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Charity turns neo-Nazi march into fundraiser

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The starting line. Photo courtesy Rechts-gegen-rechts.
16:18 CET+01:00
Year after year, the town of Wunsiedel was the unwilling host to a march of neo-Nazis who would make their way through the town to the grave of Rudolf Heß. When digging up the body didn't deter the unwanted guests, the town came up with a new plan.

It calls itself a little town with a big problem. Wunsiedel in Upper Franconia, near the Czech border, was a gathering place for neo-Nazis from across Europe who would make a pilgrimage to the tomb of Adolf Hitler's deputy, buried there from 1988 to 2011.

Despite the town's protest and attempts at stopping the march, the far-right extremists continued to turn up every year.

The 2014 march happened on November 15th, but this year, the group Rechts gegen Rechts, or Rights versus Rights, was on hand with an plan to turn the action into something positive.

Two hundred neo-Nazis turned up and unwittingly put themselves at the start line of a charity walk, raising money benefitting EXIT-Germany, a group that helps people leave the extreme right community and set up a new life for themselves. Every metre they walked, an additional €10 was put into EXIT-Germany's coffers. 

"We wanted to create an alternative to counter-demonstrations," Fabian Wichmann, an education researcher at EXIT Germany told The Local on Monday.

The result was €10,000 raised by the marchers completing their walk.

"It was an absolute success," said Inge Schuster, spokesperson for the mayor of Wunsiedel, told The Local. "It created something positive out of (the march), including the €10,000 donation for EXIT-Germany."

Schuster said that the town has been trying to push the march out for years. The municipal government even succeeded in removing Heß from his grave. Undeterred, the neo-Nazis showed up year after year to continue their solemn pilgrimage.

Photo courtesy Rechts-gegen-rechts.

Neo-Nazis took their regular route through the town, but found the streets painted with encouragement to keep them going, complete with start and finishing line.

Pink banners were hung about town with puns like "Schwarz. Rot. Geld." that switched out the "Gold" for the German word for money and thanked the "dear Nazis" for their donation.

Another banner said  "Final sprint instead of final victory".

There was even a table offering the unwitting athletes bananas to keep them going, with a banner that said "Mein Mampf" or "My Snack" in English, punning on the title of Hitler's autobiography.

Wichmann noted that only one banana had been taken, though no one could confirm if it had been eaten.

As they crossed the finish line, the neo-Nazis were showered with rainbow confetti and offered certificates of completion.  A sign informed them they had just raised money against themselves as they crossed.

Photo courtesy Rechts-gegen-rechts.

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The reaction from marchers turned charity walkers was mute, netting only one mention in social media, but that doesn't discount its success.

"They probably won't go away. The history of the town is too important to them, but at least we've created something good out of it," Wichmann said.

This isn't the first time Wichmann's group has protested against the neo-Nazis with humour. In 2011, they came up with what they called a "Trojan t-shirt" that was distributed at a nationalist music festival.

At first it simply said "hardcore rebel" surrounded by Nazi flags. But after going through the wash, the extremists found themselves with a tshirt that said "If you're t-shirt can do it, you can do it too: We'll help you get away from far-right extremism."

However, Schuster noted that the reaction of the town was "overwhelmingly positive."

"If there was a chance to do it again, we would," she said.

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