Recently, 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 and I was there with a photographer to observe them.
While raindrops fizz off of the mostly shaved skulls around me, Gorden Richter, the National Democratic Party (NPD) councilman for the city of Gera, issues 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 stomp in, many of the visitors have gaffer tape around their arms, legs and over parts of their face to hide tattoos that "defy" the articles cited by Richter.
There are two thousand or so anti-rally protesters camped just outside the boundary fence, and they practically drown out the next speaker Patrick Wieschke, head of the NPD's Thüringen branch. “We are the saviours!" he claims. "We are the preservers of Germany!” he barks, in front of a banner of Thüringen Homeland Security, the organisation whose entourage spawned the NSU-terrorists and Turk-slaying "kebab murderers" Beate Zschäpfe, Uwe Mundlos and Uwe Böhnhardt.
It's clear that the Nazis are at home here, and that I'm 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 organiser,” roars a voice from the loudspeaker, before the Nazi-rock classic “The Press Lies” begins to play. The message is clear.
Before the first band, I find some time to stroll around the festival site. There are cakes, alcohol-free beer, sausages, a crowd of police in riot gear with microphones and intelligence agents with cameras and of course a crowd of visitors, who tote their views through slogans on their T-Shirts. One phrase reads, “Black is the night, in which we battle. White are the men, who prevail for Germany. Red is the blood on the asphalt,” or plain and simple: “Freedom for Wolle”, 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", take the stage and ask the audience to "growl" with them. The demonstrators the other side of the fence respond 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 hold their middle fingers aloft for the Nazis. But it does not harm the atmosphere on site; instead, they cheerfully roar again, and start marching up and down the fence. This is also the moment when I realise I've made a new friend. The NPD guy from Nordhausen, Roy Elbert, has set up his camera and tripod and is overtly filming me. Someone, somewhere may be watching the hours of footage of me that must have been taken during the course of the day.
Someone murmurs next to me, “These Untermenschen! If I had a marshall warrant, I would have them removed them long ago!” I'm entirely sure who the "subhuman" in question is, but I edge a little closer to the police. I also see that the number of demonstrators has markedly decreased.
I spoke to Melanie Siebelist, one of the organisers of the anti-fascist rally from the local Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD). “The nationalist mindset in Gera is already entrenched in the community and entirely accepted,” she explains. “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, tells 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 himself 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 listen to the speakers, my eyes perpetually rolling, it becomes clear what kind of self-image the Nazis have of themselves. They see themselves as the oppressed and persecuted people in Germany. That eventually 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, meanwhile, is becoming more and more irritatable. People are barging into me. I'm spat on. Finally, when the singer of the headliner Tätervolk begins his song, “I Am Happy To Be White” with the words “I am a racist!” I break away from the heart of the gloom in Gera with nausea biting at the pit of my stomach.
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