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Far-right march held after Köthen death as officials plead for no repeat of Chemnitz

Around 2,500 people marched in a far-right demonstration in eastern Germany on Sunday after a man died following a fight with two Afghans, as officials pleaded for calm to avoid the anti-foreigner unrest that has shaken Chemnitz.

Far-right march held after Köthen death as officials plead for no repeat of Chemnitz
People gather in the centre of Köthen in Saxony-Anhalt on Sunday evening. Photo: DPA

Local police and prosecutors said the 22-year-old victim had suffered acute heart failure after coming to blows with the Afghan suspects during a dispute on a playground in the town of Köthen in Saxony-Anhalt late on Saturday.

The German man's death was “not directly” linked to the injuries suffered in the brawl, they said in a statement. Media reports said he died in hospital and that he had a pre-existing heart condition.

Prosecutors said one of the Afghan suspects, aged 18, stands accused of causing grievous bodily harm. The other, aged 20, faces charges of causing bodily harm with fatal consequences.

The incident was expected to inflame anti-migrant tensions, coming just two weeks after the fatal stabbing of a 35-year-old German man in the city of Chemnitz, allegedly by two asylum seekers.

“With emotions running high, we have to resist any attempt to turn Köthen into a second Chemnitz,” the state premier of Saxony-Anhalt, Reiner Haseloff, told DPA news agency.

Chemnitz, also located in Germany's former Communist east, has been rocked by a series of far-right demonstrations that saw participants assault foreign-looking people and shout anti-immigration slurs while some flashed the illegal Nazi salute.

Immediately after news of the latest incident broke, right-wing groups called on social media for a “mourning march” in Köthen from 7pm.

Police estimated the turnout at some 2,500 people, and reported no major disturbances. Many of the demonstrators waved the German flag and shouted: “Resistance! Resistance!”.

A counter-demo by far-left protesters at Köthen's rail station drew 200 people, according to police.

 'Keep calm'

Mayor Bernd Hauschild, in a Facebook message, urged locals to shun the right-wing demo because he had “information that people prepared to use violence were planning to travel to Köthen in large numbers”.

Bild newspaper said around 100 federal police officers had been sent to Köthen to help keep the peace, after police were criticized for underestimating the scale of the Chemnitz demonstrations.

According to local media the latest incident started when three Afghan men were arguing with a pregnant woman over who was the father of her unborn child.

Two German men then approached the group and the row escalated into a brawl. The third Afghan was not arrested as he was not believed to have been involved in the fighting.

Local residents and politicians on Sunday placed flowers and candles at the scene.

State interior minister Holger Stahlknecht said on Twitter that he deeply regretted “the tragic death” and understood citizens' concerns.

But he urged residents to “keep calm” and let justice run its course.

 'Reprehensible'

The recent unrest in Chemnitz in neighbouring Saxony has reignited debate in Germany about Chancellor Angela Merkel's 2015 decision to open the country's borders at the height of Europe's migrant crisis.

More than a million asylum seekers have arrived since then, deeply dividing Germans and fuelling the rise of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.

Merkel has strongly condemned the angry mobs in Chemnitz, saying there was no place for “hate in the streets”.

But interior minister Horst Seehofer of her CSU sister party, and one of Merkel's fiercest critics, responded by blasting immigration as “the mother of all political problems”.

It also emerged at the weekend that a Jewish restaurant was attacked on the sidelines of the Chemnitz protests on August 27th.

The owner told AFP that around a dozen masked neo-Nazis shouted: “Jewish pig, get out of Germany!” and hurled rocks, bottles and a metal pipe at the Schalom restaurant.

The head of the New York-based World Jewish Congress slammed the “reprehensible” attack.

“It is inconceivable and outrageous that neo-Nazi elements or Nazi-inspired individuals in Germany continue to feel empowered to engage in violent acts against Jews and other minorities,” Ronald Lauder said.

Seehofer told public broadcaster ARD on Sunday that Germany faced three big challenges: growing right-wing radicalism, “worrying” anti-Semitism and violent crimes committed by foreigners.

“We aren't blind to any of this,” Seehofer said.

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CITIES

5 things you should know about Chemnitz, the newly crowned capital of culture

The Saxonian city of Chemnitz was named European capital of culture for 2025 on Wednesday, meaning it beat off competition from Hanover, Nuremberg, Hildesheim and Magdeburg. Here are some fascinating facts about the city.

5 things you should know about Chemnitz, the newly crowned capital of culture
The Chemnitz town hall. Photo: DPA

City mayor Barbara Ludwig was clearly delighted by the surprise result, saying that “this will do the city so much good. What an amazing feeling.”

Chemnitz probably isn’t on many people’s radars. Here are five things that have marked the city's rocky history.

1. The Saxonian Manchester

The golden days for the city of Chemnitz came in the 19th century when it was one of the first German cities to embrace the revolutionary technology of steam power.

It won the moniker “Saxonian Manchester.” This nickname wasn’t just a reference to the manifold factory chimneys, it was also a comment on the poor air quality in its streets. Just like in the English town, textiles were a central pillar of the local economy.

The city was a hub of invention – six times more patents were registered than the German average. And as industry took off, so too did the population. Chemnitz achieved the status of a Großstadt in 1883 when its population topped 100,000.

2. It is the original home of Audi

The luxury car maker is normally associated with the city of Ingolstadt. But it was actually founded in Chemnitz in the 1930s when four major car companies of the time were united under one brand – Auto-Union (hence the four rings joined together.)

After the war, when the communist rulers in East Germany started seizing the wealth of private companies, the engineers at Auto-Union fled to Bavaria, bringing their know how with them. It was one of several such stories that still have an effect on employment in the city today.

3. A famous name change

The city cente in 1910 (right and 1977 (left). Photos: Wikipedia Commons 

Chemnitz was an important centre of military production during the war, with Auto-Union’s Siegmar factory being used to produce engines for the Wehmacht’s tanks. The allies flattened the city centre in the last few months of the conflict, leaving much of its historical architecture completely destroyed.

In 1953, the communist leadership of the GDR renamed the city Karl Marx Stadt, saying that the city deserved the honour due to its history of active political engagement among its proletariat. There is still a huge granite bust of the 19th century economist in the city centre.

The city that was rebuilt would have been barely recognisable to someone who grew up in Chemnitz in the late 19th century. The opulent Gründerzeit architecture was replaced by endless rows of Plattenbau.

The name was changed back to Chemnitz almost immediately after reunification when three quarters of the population voted in favour of the original name.

Photo: DPA

4. At the foot of the Erzgebirge

The history of Chemnitz isn't just rocky in the metaphorical sense, it has quite literally been influenced by the rock of the Ore mountains.

When we think of German cities with a mountain view the mind obviously springs to Munich. But Chemnitz is one of the few other Großstädte that sits at the foot of a mountain range.

From the city one can travel up into the Ore Mountains, which are largely untouched by tourism.

The thick forests and steep valleys make for some impressive views. As the name suggests the mountains are a rich vein of ore and contributed to the transformation of mining in the early modern era.

5. A neo-Nazi march

In recent history, Chemnitz is best know for a neo-Nazi march which took place there in 2018 after a local man was stabbed to death by a refugee.

There was local unrest over several days and neo-Nazis descended on the city where they also attacked migrants and gave the Hitler salute.

A mass concert in the aftermath with people coming from across the country to stand against right-wing extremism.

READ MORE: Chemnitz: Portrait of a city shaken by anti-foreigner riots

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