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Drunk, homeless man convicted for 'Hitler salute'

DDP/The Local · 10 Aug 2010, 11:21

Published: 10 Aug 2010 11:21 GMT+02:00

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The court in Oldenburg, west of Bremen, ruled that Nazi expressions had to be banished from public spaces, regardless of whether there was any real political motive behind them.

The man had previously been sentenced to two months’ prison by an administrative court in the town of Leer, however this was overturned by a regional court in Aurich on the grounds that there had been no political meaning to the man’s gestures.

But the higher court in Oldenburg disagreed. The judges argued that any display of Nazi symbols or gestures had to be illegal in order to banish them completely from the public sphere. It did not matter, therefore, whether or not the drunk, homeless man had a solid political basis for his behaviour.

The Hitler salute, consisting of a raised right arm and open hand, is banned in public in Germany, as are most Nazi expressions and symbols, including swastikas and using phrases such as “Heil Hitler.” Breaches are punishable by up to three years’ jail.

Ironic uses can, however, be exempt, though this has led to legal controversies over what constitutes irony. Prince Ernst August of Hannover, husband of Caroline of Monaco, escaped punishment despite giving an airport official an “ironic” Nazi salute at Hannover airport in 2005.

In 2007, a 58-year-old Berlin man, Roland T., was sentenced to five months’ jail for teaching his pet dog, Adolf, to raise its paw in a Hitler salute. The man had previously been investigated for Nazi-style displays but authorities had been lenient because he had a brain injury.

Also in 2007, a court sentenced Horst Mahler, former leftist radical-turned-neo-Nazi, to six months’ prison for what he claimed was an ironic Hitler salute to a Jewish television interviewer.

DDP/The Local (news@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

12:01 August 10, 2010 by moistvelvet
"The Hitler salute, consisting of a raised right arm and open hand, is banned in public in Germany, as are most Nazi expressions and symbols, including swastikas and using phrases such as ¦quot;Heil Hitler.¦quot; Breaches are punishable by up to three years¦#39; jail.

So what exactly is the difference between someone raising their right hand in a biergarten and ordering beer in the quantity of "Zwei litre", or a homeless guy giving a gesture with no political and The Local describing step by step what a Hitler salute is? Isn't The Local just sa guilty of this draconian law?

I can understand why sometimes this practice should not be allowed, but at the end of the day it is a movement of the arm. Can someone explain what other bodily movements are likely to land me in court, for fear of upsetting someone or breaking the law I feel uncomfortable to pick, scratch or order "zwei litre" of bier!
12:12 August 10, 2010 by 9900lawre
How many of us can deny raising an open hand to greet someone at distance without actually waving the hand from side to side? not many.

If this person was actually heal clicking or stood in some sort of symbolic manor then maybe some education in what is acceptable would be in order.

I don't see such punishments for 2 fingers raised in france which could be seen as symbolic of a victorious archer.
12:28 August 10, 2010 by Kayak
One needs to be German to understand this one. As a non-German I also think that it's stupid to ban a physical gesture.

The logic goes something like this - It's 1946 amd we¦#39;ve recently been defeated by the Allied Forces and the country is in ruins ... so we've decided to call all unique symbols and gestures from the former NSDAP "hate-symbols" and make these symbols illegal. "...but stone eagles on government buildings are ok even the ones with the circular wreath held in the eagle¦#39;s talons because that¦#39;s good stonework, but we'll have to make sure that we remove the swastika in the wreath because that¦#39;s NSDAP..."

My difficulty with understanding this is that I can¦#39;t come up with any other ban that is as similarly stupid from outside of Germany. Any suggestions?
12:37 August 10, 2010 by bmck
I think this law is designed to keep visitors to Germany from displaying salute toward native Germans when they offend them.

Also, this is perhaps why one does not "Heil" a taxi in Germany???
13:25 August 10, 2010 by dcgi
Wow that Drunk homeless man looks an awful lot like Hitler!
13:49 August 10, 2010 by MonkeyMania
Jeez! And I always thought the natives were just being friendly and waving at me.
14:08 August 10, 2010 by auniquecorn
How high is the grass in your garden?
14:13 August 10, 2010 by Essertpitay

That's because in France we don't have a clue what the "2 finger salute" refers to.

If we did, we would take great pleasure in throwing English tourists in jail for insult to our national honour !
14:17 August 10, 2010 by moistvelvet
Other similarly stupid bans in other countries such as UK include: can't walk sheep across London bridge unless you have freedom of the city, but you can kill a Scotsman within the walls of York city if he is carrying a bow and arrow.

In Ohio it is illegal to get a fish drunk and in Indonesia the punishment for the 5 knuckle shuffle is to have your head cut off!

So this law forbidding Zwei Litre hailing is either not so bad as we first thought or like many others it is simply outdated. However it is perhaps unique in that it is the only one still enforced by the powers elected to enforce democracy and freedom :o
15:18 August 10, 2010 by hOU
Another shining example of just how Germany is.
15:26 August 10, 2010 by bernie1927
By forbidding the salute they keep drawing attention.

The homeless drunk wasn't stupid. He ended up getting free room and board for three months. Great deal, and the government pays for it. He can't wait to get out and get an extension of his stay by adding "Heil Hitler" to his next salute. My God, what crazy laws they have.
15:33 August 10, 2010 by wpfaeffle
Hitler often bent his right arm. How would the German courts deal with that?
15:45 August 10, 2010 by Butterstulle
Well, I'm surprised this law dosen't come upon comprehension here. As a German, I think I should explain : D.

If someone does the Hitler salute, he does it consciously and the Hitler salute not just consist of rais your arm or at least not like you would greet a friend from beyond. I wonder if I should give a Hitler salute instruction but i think its actually evident if someone reuses the historical gesture and as the article already said, the sentence by breach depends also on the context.

The raison d'être of this law is given due to avert nazi symbols. The Hitler salute same as the swastika or the other symbols stand for the III Reich and its crimes and with using them you express contempt of all the victims of WWII or show affilitaion to right-ring extremists. So that it is. I hope this law isn't so strange to you anymore now.

Greetings from Germany

ps: Well, i can understand you making fun of it and i don't see it that criticaly; I'm rather young but the older ones in Germany would be seriously concerned if you were making fun of it. ;-)
15:48 August 10, 2010 by freechoice
can i make fun of hitler?

i have this dream of playing in a comedy as Hitler after I have mastered the German language.
15:54 August 10, 2010 by Butterstulle

Your criticism is not about this specific law but much more about doing small crimes and getting shelter in prison.

Aren't there any crimes in your country which are punished with less than a year or so?

: P
16:14 August 10, 2010 by bernie1927

I just think that a big deal was made out of nothing. The guy was drunk. If he had unzipped his pants, he probably would have gotten away with a night in the cooler. What's the big deal? In Russia, if someone were to raise his fist in the old communist salute, they would have laughed at him. Why don't you guys get a life?
16:28 August 10, 2010 by Butterstulle

Yes you can make fun of Hitler and it's also much made in Germany but the success maybe depends on the audience. I would say from 40-years-old to end it might be not the humour of them but you won't be sentenced for playing Hitler. And be carefully with using swastika; I know in films it can be used but I'm not sure how it is exactly ruled.


Your comparison of unzipping the pants is good. Ok, maybe you are right but I guess he may did more than just a few salutes; hm I don't know.
16:46 August 10, 2010 by moistvelvet
@Butterstule, thanks for the explanation, but who is this Hilter geezer you speak of? Is he some mythical legend rather like the Scorpion King, which after mumbling a secret phrase, gesturing in a particular way and clicking your heels together, (worked for Dorothy), the evil lord is reborn and come-eth the end of days? Are Germans really that superstitious or just really stuck in the past and should never mention his name? We know what the salute means, we have seen all the war films and "Allo Allo". 1945 was so last century, so why not just relax and realise that the world has moved on. Locking up a homeless guy for this is hardly setting a good example of tolerence, not as if he was burning books now was it!
17:05 August 10, 2010 by Erasmus B Aiken
In the USA you can be arrested for placing a hangman's noose ("lynching rope") in public display. This is because for some, it is still a powerful symbol of murder and oppression and crime against humanity. In my personal experience, it evokes fun memories of childhood play (the sheriff of the Old West). But I must understand that for people who have different personal experience this is not the case.

As years go by it will become apparent to Germany that restrictions against the Nazi salute are silly. But undoubtedly several more generations of Germans will need to pass on until the symbols of the 3rd Reich lose their emotional power. After 145 years the "Stars and Bars" flag of the Confederate South still has symbolic power in the USA.
17:08 August 10, 2010 by Kayak
But why ban it/why make it illegal? Bad taste cannot be regulated. One can't declare what is and isn't someone elses humour/joke.

In a democracy, why can't people be free to express themselves? Is there a fear of self-expression in Germany?

I agree with the comment that this is so "last century". Isn't it time to get over it and move on? What would happen if the law was removed tomorrow?

I invite other German readers to give us your thoughts on the subject of NSDAP symbols and gestures.
19:54 August 10, 2010 by estebanseth
I believe that banning symbols or manifestaiones Nazis in Germany, will not remove the global image of its past in the first half of the twentieth century.

Then, so what?
20:03 August 10, 2010 by Butterstulle

I think you didn't read my first text.


Although democracy is unevitable bounded with freedome, you still need laws which rule the communal life and the freedome of speech ends there where it's disparaging others. I don't know where you live but i can't imagine that in your country it's not against the law to insult other people.

Of course the frame differs from which something should be counted as anbearible or just as free speech.
22:21 August 10, 2010 by dluckygurl8
@Bernie1927 -

I don't think being drunk should exempt him from the law. What if he decided to get behind wheel while drunk and hit someone?

@Kayak -

You cannot just tell the Germans to 'get over it' and 'move on' with regards to this particular part of history. This is a very significant part of their history as a country - and they make sure this mistake will never happen again. For so long as one is here in Germany, he/she is expected to observe German laws vs Nazi symbols. It is not a question of freedom of expression, it is a demonstration of respect for this country's history and its people.

How do you think an American would feel if a German (or any nationality for that matter) makes fun of the 9/11 incident?
23:17 August 10, 2010 by Expat Canuck
As a previous commenter noted, the homeless man just got free room and board in the Crowbar Hotel. With a warm bed, hot showers, clean clothes, counseling with a pretty young social worker, what's not to like?

Perhaps Germany should implement a "chain gang" system like the United States, where prisoners would do hard manual labour for their keep. Perhaps people would then think twice about such acts of foolishness. Hire a couple of big southern sheriffs to police the crews and then barring any "failures to communicate" you'll have more people respecting the laws. ;-)
23:43 August 10, 2010 by wxman
Well, I guess that proved my point!
00:28 August 11, 2010 by TBurris
Is there no freedom of speech here. The salute is not in good taste but also not physically harmful to others.
02:54 August 11, 2010 by JAMessersmith
I see these kinds of overblown laws not only as hypocritical (i.e. Hitler would've done much the same, having people thrown in prison for communist and Masonic symbols and salutes, and the like), but also as counter-productive. By banning everything Hitler, and making Nazi history so taboo, it only increases their myth in the eyes of younger generations. It's like telling a child not to touch a certain piece of furniture, or what have you, only to find that you've made that kid all the more curious about it, and have more or less encouraged him or her to do just that. The same can be said for portraying Hitler as some kind of supernatural monster, rather than a human being. This only leads, in certain segments of the population, to Hitler worship, because people get caught up in the mythological aspect of it all. Those who are inclined to rebel against the establishment will end up viewing him as some sort of anti-establishment poster-boy, when in fact he WAS the establishment in his day and age. People of that sort of mentality will say to themselves, "if the establishment hates this guy so much, he must've done something right". Like I said, it's a counterproductive approach. Of course, the majority of people may not feel that way, but the possibility exists. It would be better, in my opinion, to tell people the truth, let them hear his crazy ideas, read the literature, and put his movement into better historical context.


If a foreigner in America made fun of 9/11, people undoubtedly wouldn't take too kindly to it, but that person would not be imprisoned for it. There are Muslim-extremists in New York City who go around the streets handing out Jihadist literature that claims we deserved what we got (no joke, and they are perfectly free to do so, strange as it is). A better example would be burning a cross in someone's yard. It is illegal, firstly because its dangerous (i.e. a giant uncontrolled bonfire in someone's yard), but also because it is reminiscent of intimidation tactics perpetrated by the KKK against blacks (and there tends to be much more white-guilt in this country than Islamic-guilt... perhaps because Muslims make up about 1% of the population). However, oddly enough, there aren't similar symbols used against Native Americans. Even though we Europeans committed genocide against them, they are hardly as sheltered as the African-Americans are in this country. Perhaps that's because they've been crowded in to ghettos, that we call "reservations" as a euphemism, and are out of sight and out of mind, but offending them isn't nearly as taboo as offending blacks. As was mentioned in a previous comment, hanging a noose on a tree can be taken as a "hate crime" is some regions of the country, but there are no comparable symbols used to intimidate or offend Native Americans, even though, in the grand scheme of things, they were almost entirely wiped out as a people.
04:45 August 11, 2010 by wenddiver
@ All- I take it none of you have ever been to Oklahoma (Souix, Cherokee, Creek),Mississippi(Choctaw and Creek), Florida(Seminole and Creek), Arizona(Apache, Navajo and Hopi) or the Dakotas (Souix). I don't know what the actual figure for Native Americans is, but I would guess it's in the Millions nation wide.

Some of the best Soldiers I knew in the US Army were Americans of Sioux, Seminole and Creek decent. They come from Warrior cultures, so that should come as no surprise. American Paratroopers scream "Geronimo" the name of the Great Apache War Chief to this day when jumping into battle. The US Marine Corps used Navajo radio men in the Pacific battles of World War II, because they were smart, brave and what Jap speaks Navajo?

The Native tribes are very much alive. There are members who chose to live on Reservations and some accept Government support, but for every one of those there are several who get up and go to work in offices or on oil rigs or on Cattle Ranches. The ones who live on Reservations can drive their cars off of them and go on vacation or shopping if they want to, but they will always be the government on the Reservation land and the laws of the Tribal Council are the actual laws of that area. If the tribal Police arrest you, you might end up in a Federal Prison. Just thought you should know.
11:23 August 11, 2010 by rbnc
We all know that the best way to denounce the horrible way that the Nazi regime look away people's freedom of expression is by taking away peoples freedom of expression.
01:36 August 12, 2010 by kabekew
Listen to me, Germany: All of the Nazi leaders are long dead. Nobody in the world is worried that "Nazi's" will somehow come to power in Germany. Your anti-Nazi laws made sense right after the war, but not now. It just makes Germany seem like a backwards dictatorship when you prevent simple speech or arm gestures.

Stop worrying about "Nazi's." That is old history.
10:49 August 12, 2010 by aruntutu
As much as I get the pain and suffering the people of Germany had, as did a major part of Europe in greater measures, under the Nazi rule, i feel that these sort of rules just helps in further reminding people of all the pain. Agreed, it was a harsh time but revisiting this time and again is not helping anyone move on. The present German generation has worked past all the horrors, has build an extremely tolerant society and if a simple hand gesture reminds people of the past, German is never bound to recover for the WW II horror. Its a given that an act of intolerance or extremism such be curtailed, but this... It pushes the gun a little too far and does not in any way help heal the wounds inflicted more than half a century ago. Discretion is required, this... ABSURD!
14:24 August 12, 2010 by Solutrean
How come Allied war criminals are never tried for war crimes? At least three million Germans we're murdered after the war. General Eisenhower starved to death one million German POWs; he changed their status from POW to DEF (Disarmed Enemy Force) so that they wouldn't be protected by the Geneva Convention.
21:48 August 13, 2010 by Ducano
I rather like the comments of JAMessersmith 03:27 August 11, 2010.He brings up the genocide of the Native Americans by the Europeans.Funny how that goes almost unnoticed.They are some of the kindest and friendliest people on earth.I lived among them for a while and employed several of them at one time and found it one of the nicest experiences I have had in my life.Should I start worrying about my moustache now too,because some people may get paranoid about that too,because Hitler had a moustache?These laws are proof how easy it is to go from the sublime to the ridiculous.Here is a link,that might make you wonder: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2004/sep/25/usa.secondworldwar

"What a terrible web we weave,when first we practice to deceive" according to Sir Walter Scott.And deceptions reign high in our western propaganda.Yes we most definitely use two or more different measures to deal with people,who are supposed to be equal.And when it comes to religion,check and see,how many of the higher-up Nazis were transported to the US and South America via the Vatican.They were very much in demand,because they were well trained in anti-communism.Communism became the new enemy,after the communists were friends with the allies in their endeavour to defeat Nazi Germany.Like Henry Kissinger once said:"The only thing more dangerous than being America¦#39;s enemy is being America¦#39;s friend".And if you could get Saddam Hussein to verify that statement,he would certainly answer in the affirmative.It cost him his neck.Literally.
04:08 August 14, 2010 by MichaSeifert-Weiss
I think that perhaps the people who write that they fail to understand the seriousness of the ban on all things Nazi are being obtuse. And then there are those who write first that they understand...BUT apparently Germany is wrong anyway! It's very simple to understand the total intolerance of Nazism - and to actually empathise with anybody who would want to make a Nazi salute is to open the door a crack to a resurgence of extremist socio-political behaviours. Do you all really want that? Do you think that the people who lived through it once understand this tolerance towards hailing A.Hitler's monstrously psychopathic insanity? Those born of German families typically grow up with a deep sense of social and moral obligation to prevent this kind of extraordinary dismissal of humanity that Nazism stood for gaining influence again. Accept that and grow up.
06:44 August 14, 2010 by erinjohn
first of all i agree w/the poster about this being not about america but about germany. secondly, most american indians 90% died from disease. which was not done on purpose. nobody in the 1600-1700s even knew they carried those diseases. what is funny to me is how its been illegal in west germany , now unified germany since basically may 1945..yet here we are in august 2010 debating the very law. it didnt make hitler go away. it didnt make national socialism go away. sorry folks both are here to stay. they banned alcohol in usa....didnt stop people from drinking...illegal as it was and then it was legal again and all these "new" or neo crazy drinkers were going to get hooked on booze and ruin america.....guess what? it didnt happen...think about it!
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