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The German Fish Mafia Is Blowing Up Cars and Making Bombs Over Sandwiches

Bomb threats, batons, and acid attacks are just a few of the rather extreme measures taken by a German "fish mafia" to drive away competition in the local herring sandwich trade.
Hilary Pollack
Los Angeles, US

It's pretty common knowledge that you don't want to mess with the mob. Whether over money, family, or respect, a conflict with the mafia is almost guaranteed to get you anything from a creepy threat to an indefinite nap with the fishes. But sometimes, the fish themselves are at the center of the quarrel.

A 31-year-old man in the north German city of Stralsund was sentenced to 25 months in prison yesterday resulting from his savage 2012 assault of Heinz-Dieter Hartlieb, the local deputy mayor. The aggressor severely injured Hartlieb's head and legs with a baton (Tonya Harding-style)—and the attack was meant to assert his group's dominance in the local fish sandwich trade.


But that's not all. This wasn't just a case of a simple baton-whack over herring and onions on a bun. The man's 36-year-old accomplice will also serve nine months in the clink for planting a fake bomb outside of the city's Department of Planning and Building Control. Although the bomb was equipped with TNT, it had no detonator—instead, featuring a threatening letter to Hartlieb. The accomplice is already serving a three-and-a-half-year sentence for a 2013 charge of extortion by means of force.

And all of this rather malevolent kerfuffle surrounds the fish sandwich market at the local harbor, which can rake in big bucks but requires a license to sell. The case's prosecutors argued that the pair of criminals were part of a "fish mafia," and were merely obeying the commands of a behind-the-scenes "codfather."

Hartlieb found himself at the center of the bomb threats and attacks due to his move to increase the number of such licenses for local vendors and fishermen, essentially creating a wider and more varied market for the sandwiches than just the bigwigs who currently dominate the local, highly lucrative trade scene. Boats can bring in an annual income of €200,000 a year by selling the seafood subs—which usually consist of fresh fish or pickled herring with onions on a roll—to the large swath of tourists that vacations in the coastal town.

Hartlieb is now under police protection. Though the incidents at hand mostly took place in 2012, the case was reopened after the German Supreme Court found that the judge had mishandled information concerning an alibi of one of the accused.

The defense successfully convinced the court to drop charges for intimidation and elimination of competition, but it's indisputable that things have gotten very heated in the mini industry.

A family who recently tried to join and get a slice of the fish sandwich moneybags probably regretted it when their boat and car were set on fire, followed by an acid attack on a local hotel that they run. The damage caused by the fish mafia amounted to about €60,000—not exactly chump change.

Bombs, batons, and acid attacks: in this scene, the minnows have to watch out for the sharks.