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Is Germany one step closer to having its first far-right AfD mayor?

The eastern German border city of Görlitz is known for being a charming filming hub - and now for a popular Alternative for Germany (AfD) candidate who came out on top of Sunday's mayoral elections.

Is Germany one step closer to having its first far-right AfD mayor?
A look at Görlitz's old town, leading to the town hall. Photo: DPA

In mayoral elections held on Sunday, the AfD candidate Sebastian Wippel, 36, took 36.4 percent of the vote, followed by Christian Democratic Candidate Octavian Ursu, 51, who won 30.3 percent of the vote. Green Party candidate Franziska Schubert, 37, came in third place with 27.9 percent of the vote.

SEE ALSO: Meet the East German Greens candidate offering another alternative

However, because none of the candidates won an absolute majority, there will be another round of elections on June 16th. On Sunday, 58.6 percent of the city's 56,000 residents voted.

The results show a political rift in the population. The far-right populists here won 32.9 percent of the votes in the Bundestag (parliamentary) elections in 2017 and were 6 percentage points ahead of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

SEE ALSO: Far-right AfD marches into parliament with strong election results

AfD candidate Sebastian Wippel. Photo: DPA

'An Anti-European signal'

Stephan Meyer, parliamentary managing director of the Saxon CDU state parliamentary group, spoke of a “choice of direction for the whole of Germany”. The issue was whether Görlitz would continue to be shaped by “pro-European people” or send out an “anti-European signal”.

However, AfD candidate Wippel, a 36-year-old police superintendent, presents himself as European and sees Görlitz as a gateway to eastern Europe.

“The border situation is more of an opportunity than a burden. The inhabitants on both sides of the Neiße river can also grow together through partnerships,” said Wippel, adding that he has already met with the mayor of Görlitz' sister city of Zgorzelec, Poland.

Green Party candidate Schubert, 37, told The Local on Friday that she would offer another alternative to the “beautiful, European city”

“Görlitz deserves to have a friendly, open-minded image,” said Schubert, a member of Saxony's parliament who studied international relations. “With an AfD mayor from the right, we will lose people, students, enterprises and reputation.”

Her campaign also included cross-border cultural partnerships, upgrades to infrastructure and public transportation, and attracting and starting new jobs, including for the city's younger population.

Schubert told DPA she was considering whether to run again on the second ballot but added “I'm aware of my responsibility” to prevent the election of an AfD mayor.

The AfD is often viewed as a party of contradictions, with some members critical of the European Union to the point of calling for Germany to withdraw from it.

SEE ALSO: Far-right AfD to campaign on German EU Exit

Shining in the spotlight

Görlitz has also received many positive headlines. The municipality, which calls itself European City, often shines in the spotlight – quite literally.

Ever since Hollywood used it as the as a backdrop for productions such as The Grand Budapest Hotel and Inglorious Basterds, it has borne the name Görliwood.

SEE ALSO: Eastern German town of Görlitz named best filming location in Europe

Walking through the historic old town feels like being in an outdoor architecture museum – with all the essential styles from Gothic to Art Nouveau on display, and over 4,000 cultural monuments.

The city is therefore very popular with tourists and specifically recruits western German senior citizens so that they can spend their retirement in Görlitz at comparatively low rents.

Görlitz' charming centre brings in many tourists, and film directors. Photo: DPA

Tackling crime

Crime is an important topic in the election campaign. In a border town like Görlitz, it is more common than elsewhere, even twice as high as the national average, according to Wippel.

Especially with the abolition of border controls after Poland joined the EU in 2004, thefts and drug-related crime have skyrocketed. Wippel believes that “those in Berlin” don't care: “We are the victims of a great political goal”.

In the election campaign he advertises with the slogan “It's better to live with borders”. Ursu also wants to score points with the topic of security. He can be seen on billboards with video surveillance cameras.

This article was updated on Monday, May 27th at 10 am.

Vocabulary

Rift – (der) Riss

Mayoral elections – (die) Oberbürgermeisterwahl

Border situation – (die) Grenzlage

Election posters – (die) Wahlplakate

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CRIME

German man jailed for killing petrol station worker in mask row

A 50-year-old German man was jailed for life Tuesday for shooting dead a petrol station cashier because he was angry about being told to wear a mask while buying beer.

German man jailed for killing petrol station worker in mask row

The September 2021 murder in the western town of Idar-Oberstein shocked Germany, which saw a vocal anti-mask and anti-vaccine movement emerge in response to the government’s coronavirus restrictions.

The row started when 20-year-old student worker Alex W. asked the man to put on a mask inside the shop, as required in all German stores at the time.

After a brief argument, the man left.

The perpetrator – identified only as Mario N. – returned about an hour and a half later, this time wearing a mask. But as he bought his six-pack of beer to the till, he took off his mask and another argument ensued.

He then pulled out a revolver and shot the cashier in the head point-blank.

On Tuesday, the district court in Bad-Kreuznach convicted Mario N. of murder and unlawful possession of a firearm, and handed him a life sentence.

READ ALSO: Shock in Germany after cashier shot dead in Covid mask row

Under German law, people given a life sentence can usually seek parole after 15 years. His defence team had sought a sentence of manslaughter, rather than murder.

At the start of the trial, prosecutor Nicole Frohn told how Mario N. had felt increasingly angry about the measures imposed to curb the pandemic, seeing them as an infringement on his rights.

“Since he knew he couldn’t reach the politicians responsible, he decided to kill him (Alex W.),” she said.

Mario N. turned himself in to police the day after the shooting.

German has relaxed most of its coronavirus rules, although masks are still required in some settings, such as public transport.

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