How was the conversation 20 years ago

The Great Train Robbery
Mail robber Ronnie Biggs returned home 20 years ago

London (dpa) - Gentleman gangster or cold-blooded criminal, a symbol of indomitable or a sad playboy who sold his life for money?

The Düsseldorf punk band Die Toten Hosen praised Ronald Biggs as “our favorite refugee Ron”, in Germany the crime thriller “The Gentlemen ask for cash” about the legendary mail robbery in which Biggs was involved became one of the first street sweepers of the young television nation in 1966. Years after his death, Biggs (1929-2013) remains a controversial figure.

This Friday (May 7th) it will be 20 years since perhaps the most famous robber in the world returned to Great Britain after decades on the run - and disappeared behind prison walls for a long time. Because Biggs belonged to the notorious gang that stole the equivalent of more than 60 million euros from a mail train in 1963. Only after several years, long since seriously ill, was he released from prison.

One who knew Biggs well is Tote Hosen guitarist Breiti. “He was always such a symbol,” says the musician, bourgeois Michael Breitkopf, of the German Press Agency. "We grew up with feature films and documentaries about this mail robbery, which was a legendary affair." Ronnie Biggs' escape contributed to this: Sentenced to 30 years in prison, he was soon able to escape.

He finally got to Brazil via Paris, where he had his face changed, and Australia, where he had lived unrecognized for years. And it became a legend there, also because the Brazilian authorities refused to extradite them. Biggs, whose first marriage was to a British woman with whom he had three children, had a son with a Brazilian woman.

"Because his escape was successful for many years and the British authorities could not get hold of him, and because he has become such a public figure, he became a symbol, indeed for weird birds from all over the world," says Breiti. “He always had people at home: musicians, crooks, artists, normal tourists. His door was always open. "

One reason: Biggs needed money. His share of the millionaire loot - 147,000 pounds, worth around 3.1 million pounds today - was almost used up, the costs of his facial surgery and the escape were enormous. For money, he told everyone who was interested his story - and became known like a sore thumb. “This always made it look like he was giving the British authorities a finger in addition to the fact that they couldn't get to him,” says Breiti. "But that was due to the situation and was not at all his intention."

The Toten Hosen also benefited from Biggs' need for money. Because when they wanted to play a song with him, he was skeptical at first; often enough he had been ripped off because of his openness. “We discussed everything at the first meeting,” says Breiti. «We had a contract with us. He got a fixed amount for the recordings, and then that was okay and done for him. " This resulted in “Carnival in Rio (Punk was)”, a song for the pants record “Learning English Lesson One” (1991) - the lyrics were written by Biggs.

For Breiti, who made friends with Biggs and later visited him several times in custody, the mail robber is above all a symbol. «He screwed up and accepted that he had to face the consequences for it. But the consequences have again been injustice. Then he just acted. "

Breiti is convinced: Biggs, who had already been imprisoned several times, would have accepted a shorter sentence. "He only found this sentence of 30 years for his part in this mail robbery absolutely exaggerated and also found it morally justified for himself to break out of prison after two years." Biggs only played a minor role in the robbery in which the train driver was seriously injured.

In the UK, many people saw it differently. After Biggs' death, conservative politicians and the media criticized the celebrity robber was wrongly transfigured into a modern Robin Hood. That was offensive to the victim, train driver Jack Mills, and Biggs a violent criminal.

Of course, guitarist Breiti has a different point of view. “I don't feel a moral prohibition against being friends with someone like that or recording music,” he says. He could learn a lot from Biggs. «Compared to the average thug it had a completely different dimension. He had a great deal of wisdom to look at life too, because he had a rather broader horizon and as a result probably very often did not meet the expectations of his visitors. "

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