“It could have happened to anyone”

AThe day after there is tortellini from the Tupperware jar. The 26-year-old material science student has brought his lunch from home; his fellow student, who is sitting next to him on the concrete wall in the sun, has bought a kebab at the Turkish snack bar. Just as the management of the TU Darmstadt recommended: for the time being, not to eat any more food stored in the kitchenettes or other rooms of the university.

The two master’s students work in building L207, which is located on the Lichtwiese campus diagonally across from building L201. Where the Department of Materials and Geosciences has offices, workshops and laboratories, seven university members were poisoned on Monday, according to police investigations by a substance in milk cartons and water containers that were kept in three tea kitchens. Apparently it was an attack, says the second of the two students, a thirty-year-old from Ukraine. He can only speculate about the perpetrator’s motive: “Trouble, whatever, at least he must be crazy.” It is worrying that it is probably someone from the university – after all, you need a key to get into the building come.

“Target of a serious crime”

A third student of materials science joins them. He says he saw the ambulances pull up in front of building L201 at around half past twelve on Monday. The group of researchers who fell victim to the attack are, as far as he knows, dealing with ceramics. Are toxic substances also used in the laboratories? He assumes that, but basically the study of materials science in Darmstadt has more to do with physics than chemistry.

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At the side entrance of building L201, a red truck is unloading tanks with liquid helium. A note hangs on the glass door. “TU Darmstadt has become the target of a serious crime” is written on it, followed by brief information on the alleged poison attack and instructions on how to behave. An employee opens the door by holding an electronic key in front of a sensor. Whoever placed the poison in the kitchenette – presumably at the weekend: the person must have such a transponder or have gained access by other means. Since the transponders are not personalized, it is not possible to trace who has entered the building.

Universities are open spaces

In front of the main entrance of L201, Manfred Efinger is available to answer questions from the reporter teams of the television stations. As Chancellor of the Technical University, the man in the white shirt and coarse wool jacket is responsible for the university administration and represents the president, who has just returned from the vacation that was cut short. When Efinger steps in front of the cameras, he clasps his hands in front of his stomach. “We are deeply affected,” he says. After the university employees showed signs of poisoning on Monday and the toxic substance was discovered in the kitchenettes, the university administration and the police searched all rooms in which food could also have been poisoned. However, nothing was found.

Efinger is visibly moved, his voice falters when he speaks. Universities are basically open spaces and therefore vulnerable, he says. Only because of the corona pandemic, access to some TU buildings is currently restricted. He had not previously heard that a similar attack had occurred at a university. The sympathy of the entire Technical University goes out to the injured students and employees. Efinger pauses and clears his throat. “It could have happened to anyone.”

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