Thousands of people took to the streets in counter-demonstrations to show their rejection of racism and xenophobia, although many mainstream politicians have expressed unease at the development.
Around 100,000 people are expected to come to Germany each year as a result of the opening of the job market to people from new European Union members Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, the Czech Republic and Hungary.
People from these countries are, as of May 1, allowed to work in Germany without a work permit. Many see this as an opportunity for the German labour market, but it has also prompted concerns about pressure on wages. Trades unions have called for higher basic wages and guaranteed decent working conditions.
But the NPD took to the streets under the slogan, “Stop the foreign worker invasion,” marching in Bremen on Saturday and other towns on Sunday.
At least 4,000 counter-demonstrators gathered in central Bremen under the wide umbrella of a group called ‘No Metre’, facing around 3,000 police officers who were there to guarantee the rights of the NPD to hold their march.
A police spokesman said there were no serious incidents during the day, although three officers were slightly injured. One woman demonstrator was said by organisers to have been seriously hurt but released no further details.
Those protesting the NPD march at one point blocked the road by sitting down, but were hauled out of the way by police.
Bremen’s mayor Jens Böhrnsen and social senator Ingelore Rosenkötter were among the protests, marching alongside people carrying placards with the slogans, “Rigorously no metre for Nazis” and “Fascism is not an opinion, it is a crime”.
Much of Bremen’s city centre had been closed off ahead of the march and demonstration. Around 200 NPD supporters showed up, marching through the new part of town and holding a rally at the Neustädter train station.
The ‘No Metre’ grouping had brought together political parties, church communities, organisations, local groups and student unions as well as trades unions in an attempt to prevent the NPD march altogether. This had been possible in 2006 when nearly 10,000 people managed to stop a NPD demonstration marching through Bremen-Gröpelingen.
In Greifswald around 3,000 people gathered on Sunday to oppose another march due to be held by NPD members and supporters.
Far right extremists encourage misanthropy and hate, something that, “We as citizens of this town do not accept,” said Greifswald mayor Arthur König as he took place in the demonstration.
Another march of far right extremists was planned on Sunday in Heilbronn, where around 800 NPD members were expected. At least 1,000 police officers were on duty there, clearing a sit-down protest which blocked a road early in the morning.