Cologne: At 8.57am on January 1, Cologne police released a statement headed: "Festive Atmosphere – Celebrations Largely Peaceful."
Anti-Muslim protest in Leipzig
Around 2,000 anti-Muslim LEGIDA protesters take to the streets in Leipzig to protest over the Cologne attacks under the slogan "Merkel needs to go!"
It was breathtakingly wrong.
Beneath the city's imposing, soot-darkened Gothic cathedral, rows of steps lead down to a square beside the central train station. There, on New Year's Eve, more than 1000 people gathered before midnight.
They were mostly male, 15-35 years old, mostly from the "North African/Arab region", according to a government report released on Monday. Most were very drunk and, police said: "totally uninhibited and aggressive". They lit fireworks and threw them at each other and at police. They threw bottles.
When women emerged from the station and tried to cross the square, they were surrounded and assaulted. They "ran a 'gauntlet' through masses of heavily intoxicated men that words can't describe", a leaked police report said
"We were extensively groped on the breasts and groin," one woman was quoted as saying by the Cologne Express. "The men treated us like hunted animals – we were crying and panicked. It was horrible."
A group of young women told the Cologne Stadt-Anzeiger that outside the station "we were surrounded by a group of at least 30 men… I had fingers on every orifice".
By this week, a reported 739 victims – mostly women – had come forward claiming they were attacked or robbed that night. Of these 430 were allegedly sexually assaulted.
Afterwards, police quickly identified one group of troublemakers: "a group of young North Africans who have been noticed in the past pickpocketing and drug trafficking near the station", the Cologne Express was told.
But the paper was told it was "definitely not the case", as social media was claiming, that some perpetrators were refugees.
They may also have been trying to maintain public order, knowing how far-right hooligans would inevitably react to such a link (with some reason: last Sunday six foreigners were attacked in Cologne, while in Leipzig extremists went on a violent rampage, smashing foreign restaurant windows).
But it was a misguided attempt at censorship. Evidence soon emerged that asylum seekers were among the crowd in the square. Then, on January 7, Der Spiegel published an internal report from Germany's national police, which contained damning anecdotes from police officers.
One man was quoted as telling police: "I'm a Syrian! You have to treat me kindly! Ms Merkel invited me." Another man was said to have torn up his residence permit in front of the police, grinned and said: "You can't touch me. I'll just go back tomorrow and get a new one."
Both anecdotes were closer to questionable hearsay than eyewitness testimony. In the following days, police said most, if not all the suspects they had identified from the night were north African rather than Syrian.
But by now reports had come in of similar attacks elsewhere on the same night: in Stuttgart "black-haired 'Sudlanders' [Mediterranean] with Arabic appearance" groped and robbed two young women, in Hamburg young Africans allegedly harassed, cornered, robbed and assaulted young women, "chasing them like cattle", Bild reported. Four Syrians were arrested for rape in the country's south.
It even spread outside Germany. Finnish police reported "widespread sexual harassment" in Helsinki on New Year's Eve. Swedish police arrested two asylum seekers in the town of Kalmar, after a gang "formed a ring around [women] and started molesting them". In Zurich, six women reported being robbed and sexually assaulted in attacks "similar" to those in Germany.
It seemed like a sudden, inexplicable upsurge of violence by refugees. Despite repeated denials by police, many thought there must have been some kind of co-ordination behind the attacks.
Others found a more persuasive cause.
No refugee has yet been charged with any crime from New Year's in Cologne. But on social media, and in mass media, links were inevitably drawn between the attacks and Germany's extraordinary immigration policy in 2015.
That policy has essentially been set by one woman: Chancellor Angela Merkel. On July 16, in a televised discussion called Living Well in Germany, she told a 14-year-old Palestinian refugee, "sometimes politics is hard… if we say 'you can all come' and 'you can all come from Africa', we just can't manage that".
The girl cried on camera. Merkel muttered: "Oh God, I want to comfort her." A month later, she declared that all Syrian asylum seekers would be welcome to remain in Germany, effectively suspending a decades-old protocol that governed Europe's refugee policy.
Any resulting criticism was virtually swept away on September 2, when the photograph of dead toddler Aylan Kurdi lying on a Turkish beach electrified the world.
By the end of the year, Germany had welcomed more than 1 million refugees and migrants in 2015, many of them fleeing conflict in the Middle East.
After the New Year attacks, the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany group used them to attack Merkel's refugee policies. "Mrs Merkel, is Germany 'colourful and cosmopolitan' enough for you after the wave of crimes and sexual attacks?" tweeted AfD chief Frauke Petry.
Even one MP from her own party expressed fear that "integration can't work" if the influx continued in 2016.
Der Spiegel editorialised, "Difficult days are ahead. And they beg a couple of clear questions: Is Germany really sure that it can handle the influx of refugees? And: Does Germany really have the courage and the desire to become the country in Europe with the greatest number of immigrants?
"The pressure built up by the images and stories from Cologne make it virtually impossible to continue on as before. … New Year's Eve marks a shift because it crystallised a widespread unease with state inaction."
In a cramped loft in a Cologne suburb, one of those refugees says he is worried that the New Year attacks will make Germans lose their compassion for his people.
Shady Chabaan, who fled Damascus in January last year and made his way to Germany in May, shares a bunk bed with a fellow Syrian refugee. They are studying hard to make a new home – the walls are covered with sheets of paper: common German words and their Arabic counterparts.
After hearing about the events of New Year, he put his new German skills to use, printing out a statement that he handed out in cafes and train stations.
"We men from Syria condemn in the strongest possible terms the abuse against women and the robberies on New Year's Eve," he wrote. "Our cultural values were trampled by these crimes.
"We want to live freely in this democratic society. We want to shape, to speak, and to live democracy. We want to show ourselves worthy of your help. We remain united: Your values are our values."
The German police, and right-wing media in particular, claimed that the attacks were an imported phenomenon common to Arabic countries called "Taharrush gamea" – group sexual assault.
In fact, this is a term largely confined to Egypt. But long before New Year, there were already reports of sexual violence in connection with refugee groups.
Last October, police and women's rights groups in Germany were accusing authorities of playing down reports of harassment, sexual assault and rape at refugee shelters.
Police union chief Rainer Wednt told Reuters that there was "a lot of glossing over" the problem of assaults on women at refugee shelters.
And several charities released an open letter saying there were "several cases of rape and sexual assault and increasingly even reports on forced prostitution" at refugee shelters, and these were not isolated incidents.
Valerie Hudson, a professor of political science at Texas A&M University who has researched migrant issues in Asia, told the Financial Times the sex ratio of refugee groups was much more significant than their cultural heritage.
"The literature I've contributed to shows a pattern: the higher the sex ratio [the more men outnumber women], the higher the crime rate and crimes against women," she told the Financial Times. "When you get a surplus of young men in a society – and they are marginalised, disadvantaged, and they live together and socialise together – you have the beginnings of collective activity in which they take what society has denied them. And they are, collectively, willing to take risks."
Of course, studies find violence against women in all countries. Non-partner violence was a pervasive problem in the EU before the migrant influx – an estimated 1.5 million women are raped in the EU each year, and many more have experienced some form of sexual violence or harassment – in 42 per cent of cases the perpetrator was an unknown person.
And Chabaan says it is simply not true (as anti-Islamists have been claiming) that his faith instils a lack of respect for women. He and his friends pull the Koran from their shelf and point to a passage: "Here (it) says all the people need to respect the woman in (their) life… we respect all the women, not just the Muslim woman."
But, he says, "It's not like all Arab countries are the same, with the same history."
Damascus, he says, was similar to Europe in the way women were required to be respected.
"In Egypt, it's different."
His point is echoed by another Syrian refugee, Muhammad, whom I briefly talk to outside a refugee centre in the city's south. Muhammad said he was outside the train station at New Year and was horrified by the behaviour of some in the crowd.
"It was Algerian, Tunisian, Moroccan," he says. "It is not good for refugees. Not good for Syrians."
Fellow refugee Abdul Rahim, 29 from Afghanistan, agrees.
"It's bad for us – we are worried," he says. "Whoever did this, they should pay for what they did. But not everyone."
Through the refugee crisis, Merkel's mantra has been "Wir können das schaffen, und wir schaffen das" – we can handle this, and we will handle this.
Lukas Gehrke, director at the International Centre for Migration Policy Development in Vienna, says the events of New Year's Eve have concentrated, in both political and public minds, what "this" actually is.
It is not just "reception, accommodation, housing, schooling and this kind of thing", Gehrke says. It is a challenge for police. It has a criminal element.
The government's initial response was to talk about deporting refugees who commit violent or property crimes. But in many cases with refugees deportation is simply not possible, he says – you can't just dump someone back in a war.
If someone commits a crime, they are going to have to be dealt with just like any other – with prison.
As the North Rhine-Westphalia region's Interior Minister Ralf Jaeger put it, it was unrealistic to believe that all refugees and asylum seekers were "innocent lambs" – migrants would include doctors, engineers, scientists and also criminals.
Last year, Gehrke says, "it was a sort of family affair to go to train stations and welcome refugees and asylum seekers and migrants".
On New Year's Eve "Germany has lost its innocence", Gehrke says. "It is perhaps a wake-up call."
Germany is realising, he says, that "refugees don't deserve protection because they are 'nice', or because they are 'law abiding' – but because they are human beings.
"I think this is now dawning on the German public."