Neo-Nazis march into Germany's property market to buy place in the future

Times, UK/August 16, 2008

To the beat of a big bass drum, Germany's neo-Nazi marching season opens today as far-right clans gather in southern Germany to mark the anniversary of the death of Hitler's deputy, Rudolf Hess.

It is a sorry annual spectacle. The police have already sealed off the Hess family grave in Bavarian Wunsiedel so the black-shirted mourners cannot drape their flags around the cemetery and villagers are planning to drown out the marchers with classical music and chants of: "Go home, Nazis!"

But the truth is that the neo-Nazis already have their homes.

As part of a shady operation that is worrying the German equivalent of the Special Branch, the ultra-nationalists - who revere the likes of Hitler, Hess and Himmler - have gained a significant foothold in the German property market.

"They've been buying up castles, farmsteads and townhouses," said Andrea Roepke, who has published several major studies of the far Right: "Recently the neo-Nazis have been snapping up warehouses or empty supermarkets where they can stage their rallies."

German police estimate that far-right activists have bought up at least 50 properties across Germany and are negotiating for dozens more in their land grab.

The search is on, it seems, for the des Nazi res.

Part of the reason for the surge of interest in real estate will become clear at the weekend. If the police succeed in throwing the neo-Nazis out of Wunsiedel today - the Bavarian authorities have explicitly outlawed them - they will make their way to the neighbouring village of Warmensteinach. There, the neo-Nazis have been trying to buy a 30-room hotel complete with banqueting room and beer garden - the perfect place to hold stirring speeches about their supposed martyr, Rudolf Hess, who died in Allied imprisonment in 1987.

If the sale goes through, the far-right activists will be able to visit the Hess tomb every day of the year and make it into a national socialist pilgrimage site.

German legislators and police have been tightening their control over the neo-Nazi movement. The National Party of Germany (NPD) is, despite various attempts to ban it, a legal party with seats in regional parliaments; it receives more than €1.5 million (£1.2million a year from public coffers in accordance with party financing laws. But it is also under constant observation. Police are nervous about its links with violent skinheads and subculture of racist rock music. Any hint of a swastika or Hitler salute usually leads to an arrest.

But when the neo-Nazis use their own private property to strut around in uniform or dance to eardrumexploding songs about burning Turks, there is not much the police can do. And that is what is happening: the NPD and others on the far Right are buying property, often in remote corners of the country, as part of an extraordinary bonding process. Last week police raided a summer camp for young neo-Nazis in northern Germany. About 40 children, many under the age of 13, were sent home after police found them parading in black-and-blue uniforms carrying blazing torches. The cutlery bore swastika emblems, the tents bore names such as the "Führer-bunker"; the history lessons emphasised German patriotic values (and ignored the Holocaust) and the drill was strict.

The group, the so-called Patriotic German Youth, carries the initials HDJ (Heimattreue Deutsche Jugend), which is close to the HJ - the Hitler Youth movement.

The NPD still gathers only a few percentage points of national votes - not enough to win parliamentary seats in Berlin. Yet it seems to be making itself into a brand, a surprisingly sophisticated political product. That gives neo-Nazis the confidence to throw their weight around in communities.

The legal front

  • Under German law, giving the Hitler salute or wearing Nazi uniforms carries a penalty of up to three years in prison
  • The lead singer of the heavy-metal band Motörhead, Ian "Lemmy" Kilmister, provoked debate last month after being photographed wearing a Nazi cap
  • Displaying a swastika can also result in a three-year sentence
  • In May Bremen police covered a man's lower arm with tape and charged him after he was found with a swastika tattoo
  • EU states that legislate against Holocaust denial are: Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Poland, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and the Czech Republic

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