mourns with you. Where other people looked the other way, Tuğçe showed exemplary courage and moral fortitude."
The idea of awarding her the medal posthumously was also greeted by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert on Wednesday.
At the funeral, the presiding imam also addressed her bravery. “We give recognition and gratitude to her civil courage. Her heroic death should be a lesson for all those left behind.”
His speech was broadcast by loudspeaker to the crowds who had gathered outside.
Volker Bouffier, the premier of the state of Hesse, also attended the funeral. “Her warmhearted and generous nature set a worthy example for others to follow,” he said standing next to her coffin.
Her act has touched people across the country and, indeed, the world, with massive global media interest in the case.
One woman who traveled 13 kilometers to attend the service said she didn’t know her but wanted to bid her farewell. “I have a daughter,” she said. “It could have also been her.”
At 1 p.m. her coffin was carried away in a procession and brought to her hometown of Bad Soden-Salmünster. She was laid to rest in the small cemetery there.
This is an extended version of an article that originally appeared in Der Tagesspiegel. Siobhán Dowling is an editor at Handelsblatt Global Edition. To contact the authors: [email protected], [email protected].