Anti-Kögida: ′Protecting the Germany that we′ve become proud of′ | News | DW | 06.01.2015
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Anti-Kögida: 'Protecting the Germany that we've become proud of'

Tens of thousands of anti-PEGIDA supporters brought Cologne's first Kögida protest to a grinding halt on Monday. For protesters there, the counter-demo was about more than showing solidarity with migrants.

There was a strange atmosphere at Cologne's Messe/Deutz train station on Monday evening. There were families, flags, fast food, and beer; the usual suspects at a summer festival - not to mention Aretha Franklin's "Respect" being blasted out across Ottoplatz.

But the 20,000 revelers were in fact the overwhelming throng of anti-PEGIDA supporters who had gathered to respond to the anti-Islamization movement that has been growing in some parts of Germany since the group's first protest in the eastern German city of Dresden in October last year.

Anti-Kögida car in Cologne

"No Nazis!" - Monday's PEGIDA protest was stopped before it even started

By 8 p.m. local time (1900 GMT) the localized Kögida movement was called off - after the counter movement crowd blocked their intended march route - bringing jubilant cheers. Over the past four months the movement has been increasingly criticized for their right-wing leaning, with many branding them as Nazis. Even German Chancellor Angela Merkel had warned Germans to "consider who they are marching with."

What was apparent on Monday was how difficult it is to distinguish PEGIDA supporters from the counter movement, at least by their appearance. Dubbed recently by Ralf Jäger, Social Democratic (SPD) interior minister for North Rhein-Westphalia, as "neo-Nazis in pinstripes," the anti-Islam group is a mixed bag. From young hooded teens to middle-aged women in fur-trimmed coats, the Cologne's PEGIDA protesters turned out to be an unlikely bunch.

Colorful Germany

For almost three hours, the anti-PEGIDA supporters flooded through the train station carrying flags and placards bearing familiar slogans from previous counter demonstrations, including, "I love immigration!" and "Refugees are welcome here!" Another banner at the protest read: "Colorful, not brown," promoting a multi-cultural Germany over the brown shirts of the Nazis.

Anti-PEGIDA protesters in Ottoplatz, Cologne

'I love immigration' - Anti-PEGIDA protesters in Ottoplatz, Cologne

Many of those who turned out to block the Kögida movement said, however, that they were not only concerned for the immigrants and Muslims targeted by PEGIDA, but also for the reputation of their country.

Speaking to counter movement supporters on Monday, it was clear that many feared that the PEGIDA movement could lead to the country's image falling back into disrepair. The proud flag waving during Germany's World Cup-winning euphoria last summer was replaced during the autumn months by thousands of PEGIDA protesters on the streets of Dresden and Düsseldorf.

A German-American at Monday's protest told me that he and his family had turned out to "protect the Germany that we have become proud of."

"The PEGIDA movement say they want to protect Germany from Islamization and to safeguard the country's tradition," he said. "But at the moment they are the ones who are damaging Germany's image. We are not xenophobic and we are not a racist nation."

'Never again'

Despite eight decades having past since the Nazis came to power in 1933, it was evident that history was still playing a poignant role at Monday's demonstration. Between the heads of the counter movement were several make-shift placards, all bearing the hashtag #niewieda which has been trending on Twitter in recent weeks.

Cologne Cathedral

'Lights out' - Cologne Cathedral protested in the dark

The pun on the German phrase "nie wieder" translates as "never again" - a clear statement which has aimed to remind PEGIDA followers and would-be supporters of the downfalls of the past.

"We cannot change what happened in the past. What is important now is that we change what is happening in the present," said a protester who had travelled from the nearby city of Bonn.

"I will not let Germany's image be tainted by 21st century Nazis," another anti-Pegida demonstrator said.

After outnumbering the PEGIDA movement 100 to one in Cologne on Monday evening, the nation's anti-PEGIDA supporters will be looking on in somewhat hopeful suspense next Monday as scheduled marches at least attempt to get under way in Leipzig and Munich.

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