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Poster campaign takes aim at Freital Nazis

Ben Knight
July 24, 2015

The anonymous artist collective Dies Irae has made a spectacular statement in Freital by plastering anti-Nazi slogans everywhere. The town became infamous after a string of demos outside a home for asylum seekers.

Freital Plakataktion gegen Nazis Rechtsradikalismus Fremdenhass
Image: Dies Irae

One member of Dies Irae (Latin for "day of wrath") snuck around the small town outside Dresden on Wednesday night and replaced advertising billboards with self-designed posters carrying slogans like "Nazis secretly eat falafel," "Turn on your brain, turn off racism," and "No human is illegal."

"I did this one alone," the anonymous Dies Irae member told DW. "You probably saw all the news reports from Freital - all the talk about so-called concerned citizens who are against the home and took part in a demo with a lot of horrible far-right slogans. It was so disturbing that Freital became the target of this new action."

Freital Plakataktion gegen Nazis Rechtsradikalismus Fremdenhass
'Nazis secretly eat falafel' Dies Irae claimsImage: Dies Irae

Freital, with a population of barely 40,000, made headlines in June after local authorities announced plans to house 280 refugees in a disused hotel where 100 people had already found shelter.

Locals mounted a series of increasingly angry protests, with many chanting racist slogans. That culminated in a toxic town hall meeting on July 6, when protesters clashed with local politicians and scuffles broke out.

Not complicated

"The point was to reoccupy public space to send a message," the Dies Irae member said of his nocturnal operation. "Of course, you could say, well the Nazis could do that, too; they could put swastikas in the display cases or something. Well, yes, but a lot of people would get upset very quickly, and would replace them straight away. People should be able to form public spaces, and that's what we wanted to achieve."

A representative for Deutsche Plakatwerbung, the advertising firm that rents out the display cases, told the news site "MOPO24" that the company had informed police of the action and sent workers to take down all the posters on Thursday afternoon. Now, the company will investigate how the display cases had been unlocked.

Rechte Proteste gegen das Flüchtlingslager in Freital
Freital has been the scene of virulent far-right protests in the past monthImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo/J. Meyer

That shouldn't take long. "You can open them with one of those universal keys that most people have at home if they have a bike," according to Dies Irae. "Anyone can do it."

Police spokeswoman Ilka Rosenkranz said that even though the content of the posters was not actionable, there was a possibility that a charge of property damage could be investigated. "That's garbage of course - no property was damaged," the artist told DW. "The police even saw me during the action, they drove past me slowly, but I looked professional enough that they probably thought it was my job."

Reclaiming public space

The Freital action represents a minor diversion for Dies Irae, who usually specialize in "adbusting" campaigns aimed at altering public billboards they consider sexist or promoting unhealthy body images. They have also put up posters highlighting working conditions at the factories of major clothing stores such as Primark.

But their main enemy is the concept of outside adverting and its effect on society. "There are all these display cases and billboards and their only purpose is to make us buy idiotic products. They have no function that serves society at all," Dies Irae said. "If you have a lot of money you can alter a lot of public space."

Freital Plakataktion gegen Nazis Rechtsradikalismus Fremdenhass
The posters were up for nearly the whole of ThursdayImage: Dies Irae

"We think it'd be much cooler if we could use this space ourselves," the artist said. "It could be with art, or information on the local youth club's summer program, or tips on how to save taxes for all I care - some information that serves society, but not bullshit ads that hammer in all day that I have to buy a new H&M top, or that I'm too fat, or that I should eat a McDonald's burger."

The Freital action represents Dies Irae's most recent attempt to repurpose public advertising surfaces. But it also comes in the middle of an increasingly toxic anti-refugee climate throughout Germany. On Thursday, the Interior Ministry announced that attacks on homes for asylum-seekers had surged in the first half of 2015, with 202 attacks between January and the end of June. That means the number has already surpassed the 198 counted in the whole of 2014.

The ministry reported that although most attacks were carried out by people with known far-right sympathies, they were also recording an increasing number of attacks by people with no direct links to neo-Nazi circles.

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