Andreas seemed like a normal 15-year-old boy growing up in Meissen, a town in eastern Germany famed for its porcelain. He enjoyed playing soccer with his friends, his grades were reasonably good and he often accompanied his mother to Sunday services at the local Lutheran church.
But Andreas harbored a serious hatred for Sigrun Leuteritz, his 44-year-old history teacher known for her strict and humorless demeanor. He also displayed an unusually strong penchant for violent videos.
As Leuteritz was taking roll at the start of her 8 a.m. class last Tuesday, Andreas burst into the room wearing a mask, pulled out two knives and stabbed his teacher 22 times in the chest.
Leuteritz staggered from the room and died in the arms of her colleagues. The boy fled, but was quickly arrested and confessed to the murder. He told police, who would only release his first name, that he could no longer abide his teacher and felt an obsessive compulsion to kill her.
The teacher's death coincided with other recent killings involving young people that have prompted a wave of soul-searching across Germany about whether the frustrations of an alienated young generation--saddled with bleak job prospects, rising crime and a sudden abundance of illegal weapons--are spinning out of control.
On the same day as the Meissen murder, a Turkish man whose marriage proposal was spurned by a young woman killed her and five members of her family in the western city of Bielefeld. He then shot himself to death as police were about to capture him. Earlier this month, a 16-year-old boy broke into his father's gun cabinet and went on a shooting spree in a small Alpine village in Bavaria, killing four people before turning the gun on himself.
For years, Germans have criticized the high levels of homicide, enormous gun arsenals, huge prison population and use of capital punishment in the United States. Like the French and British, they take pride in their stringent gun control laws and a social ethos that seems to discourage violent crime.
Indeed, the intense media coverage here of the high school shootings in Littleton, Colo., where two American teenagers shot and killed 12 classmates and a teacher last April, was conveyed with a smugness that suggested random mass killings are anathema to Western Europe.
But Germans are taking a closer look at the changing nature of violence in their own schools and communities. Some experts even fear that a young generation of Europeans may be emulating their American counterparts as they indulge in the kind of brutality depicted in movies, television shows and computer games.
A day after the teacher in Meissen was stabbed, the German teachers' association sought to ban the opening of a new American film titled "Killing Mrs. Tingle," which features three high school students who take revenge against a tyrannical teacher.
"It's almost an act of perversion to run a film like that in Germany after the bloodshed in Meissen," said Josef Kraus, the president of the national teachers' group. But the film opened on schedule in German theaters this week, after the distribution company agreed to withdraw some grisly poster advertisements and to change the name of the film to "Saving Mrs. Tingle." After the Littleton shootings, the film's title was changed to "Teaching Mrs. Tingle" in the United States.
Hans Merkens, professor of youth culture at the Free University of Berlin, believes violence has long been controlled in Germany because it has been more difficult to buy guns here than in the United States. But illicit and unregistered weapons are finding their way into the hands of German youngsters--a trend that police trace to growing violence of drug smugglers and the departure of the Soviet army from eastern Germany in 1994, when many soldiers sold their small arms for cash.
Germany's federal criminal agency says there are 10 million registered guns in this country of 82 million people. But the agency estimates there are least 20 million unregistered rifles and handguns, perhaps five times as many as were available at the time of Germany's reunification nine years ago. There are an estimated 240 million guns in the United States, which has a population of nearly 250 million.
"Violence has always been prevalent in our schools, but what is changing is the quality of that violence," Merkens said. "Kids today use much more dangerous weaponry. As far as what may trigger violent behavior, it's often hard to point to a single factor. But the violence we see today in videos, films and computer games must be having an important effect."
Other experts are less inclined to emphasize the impact of the entertainment world and say social and family factors are the biggest cause of youth violence in Germany. "There is a school of thought that contends watching violence on television helps people to relax and release their tensions in a cathartic way," said Ludwig J. Issing, a psychologist in Berlin specializing in media. "This kind of cathartic effect may be even more significant today."
However, Issing said that massacres at Littleton and other places, as depicted on television news broadcasts, have a great effect on communities around the world. "There is probably a copycat effect at work between Littleton and the violence we are seeing among young Germans in recent months," Issing said. "It's like bank robberies. People see it on television and think, 'I could do this, too.' "