German pizzerias try to fight mafia stigma
23 August 2007BERLIN (AFP) - After the mafia-style murder of six Italians in a working-class city on the Rhine last week, Germany's many Italian restaurants are living in fear -- for their image. "My customers have been asking me: 'So how much protection money do you have to pay?'" Pino Bianco, the owner of Berlin's chic A Muntagnola restaurant, said indignantly.
23 August 2007
BERLIN (AFP) - After the mafia-style murder of six Italians in a working-class city on the Rhine last week, Germany's many Italian restaurants are living in fear -- for their image.
"My customers have been asking me: 'So how much protection money do you have to pay?'" Pino Bianco, the owner of Berlin's chic A Muntagnola restaurant, said indignantly.
Bianco and others in the German capital are not taking lying down what they see as the fast-spreading assumption that where there is pizza and pasta there must be mafia.
They have joined a campaign launched by the German chapter of the worldwide Italian expatriate group UIM (Unione Italiani nel Mondo) to combat negative press that followed the killings outside an Italian restaurant in Duisburg and are putting up window signs reading "Mafia? No thanks!"
The posters insist that "only those who have no self-respect bow to the mafia."
Bianco believes that smart restaurants are less likely to suffer "Godfather" stereotyping than smaller, cheaper pizzerias but everybody is concerned that they could lose business following the Duisburg bloodbath.
"Obviously the murders hurt us, but what hurt us even more are the things that were written by the tabloid press afterwards," he said, referring to dark hints that it may no longer be safe to go for a pizza in one of the 300 Italian-owned restaurants in Berlin.
Last Wednesday, six members of the Vottari/Romeo/Pelle immigrant families were gunned down in two vehicles outside the upscale Da Bruno restaurant near Duisburg's central railway station.
The men, who had been celebrating one of the victims' 18th birthday at the restaurant, originally hailed from Calabria in southern Italy, a sun-baked region that is home to the notoriously violent 'Ndrangheta organised crime clan.
The Italian government rapidly attributed the killings to an internal feud within the 'Ndrangheta clan.
Italian Justice Minister Clemente Mastella has said the 'Ndrangheta has annual assets totalling 40 billion euros (54 billion dollars), property on five continents and occasional investments in the Frankfurt stock market.
If the link is proved, it would be the first time that 'Ndrangheta members have carried out a vendetta killing outside Italy and German statistics suggest that Italian crime rackets have not yet become a widespread phenomenon in the country.
Last year, the German police investigated 26 instances of organised crime believed to have been committed by "Italian groups" and linked only half of those to the Sicilian mafia and similar organisations.
"Restaurants are small fry for the mafia. Blackmailing them does not bring in a lot of money," said Bernd Finger, the head of the Berlin police's organised crime unit.
But Gino Tuddu, the owner of the Cafe Aroma in Berlin, said his compatriots living in Germany should not be naive about the long reach of Italy's legendary crime bosses.
"We must not be blind to this danger," he warned.
The UIM organiser in Germany, Laura Garavini, estimates that up to 10 percent of Italian restaurants in Germany pay protection money or are being used in money-laundering operations.
She urged Italian-owned businesses here not to allow the culture of silence that reigns back home in Italy and makes it easier to blackmail their counterparts there, to take root here too.
"They get away with it because people keep quiet when it happens to them or quietly watch it happening to others."
Bianco too called for solidarity.
"We want to tell all of those who are being threatened that they are not alone," he said.
The UIM has been encouraged by the strong response in Berlin and will next week take the "Mafia? No thanks!" initiative to Cologne, which lies some 60 kilometres (40 miles) down the Rhine river from Duisburg.
Subject: German news