On July 7th, 750 nationalists and I attended a day of hate, rage, and general all-round good vibes at Rock für Deutschland, the largest neo-Nazi festival in Germany. They were there to watch Nazi bands with names like Exzess, Oidoxie, Words of Anger, and Tätervolk. I was there with a photographer to observe them.
While raindrops fizzed off of the mostly shaved skulls around me, Gorden Richter, the National Democratic Party (NPD) councilman for the city of Gera, issued the necessary Ts & Cs from the stage: “Racist, xenophobic phrases, or phrases that are attributed to the Third Reich, will not be permitted. No symbols that defy article 130 and 186a. Moreover, alcohol is banned.” As they stomped in, many of the visitors had gaffer tape around their arms, legs, and parts of their face to hide the tattoos that "defy" the articles cited by Richter.
There were two thousand or so anti-rally protesters camped just outside the boundary fence, and they practically drowned out the next speaker Patrick Wieschke, head of the NPD's Thüringen branch. “We are the saviors!" he claimed. "We are the preservers of Germany!” he barked in front of a banner for Thüringen Homeland Security, the organization whose entourage spawned the NSU**-terrorists and Turk-slaying "kebab murderers**" Beate Zschäpfe, Uwe Mundlos, and Uwe Böhnhardt.
It's clear that the Nazis were at home, and that I was a foreign body in their midst. And if there's anything fascists don't like, it's foreign bodies: “We have today representatives of the press on site. It is implicit for every nationalist to treat these men with respect. Interviews will only be conducted with the managing committee and the organizers,” roared a voice from the loudspeaker, before the Nazi-rock classic “The Press Lies” began to play. The message was clear.
Before the first band, I found some time to stroll around the festival site. There were cakes, alcohol-free beer, sausages, a crowd of police in riot gear with microphones, intelligence agents with cameras, and of course a crowd of visitors, who tote their views through slogans on their t-shirts. One phrase read, “Black is the night, in which we battle. White are the men, who prevail for Germany. Red is the blood on the asphalt.” Or more plain and simple: “Freedom for Wolle,” which was meant for the former vice-chairman of NPD-Thüringen, Ralf Wohlleben, an alleged supporter of the Zwickaue terrorist cell, which is accused of playing a part in ten murders.
The first band, Words of Anger, whose debut album was put on a government index of music that is "harmful to young people," took the stage and asked the audience to "growl" with them. The demonstrators the other side of the fence responded by cranking up the knob of their speaker-fitted van and letting booming techno resound over the entire courtyard, as small children and old women held their middle fingers aloft for the Nazis. But it did not harm the atmosphere on site; instead, they cheerfully roared again, and started marching up and down the fence. This was also the moment I realized I made a new friend. The NPD guy from Nordhausen, Roy Elbert, set up his camera and tripod and was overtly filming me. Someone, somewhere might be watching the hours of footage of me right now that were taken during the course of that day.
Someone murmured next to me, “These Untermenschen! If I had a marshall warrant, I would have them removed them long ago!” I wasn't entirely sure who the "subhuman" in question was, but I edged a little closer to the police. I also saw that the number of demonstrators had markedly decreased.
I spoke to Melanie Siebelist, one of the organizers of the anti-fascist rally from the local Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD). “The nationalist mindset in Gera was already entrenched in the community and entirely accepted,” she said. “Democracy has never really established itself here in eastern Germany, and the importance of the meaning of freedom will be utterly distorted by the Right. If things don’t change soon, the East is lost.”
Max, a local antifascist, told me a similar story. “The city is polluted with right-wingers. We haven’t achieved anything. The worst setback for the city was three years ago, when barely five thousand Nazis were here and a thousand anti-ralliers.” That's also the reason Max, who is black, wants to go further than before. “The NPD fills seats in the the City Council, and when someone goes shopping, they have to give Nazis their money in the supermarket. I want to do something much more radical against them. I’m ready to commit crimes in order to prevent concerts like these."
The festival openly proclaims the motto “Democracy? Not with us.” And as I listened to the speakers, with my eyes perpetually rolling, it became clear what kind of self-image the Nazis have of themselves. They see themselves as the oppressed and persecuted people in Germany. That became hyper-articulated in the speech from Udo Voigt, the former leader of the far-right party, NPD.
“Amnesty International fights for political prisoners all over the world. But no one ever talks about the national political prisoners here in Germany. We demand the freedom of Horst Mahler, Erich Priebke, and we want freedom for Wolle!”
The atmosphere became more and more irritatable. People barged into me. I was spat on. Finally, when the singer of the headliner Tätervolk began his song, “I Am Happy to Be White” with the words “I am a racist!” I broke away from the heart of the gloom in Gera with nausea biting at the pit of my stomach.
More about German Nazis: