German government reveals scope of real estate linked to neo-Nazis | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 26.01.2018
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German government reveals scope of real estate linked to neo-Nazis

The Interior Ministry says buildings, homes and venues across the country are being used by neo-Nazis and other far-right extremists. The Left party has warned that some of these places amount to a neo-Nazi "theme park."

It's illegal to display Nazi symbols or spread Nazi propaganda in Germany, at least in public. But what is done on private property is harder for authorities to crack down on — making real estate the ideal thing for neo-Nazis to buy.

At least 136 holdings across Germany are linked to or owned by far-right extremists, according to the German Interior Ministry. The list was published on Friday in response to a parliamentary inquiry submitted by the Left Party. 

According to the ministry, the states of Saxony and Bavaria had the highest numbers.

This marks the first time that an official list has detailed areas where right-wing extremists have "unrestricted access" to buildings, homes, restaurants and other venues. The criteria include ownership, leasing, renting or regular contact with the owner.

Another decisive factor for the Interior Ministry was whether the property was being used for political activity. Few details about the locations were released out of precaution for undercover agents and other domestic security operations, according to Günter Krings, who serves as the parliamentary state secretary for the Interior Ministry.

Read more: Number of neo-Nazi rock concerts on the rise in Germany

Neo-Nazi 'theme parks'

The Left party's Martina Renner, who submitted the inquiry, likened the properties to "theme parks" for extremists, pointing out that the remote locations allowed them to promote their ideology away from the authorities.

Map shows where right-wing extremists hold real estate in Germany

An example published by German media group Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland, which was given a copy of the list, detailed how a pub in Thuringia served up a "Führerschnitzel" on April 20, Hitler's birthday. The price of one birthday special was €8.88, a reference to the code 88. "H" is the eighth letter of the alphabet, thus 88 stands for "HH," or "Heil Hitler."

Even more problematic was the ministry's refusal to release more information — or list even well-known sites run by extremists, Renner told DW.

Given previous reports of higher numbers by journalists, Renner wonders about the Ministry's number: "How can this be? What were the basis and criteria that the government used in the first place?"

The Left isn't the only party that's worried, she said, considering "that we've seen again and again that right-wing and racist acts of violence have an immediate correlation to these houses."

Read more: Is it illegal to call someone a Nazi?

'Slap in the face' for local communities

Indeed one infamous example occurred in the town of Ballstädt, just 30 kilometers (18 miles) outside of Erfurt in 2014. A group of Neo-Nazis wearing masks, hoodies and motorcycle gloves ambushed members of a local club during a weeknight meeting. Several were severely injured and photos of spilled blood circulated through the press. The attackers had their own meeting house nearby, known as the "the yellow house."

One of the defendants later said he had assaulted the club members believing they had information about who had broken a window at his home.

Left Party politician Martina Renner (picture-alliance/dpa)

The Left Party's Renner says theirs growing concern in all parties about 'free zones' for extremism in Germany

Unless municipalities can buy up property before extremists get to it, there's not much that can be done if the group is not considered a terrorist organization, Thuringia state parliamentarian Katharina König-Preuss (Left Party) told DW.

The Interior Ministry's decision to withhold more information from communities was a "slap in the face," Renner told German media on Friday, and König-Preuss agrees. 

People on the outside don't see the effect these extremists have on locals and those locals need "their sense of security restored," she said.

Both politicians agree more needs to be done to help municipalities. For König-Preuss, greater awareness would be an important first step. For Renner, the federal government needs to extend a hand.

There are many efforts in civil society to combat extremism, says Renner, "but it isn't just society's job. It's also the job of the state."

Read more: One Berliner's cleaning campaign against swastikas

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