The main building of OHB's corporate headquarters in Bremen. © Mohssen Assanimoghaddam

“We feel it is beyond the pale to be denounced as enemies of freedom”

Sabine von der Recke, member of the Management Board of OHB System AG, talks in an interview about the arson attack on OHB, which happened on New Year's Eve at a company building at the Bremen site.

Just over a week has passed since the arson attack on a building at the Bremen site. How are you and the workforce doing in the meantime?

Sabine von der Recke: The days that have passed since New Year's Eve have disturbed and agitated us all, the workforce is at least considerably unsettled, and in some cases also frightened, and we are asking ourselves what it all means. Many colleagues have only just returned from vacation this week and are only now grasping the extent and impact. I have to be honest and say that I didn't really understand it until I was standing in front of the building; when you see police tape and burned-out windows and the smell of burning in your nose, your heart starts to drop a few centimeters.

Have you already found an initial explanation as to why the violence hit OHB?

Not really yet, and I don't know if we'll find a rational explanation at all - I honestly can't think of any question to which throwing incendiary devices could be the answer.

However, the public widely condemned the attack, there was a lot of sympathy...

Yes, and I would like to express my sincere thanks for this great solidarity on behalf of the entire OHB Group. The Senate of the Hansestadt Bremen took a lot of time on several occasions to form its own impression of the situation and to enter into an exchange with us. Our customers and interlocutors from the Federal Government, the ESA and the European Commission have given us encouragement in many calls, messages and emails and also in public statements and on social media, expressing their shock at the extent of the violence and the perpetrators' will to destroy. We were also very happy to hear that this violent kind of political confrontation is strongly condemned across party lines and across all walks of life. In a situation like this, it is a great help to realize that you are not alone. I would like to express my sincere thanks for this on behalf of all the employees of the company.

How does the company deal with being the target of left-wing extremist groups?

We feel it is unfair and beyond the pale to be denounced as enemies of freedom. From the self-image of a cosmopolitan, modern company that is at home in Bremen in the style of an open campus, because we quite consciously live our openness to our neighbors in the Technology Park and above all to the university, it seems downright absurd that we, of all people, should have to deal with accusations of concealment and supposedly clandestine dealings. As a listed company, we have a duty of transparency, and this was, incidentally, also a not insignificant consideration when we went public 20 years ago.
But there is another aspect that is very important to me: freedom and security can only exist in a package; that's what the Basic Law says, and it obliges the state to protect the freedom of its citizens. Everyone knows the feeling of insecurity, and we all know that fear is not a good advisor. Security is also a very subjective feeling, and it is multi-layered. There is a good argument to be had about what the exchange rate is between freedom and security, and we have all just experienced this first hand with the restrictions on freedom under the Corona policy.
For many people, financial security is a major factor in a comprehensive sense of security. The Galileo satellites, which were developed and built here in Bremen for the first generation of Europe's satellite navigation system, and which are essential for fast and smooth payment transactions in the international banking system, contribute to security unnoticed by everyone. The next generation weather satellites that are being built will immensely improve weather forecasting and will thereby help to plan logistics, air traffic and harvests better and with greater certainty. For Europe's Copernicus Earth observation program, we are developing satellites to detect CO2, which will help to better track climate-damaging emissions and dry up the source. It is well known that continuous global warming will in all likelihood already restrict our freedom in the medium term because, for example, air travel can no longer be offered at today's prevailing prices.

But the truth also includes the fact that OHB is doing projects for the German armed forces.

Right, just a quick look at our website: yes, we have customer relationships with government agencies and yes, one of our customers is the Federal Republic of Germany, for whom we develop and build satellite reconnaissance systems and telecommunications satellites, among other things. OHB emerged from a hydraulics company which was involved in the maintenance of naval vessels, so the customer Bundeswehr was already there before we even started with space activities. The first major contract for OHB at the Bremen site was the German SARLupe radar reconnaissance system, which is an essential instrument for ensuring the Bundeswehr's operational capability. All this can be read about quite transparently on our website.

And what about Frontex?

By no means are we hiding behind high walls or trying to whitewash ourselves of anything, because we are not dirty at all. I have registered the accusation that OHB has business relations with the European border police Frontex. That is false. OHB does not maintain any business relations with Frontex. If it did, we would make it as public as we usually do.
Of course, I know that there is little chance of success in addressing the perpetrators from New Year's Eve with these arguments. However, I very much hope that the many other people who have now perhaps heard something about the Bremen-based space company OHB for the first time as a result of the widespread reporting surrounding the arson attack have gained a little more factual information. The world is not black or white. It is a rather broad palette of gray - or for those who like it more colorful: a very broad spectrum of many different shades of color. Incidentally, this also applies to ourselves. OHB is a diverse and cosmopolitan company and it has always been a matter of concern to the Fuchs family of owners that there should be lively discourse within the Company and that many different opinions and views should be represented. We feel that the desire for debate and the exchange of arguments is an essential aspect of creative work. We therefore also have many talks and discussions on political issues, and there are of course some critical employees in the workforce who would also prefer us not to do business with the German armed forces. We engage in this discourse regularly and always find it enriching.

What would you like to see in the public debate?

Exactly the kind of debate I have just described for our company is what I would also like to see in society. From my point of view, people can and should argue, and I'm happy to do so, but of course always on the level of dialog and never with violence. That's life - and there are also irreconcilable points of view. Then you just don't understand each other; what a boring world it would be if we were all always in agreement. But that is always better than trying to enforce one's arguments by force and accepting that people will be harmed in the process. Violence can and must never be the solution to political disputes. Especially not in liberal democratic societies like ours.



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