THE SCHWARZE SCHAR EX-NAZI BIKER GANG AREN'T AS BAD AS THEY SEEM
By Barbara Dabrowska
Photos by Martin Fengel
If, for any reason, you ever find yourself on the website of the Schwarze Schar Wismar Motorcycle Club, you’ll notice a number of newspaper clippings about attacks on tattoo studios proudly presented on the homepage. Maybe behaviour like that's why the mayor of nearby Grevesmühlen thinks the Wismar biker clan are right-wing thugs who are "into pimping and all that". The Criminal Investigation bureau for the region, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, goes further; apparently suspecting the bikers of having links with organised crime.
I was kind of sceptical about that last point, but then I guess that's because in my mind "organised crime" means the Mafia or the Triads, and "Nazi bike gangs" means aimless violence, gangbangs and Altamont. The Schwarze Schar bikers identify themselves as 1%ers; a reference to the outlaw bike gangs that, whether justifiably or not, scared America shitless back in the 50s and 60s. The world's most famous 1%er group is (of course) the Hell's Angels, and 1%er bike gangs – named in response to the American Motorcyclist Association's 1947 pledge that 99% of American motorcyclists were law-abiding citizens – wear patches to distinguish themselves.
So, I was pretty scared when the guys invited me to hang out with them at their HQ on a Friday evening. Eventually my curiosity beat the wimp out of me, though, and I made my way to their clubhouse, which is situated on the outskirts of an industrial park out in the sticks.
For a fraction of a second I was nervous when the door closed behind me and I was stood before a line-up of tattooed, skin-headed giants in black leather robes. But to my surprise they were extremely friendly, as was their Staffordshire bull terrier, which kept following me around begging for strokes.
After the obligatory handshakes with every single member — a club rule by the way — and a few cigarettes, their president, Philip Schlaffer, suggested we take a seat and learn about the club’s history. Within the space of about five minutes, I had gone from terrified to surprised to simultaneously impressed and entertained by how seriously they take the whole thing.
To become a full member, and to get a SSFI (Schwarze Schar Für Immer – 'Black Flock For Ever') tattoo inside your lower lip, you have to go through various stages of testing and hazing. After that, the club is always your number one priority; if you fail to show up for the meetings on time, you have to pay, and you must always help maintain the clubhouse. Which, by the way, was one of the cleanest drinking establishments I’ve ever seen in my life.
They hang out together five to seven times a week: They lift weights four times a week and attend mandatory Krav Maga training sessions every Wednesday night. There’s also the typical set of obvious rules that includes things like never touching your buddy’s girl or stealing from the club. As in most MCs (obviously that's MC for 'Motorcycle Club', not 'Master of Ceremonies') they call each other brothers, and I couldn’t shake the impression that the club means more to some of them than their own family. If one of the guys ends up in prison, like a guy called Chris 1%er is at the moment, they support him financially during and after incarceration.
President Schlaffer was very open about his own neo-Nazi past. He used to own two right-wing clothing and accessory shops in Wismar, called the Werwolfshop and the H8 delivery store. In 2005, he established the “Werwolf Club”, a loose alliance of young skinheads, notorious for their constant and violent terrorising of the town’s more sedate residents. “I have to smile when I think about that today”, he admitted, “but this here wouldn’t exist without it. This is why we don’t want to demonise that period. We’re not going to cover up our tattoos.”
And, being acutely aware of the fact that anyone can now easily google their names, he added rhetorically: “Why should we pretend we’re a bunch of do-gooders or explain to everyone what 1%ers are? We don’t want to be a part of society, we want to make our own rules and live by them. We had some good times back then, too, but the political aspect got lost and we ended up not doing much more than drinking. The breaking moment came one New Year’s Eve, when someone from the far-right scene was murdered from within. We had nothing to do with it, but that sense of anarchism was really distressing, and we realised we couldn’t keep going like that.”
Two years ago, they founded Schwarze Schar (aka the Black Brunswickers), which takes its name from a volunteer corps assembled to fight Napoleon. The ‘SS’ initials however, have also come to correspond to the group’s mottled reputation. Club members now include both people with a neo-Nazi past and without. They throw massive BBQs that are open to the public, complete with bonfires, topless waitresses and a handshake for each guest. Yet, they don’t strive to convert others to their own ideology, whatever that may be now. Instead, they take pride in the fact that they are a tight-knit community, which is rather hard to infiltrate.
“The 1%er community is a society that makes its own rules and abides by its own laws. That doesn’t mean all 1%ers are criminals or break the law, but that they build up a parallel society and – I’m going to say it, as radical as it is – don’t give a fuck about anyone else’s rules or laws,” explained the group's vice-president. Sergeant-at-arms Carlo, who is in charge of discipline in and outside of the club, added: “We follow the laws of the country, but those of the club are of bigger importance to us. If a law has to be broken for the good of the club, I’ll break it.”