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Maritim Hotel faces backlash over AfD Cologne congress

The Maritim Hotel in Cologne is under fire for agreeing to host an event for the controversial anti-immigrant party Alternative for Germany. And the backlash is only growing stronger.

The Maritim Hotel in Cologne has been facing a steady stream of criticism for its decision to host the party congress of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) in April - and the backlash is only growing stronger.

On Friday, students at the Technical University of Cologne announced that they had canceled a planned graduation ceremony at Maritim, citing the hotel's decision to host the AfD event as its reason. "We, the students of the economics Faculty, stand for an open, democratic and free society. We want to expressly condemn such racist and inhumane statements as those made by some within the AfD," the students wrote in a press statement. "We therefore condemn the cooperation between the Maritim Hotel company and the AfD."

Their announcement came the same week that a group of local artists published a similarly critical statement of the event in the daily Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger (KSTA) and Express newspapers. "Cologne stood for, continues to stand for and will always stand for cultural openness, tolerance and, last but not least, charity," the statement read. Among the signatories were such bands as Bläck Fööss, Höhner and Brings, who are known for playing music typically associated with the city's world-famous carnival celebration.

Social media backlash

These recent developments are part of a growing chorus of outrage directed at Maritim over the past several months that has taken the form of everything from angry social media posts to planned protests to alleged threats.

The backlash began not long after Maritim signed the contract this past summer to host the event, a two-day gathering beginning on April 22 at which the AfD will set its agenda ahead of the upcoming federal elections. Within months, the hotel's Facebook page was filled with angry comments blasting the company's decision. "Until now the Maritim was associated with carnival events for me, now it's just an accommodation for the AfD," one Facebook user recently wrote. "Maritim - where concerned citizens can still be Nazis," another user commented.

Deutschland Berlin AfD Joerg Meuthen (2nd L) congratulates Leif-Erik Holm, Mecklenburg-Vorpommer top candidate (Reuters/H. Hanschke)

AfD leaders seen in Berlin in September

The hotel chain's decision to host the event comes after a year of noticeable gains for the AfD, which has ridden a wave of anger at Chancellor Angela Merkel's asylum policies. Yet, even as the party has won over an increasing number of supporters, it has also found itself mired in near-constant controversy. In January, the AfD drew nationwide condemnation after one of its members, Björn Höcke, described Berlin's Holocaust memorial as a "monument of shame" and called for "a 180-degree reversal on the politics of remembrance."As a result of the scandal, Maritim, which has cooperated with the AfD for events in the past, reported that Höcke is no longer allowed in any of its hotels - including during the party congress in April. But the company has not backtracked on its decision to host the event. "We will hold true to the contract," hotel director Hartmut Korthäuer said, according to Welt Online.

deutschland Björn Höcke ARCHIV (picture alliance/AP Photo/J. Meyer)

Björn Höcke came under fire following comments about the Holocaust

'Building will burn'

Calls have grown for protests on the two days of the party congress. Among those leading the charge are the anti-racism groups Köln Gegen Rechts (Cologne Against the Right) and Kein Veedel für Rassismus (No Neighborhood for Racism), which have called for demonstrations against the hotel chain. Some groups have already protested near the hotel.

Citing hotel management, German news outlets have also recently reported that some Maritim employees had received death threats, including one incident during which reception workers were apparently warned not to show up on those days as "the whole building will burn." Protest groups and the university students have distanced themselves from any threats leveled at the hotel's employees.

AfD figures, meanwhile, have criticized some of the responses to the party's plans for its congress, while reiterating their determination to go ahead with the event in April. "We condemn all intimidation attempts against employees," an AfD spokesman told DW in an email. "These people only do their jobs and have nothing to do with the political debate we are currently having in Germany. This is cowardly and reveals the anti-democratic and criminal face of left-wing extremism."

"The AfD will not be deterred," the spokesman wrote. "On the contrary: We will report all known incidents."

In response to the planned protests, as well as any possibility of violence, police said they would deploy more than 3,000 officers around the hotel each day of the event, according to a report in the KSTA.

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