• Germany's news in English
 

Attack sparks fear of rising neo-Nazi violence

The Local · 17 Feb 2009, 14:44

Published: 17 Feb 2009 14:44 GMT+01:00

Trade unionist Holger Kindler has been to at least 20 rallies to protest neo-Nazi gatherings in various German cities and towns. But he says he's never seen anything like what happened last Saturday.

Kindler was among the 80 unionists and leftists who were having a break at a motorway rest stop in the eastern German state of Thuringia on Saturday when a busload of 41 far-right extremists pulled in. He and his colleagues had just joined some 10,000 people demonstrating a major neo-Nazi march in Dresden.

''One of my colleagues who was in the car park called me on my cell phone and told me they had arrived and were aggressive,'' he said. ''I just went into shock. It was a Nazi crew that was very political, not just sub-cultural. They weren't satisfied with walking through Dresden.''

Five anti-fascist demonstrators were left injured, including one with serious skull fractures. The neo-Nazis weren't bumbling skinheads, Kindler said. They were autonome Nationalisten or free nationalists – a radical, political segment of the far-right scene in Germany who are growing in number and, experts fear, poised to create a new wave of neo-Nazi violence.

The attack at the rest stop follows recent figures showing a 30 percent rise last year in far-right crime and the shocking knife assault on Alois Mannichl, police chief in the southern town of Passau. Though investigators have yet to find Mannichl’s assailant, they are looking for a man described as a tall skinhead.

These disparate events, according to observers, are explained by upheavals in the far-right scene caused by the breakdown of old alliances and the emergence of new, aggressive splinter groups.

''It's a trend,'' said Matthias Adrian, a former skinhead who now helps extremists quit the scene. ''We've noticed more threats against those getting out and attacks on democratic activists by right-wing extremists. The atmosphere has changed and it is now more aggressive. This is the tip of the iceberg.''

Jewish organisations are also deeply concerned. The Central Council of Jews in Germany and the American Jewish Committee (AJC) in Berlin believe the violence reflects the emergence of groups who had been aligned with extremist parties such as the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party (NPD) but have become frustrated by democratic politics.

''It's not a coincidence,'' said Deidre Berger, director of the AJC in Berlin. ''There's a trend towards very loosely organised cells which use modern means of communication and are therefore harder to keep track of. It also means they can work across borders so you have more communication between these cell-like structures in different countries in Europe.''

As if to confirm this, police are looking for three Swedish neo-Nazis in connection with the Thuringia assaults, as well as home-grown extremists from western Germany.

''These cells are becoming more established and that's definitely a major factor in the escalating violence. It's a tremendous concern to us,'' Berger added.

The NPD loses its sway

In the 1990s, the NPD courted neo-Nazi groups known as Kameradschaften, or Brotherhoods, using them as grassroots muscle to win seats in state and local elections. The NPD, radical though it is, curbed the most violent impulses of the Brotherhoods because violence turned away voters.

But with the NPD now riven by internal fighting and an embezzlement scandal that has implicated its leader Udo Voigt, many of these Brotherhoods have become disillusioned and are splitting away, experts say.

''A lot of them are angry now because they're seeing these NPD politicians with nice jobs and cars and drivers and they're wondering, 'What did we get out of this?''' a government intelligence official from North Rhine-Westphalia told The Local.

In early January, a leading neo-Nazi, Thomas ''Steiner'' Wulff, called for the dissolution of the Volksfront, an alliance between the NPD and independent far-right extremist groups. Wulff, who gets around in a peaked cap and greatcoat and took his nickname from the Nazi tank commander Felix Steiner, was instrumental in unifying neo-Nazi groups in the 1990s.

''The situation with Thomas Steiner Wulff is very interesting,'' said Dr. Esther Lehnert, who runs a federally funded counselling service to combat the far-right scene in Berlin.

She said if key autonomous nationalist leaders continue to leave the NPD it could mean more violence is in store without the party to keep them on a short leash. “At the moment, no one can say what they're going to do. They are unpredictable,” she said.

The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Germany’s domestic intelligence agency charged with watching extremists, is naturally cautious about drawing conclusions from the latest data and incidents such as the rest stop attack, but an official from the agency admitted the government was worried by the growth of the skinheads, neo-Nazis and other far-right extremists seemingly operating independently.

They are a new phenomenon in the scene and they are more interested in confrontation,” he told The Local. “At demonstrations, you notice they are less willing to take the orders of the police and more willing to fight the left-wing counterdemonstrators. Even most of the right-wing scene says they are too aggressive.”

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Today's headlines
Footballers gone wild
Neuer's 'glass palace' angers idyllic village
Tegernsee is a famous beauty sport. Photo: DPA

Neuer's 'glass palace' angers idyllic village

10 hours ago

Villagers in the picturesque Bavarian region of Tegernsee are bristling at World Cup-winning Germany goalkeeper and Bayern Munich star Manuel Neuer's plan to build a huge glass villa on the shores of their beautiful lake.

Interview
'Berlin is kind of like the best American city'
Canadian composer and performer Owen Pallett. Photo: Brian Vu

'Berlin is kind of like the best American city'

10 hours ago

The Local speaks with Oscar-nominated Canadian musician Owen Pallett about performing at legendary Berlin club Berghain - and just why the world's artists are so fascinated with the German capital.

Germany name squad for crunch Scotland match
Liverpool's Emre can has been called up to the Germany squad to face Scotland and Poland. Photo: DPA

Germany name squad for crunch Scotland match

12 hours ago

Liverpool's uncapped defender Emre Can was on Friday called up to the Germany squad for the world champions' forthcoming key Euro 2016 qualifiers against Poland and Scotland.

How Brits in Germany are facing Brexit fears
How will life for Brits in Germany change if the Brexit happens? Photo: DPA

How Brits in Germany are facing Brexit fears

14 hours ago

Greece is the talk of the town this year. But in 2016, it will be Britain questioning its EU membership. The referendum outcome could be life altering for many Brits living in Germany.

Honest senior rewarded for handing in €12,000
An 87-year-old pensioner found the cash in the bin. Photo: DPA

Honest senior rewarded for handing in €12,000

12 hours ago

After throwing away €12,000 this week, a landlord in North Rhine-Westfalia thought he'd made one of the most expensive blunders of his life. But the money made it home safely, police said on Friday – and all thanks to an honest pensioner.

Refugee party against far-right CAN go ahead
Anti-refugee demonstrators carry a sign accusing Chancellor Angela Merkel of being a "traitor to the nation" this week in Heidenau. Photo: DPA

Refugee party against far-right CAN go ahead

16 hours ago

Update: A court in Dresden has ruled that refugees and their supporters can go ahead with a party to demonstrate against this week's displays of far-right hatred in Heidenau.

Elite cops' hazing ritual: eat ice cream off thighs
A Cologne SEK unit on deployment in 2013. Photo: DPA

Elite cops' hazing ritual: eat ice cream off thighs

15 hours ago

Officers from Cologne's elite Spezialeinsatzkommando (SEK) police unit should be punished for hazing practices they inflicted on new members, an official in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) said on Thursday.

Knut autopsy could help human disease sufferers
Knut died in front of visitors at Berlin Zoo in 2011. Photo: DPA

Knut autopsy could help human disease sufferers

16 hours ago

Four years after Berlin's celebrity polar bear Knut died, a neuroscientist has discovered the cause of death - an autoimmune disorder which affected his brain.

Army buys in new guns to replace defective G36
A German soldier armed with a G36 rifle during training exercises in Poland. Photo: DPA

Army buys in new guns to replace defective G36

17 hours ago

Some German soldiers will be carrying different weapons within a year as the Defence Ministry scrambles to replace standard rifle which loses accuracy under hot temperatures.

Climate change
Sweltering summer has climatologists sweating
Dried out soil in Bavaria. Photo: DPA

Sweltering summer has climatologists sweating

17 hours ago

Heat over 40 degrees, weeks without rain, sudden storms and flash floods – in the summer of 2015 Germany experienced all these things. Are these extremes set to become the norm?

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS

National
Weekend of anti-refugee violence shocks Germany
National
Half of Germans 'have had sex in their car'
Society
Deadly stew spooks home vegetable gardeners
Politics
The man who brought two Germanies together
Features
Where to get your culture fix in Cologne
Education
Fairytale world of Brothers Grimm brought to life
Rhineland
Thieves leave 1,000 open beers untasted
National
Way to some Germans' hearts is through their wallets
National
Germany's biggest challenge: European refugee crisis
Travel
Where to get your adrenaline pumping in Germany
Technology
Could thieves hack into luxury cars?
What to watch out for when snapping your lunch
National
German lefties through history
National
The fight over prostitution heats up
National
Merkel: migrants, not Greece, are the real challenge
Features
How I explained the Queen to the Germans
Education
Why Germany does 'back-to-school' traditions better
National
Germans are ‘not how foreigners think’
National
A mum and daughter reunite 70 years after WWII
Sport
Bra stops bullet in hunting mishap miracle
National
Cows trample German woman to death in Graubünden Alps
Business & Money
Start-up helps new Berliners short cut bureaucracy
National
The 1,000s of Germans massacred after the Second World War
Sport
Germany star scores own goal with PR gaffe
Features
'Women-only' parking: sensible or sexist?
Politics
Satire and reality blur in parody party's strife
National
13-year-old boy detained for trying to join Isis
Culture
Berlin restaurant serves up Greek Crisis Menu
Rhineland
Doctor on trial after woman wakes in morgue
Society
Six odd things Germans do in the summer
Society
Police bust kinky Bavarian couple over painful love-making
Politics
Merkel brings Palestinian girl to tears
Hamburg
Amateur archaeologist finds Nazi gold hoard
National
Could Merkel learn a lesson in love from this doppelganger?
Travel
Why you should stay in Germany for the summer holidays
Sport
German press tell Schweinsteiger 'good riddance'
National
Hamburg gets a bouncing 100kg baby girl
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se

7,058
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd