‘Gladbeck: The Hostage Crisis’ Explained: What Happened In Gladbeck In August Of 1988?


Netflix’s German documentary film “Gladbeck: The Hostage Crisis” is a unique presentation of a terrible and gruesome hostage situation that ensued in the Gladbeck region of West Germany in 1988. What sets this film apart from most other Netflix or true-crime documentaries is clearly presented in writing at the very beginning of the film—its entire 90-minute runtime is all actual media footage from the time put together chronologically. Unlike other films of this kind, “Gladbeck: The Hostage Crisis” does not feature any later interviews of survivors or witnesses, and yet successfully manages to create the tension and perplexity of the situation with its insightful treatment.

What The Netflix Documentary ‘Gladbeck: The Hostage Crisis’ Is About?

The documentary picks up some two hours after the beginning of a grave situation in a Deutsche Bank branch in the Gladbeck region of West Germany: two armed men had walked into the bank and taken two workers hostage. As the hostages and the perpetrators remained inside for all this time, police and the media kept arriving on the scene. As the police established communication with the robbers, they clearly presented their demands—300,000 marks as ransom, the key to the bank’s safe, and a BMW 735i car as a getaway vehicle. With frequent threats of shooting the hostages from the perpetrator, and also a few gunshots that were actually fired inside the bank, the police could do nothing but wait and prepare to meet the demands. Some seven hours later, more armed police kept arriving on the scene, and one of them put the ransom money in front of the bank’s door. One of the hostages, a bank teller, is seen taking it inside, with a rope tied around his waist or chest. During this time, some radio stations and television news channels got in touch with the perpetrators, possibly through the communication facilities inside the bank. The man answering the calls agitatedly informs them that they want to take the hostages along with them and intend to keep them for more time. Finally, four more hours later, after sunset, a getaway vehicle is delivered by the German police, but it’s a white Audi instead of the demanded BMW. All TV news channels report the incident live as the car slowly drives away from the area, with one of the perpetrators pointing his gun straight at the windshield, and the police can only look on, with the hostages still inside the car. The authorities get involved as well, with the District Attorney arriving to promise a quick and efficient investigation, while a long convoy of police and press personnel cars follows the hostage-takers from some distance. It is still not imaginable, though, that the chase marks only the beginning of a much longer crisis, one that would go on for more than forty hours still.

Who Are The Perpetrators, And What Do They Do Next? How Do The Police Respond?

In order to ensure the hostages’ safety from the dangerous criminals, the police had called off the manhunt but were unofficially keeping track of their movements. They had recognized the perpetrators as two men often in trouble with the law, one of whom had even escaped from prison. After losing them overnight, their track is once again picked up the next day, when they are seen in front of a store in Bremen. By now, the outlaws had changed their getaway car, and had also been joined by a third unknown woman, and now they were seen approaching a bus stop on foot. Soon after, the intensity of the whole act was dialed up as the two men took hostage an entire bus with 32 passengers inside. They were both armed and were now also accompanied by the new woman as she held a gun to the passengers’ heads as well. Despite the abhorrent nature of the whole scene, the perpetrators, especially one of the men, who had been communicating with everyone so far, seemed quite at ease with the people all around them. One member of the press, a photographer named Peter Mayer, visibly went quite close to the kidnapper and took numerous pictures of him, which he did not seem to mind at all. Rather, when the man was casually asked by Peter whether he would agree to an interview, he walked up to the group of reporters at the side of the road with a loaded gun still in his hand and his finger on its trigger. The man introduces himself as Hans-Jürgen Rosner, and his companion as Dieter Degowski, both of whom had a history of arrests from a juvenile age. The third perpetrator was Rosner’s girlfriend, Marion Loblich. When asked why they had taken innocents as hostages, Rosner plainly states that they did not wish to harm the hostages as long as the police abided by their demands and asks; however, he claims that all three of them no longer have any hope or aspirations in their lives and so would not mind dying right away, but he promises that they would definitely kill all the hostages and more people if they are attacked right away. As he casually smokes around with the reporters and their crews, all now swarming around the armed man, Rosner explains how he had lost all sense of morality and became a hardened criminal from a young age and had often thought of joining terrorist organizations. But now he and his companions have taken a bus-full of people hostage to get their new set of demands met—they now want to exchange hostages, by letting one of the bank workers go in exchange for a policeman, who should carry his ID and should only be in his underwear; and they also want a new getaway car. After some time, a few hostages are let off the bus, mostly old men and women who claimed that they had heart disease, but the situation only grows more tense from here. As the police fail to either create any communication with Rosner, or meet his demands in time, the perpetrators drive away on the bus with all the remaining passengers still inside.

The bus is once again followed by a trail of police and journalist cars, this time with many more press personnel since the abductors have opened up so much to reporters. The bus finally takes a halt at a rest station on the German Autobahn in Grundbergsee, and the reporters again crowd the place. Degowski even comes out of the bus, with a young woman as his hostage, and continually holds his gun at her throat while he answers questions from the reporters. In this while, Marion Loblich had also gotten down to visit the restroom, still carrying her gun, and the police had now arrested her. However, this plan quickly backfires heavily, as the two men on the bus grow agitated and promise to kill one of the passengers on the bus if their companion does not soon return. After a while, Rosner and Degowski release the two bank workers, their first hostages, from the bus, and they are allowed to walk away, but their impatience keeps growing as Loblich has still not returned. Ultimately, by the time the police release Loblich to return to the bus, it is already too late, as Degowski shoots a 14-year-old boy in the head. The young boy, still alive, is released from the bus immediately when Loblich arrives, but he dies from the injury two hours later in the hospital. The police once again have no way to respond other than to let the perpetrators leave the scene, and the bus now drives towards the German-Dutch border. Early the next morning, inside the territory of the Netherlands, the police provided the demanded getaway vehicle, a BMW 735i. The three kidnappers soon left the bus, leaving behind all the hostages other than two young women, whom they still kept as hostages as they drove away in the BMW. They then once again return to Germany, and take a rest stop at a pedestrian area in Koln, where they are again crowded by reporters, journalists, and even ordinary people who have gathered to watch the drama live.

By now, most news agencies and journalists in the country had established connections with Rosner, interviewing him every time that they stopped. Despite the condition growing increasingly more tense and serious, with one of the hostages feeling quite sick and uneasy and Degowski increasingly looking like he was reaching a point of utter desperation, reporters still maintained an air of casualness about the whole ordeal, as they brought coffee to the perpetrators and also asked them how it was. But patience would soon run out of Rosner, though, as he now demanded that the crowd move away, letting them leave, or he would shoot as many people as he could. The crowd scattered in a while, and the editor-in-chief of a local journal, Udo Robel, also voluntarily entered the car to help the perpetrators with the directions out of Koln. Despite the seemingly strange and unnecessary decision of Robel, his effort was later recognized by the German government as bravely averting a dangerous bloodbath that Rosner and his friends could have committed had they been stuck inside Koln. As the BMW once reaches the Autobahn and moves along on it, the German police and government start coming under more open (verbal, of course) heavy fire from the public, who condemn the police’s role in simply playing along to the criminals’ whims and the surrounding media circus.

‘Gladbeck: The Hostage Crisis’ Ending Explained: What Finally Happens To The Abductors And The Hostages?

After 53 hours since the hostage crisis first began, in the afternoon, media cars were suddenly stopped on the highway somewhere close to Siegburg by police personnel. With time, it is revealed that the perpetrators had stopped at a gas station and had now let Udo Robel out of the car. A few kilometers ahead, though, the German police had prepared a plan of capture, and one police car rammed into the BMW of the kidnappers. This immediately led to a gunfight, resulting in the instant death of one of the young female hostages, who was killed by a desperate Degowski, and the subsequent arrest of the three abductors. The other hostage survived after being gravely injured as well. Photographs of the scene are soon released as the press manages to find their way to the place, scattered with broken glass from the cars and blood from the gunshots.

As the hostage crisis saga finally comes to an end 54 hours after it began, a scrutiny into the police’s actions is started, and those who lost their lives are remembered. The region’s interior senator resigned from his post after the incident, taking the blame for the mismanagement in the case, while the interior minister remained in office. The whole act killed three people in total, including a police officer who was killed in a car crash following the hijacked bus when it was being driven towards the Netherlands. Fourteen-year-old Emanuele De Giorgi died protecting his younger sister when Degowski shot him at the Grundbergsee rest stop. Eighteen-year-old Silke Bischoff, who was kept hostage by the criminals till the very end, was shot dead by Degowski when the police finally apprehended them. From an analytical viewpoint, it is hard to make an exact judgment of this entire case (and the subsequent documentary film) as to what it manages to teach, but what became more glaringly obvious than the rest were the inefficiency of the police and the strange attention-grabbing acts of the press. It can be argued that both the deaths could have been easily avoided had the police planned things better. In response to the media’s actions, the German administration banned journalists from interviewing perpetrators in the middle of a crime after this case; and independent attempts to mediate the crime are also outlawed. As far as the kidnappers are concerned, both Rosner and Degowski were given life sentences, and Marion Loblich was given nine years. Loblich was released from prison after six years based on good behavior. At present, Dieter Degowski has been released from prison after thirty years and now lives in some unknown place under a new identity. Hans-Jürgen Rosner still remains in prison under preventative detention.

“Gladbeck: The Hostage Crisis” is a 2022 Crime Documentary Film directed by Volker Heise.

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Sourya Sur Roy
Sourya Sur Roy
Sourya keeps an avid interest in all sorts of films, history, sports, videogames and everything related to New Media. Holding a Master of Arts degree in Film Studies, he is currently working as a teacher of Film Studies at a private school and also remotely as a Research Assistant and Translator on a postdoctoral project at UdK Berlin.

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