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Talking Germany

Blog with Peter Craven

Johannes Kneifel’s battle for a second chance

Or: Terrible choices, terrible mistakes

He grew up in a very troubled home. He was driven by hate and anger. He was drawn first into skinhead and later neo-Nazi circles and in a drunken rage he beat a man so badly that a short time later his victim died of his injuries. He spent five years in prison. During that time, he says, he turned his life around. Today he’s a Baptist pastor. Johannes Kneifel, my latest guest on Talking Germany, believes that everybody deserves a second chance.
There are those who argue that the heinous nature of Johannes Kneifel’s crime means that there should be no second chance. There are those – including, he tells me, some within his church – who ask why Johannes Kneifel has been appearing on television shows to talk about his life. And why he’s written a book about his story. “Well, that’s my business!”
I was a little nervous about meeting Johannes Kneifel. You’ve got to get the tone right, I thought. You must, I told myself, listen without prejudice to his story. But you must also avoid him using the show as a platform. And, I asked myself, what sort of person will he be? The first thing I notice is that he’s a very muscular guy. He clearly works out and he tells me that he’s thinking of taking up a martial art. What’s also clear is that he’s very focussed, very bright, very thoughtful.
He’s convinced that there are important lessons to be learned from his biography. Lessons about what happens when young people are neglected. About how they can make terrible choices and terrible mistakes. Which is why he dedicates much of his energy to visiting schools. “It’s the best thing of all,” he says: “The thing about children is that they really want to know why! Which is,” he adds, “quite a contrast to the journalists, who always ask the same questions.” So, did I get the tone right? Did I ask the “same questions”? Judge for yourself on Talking Germany.


July 11, 2014