German Free Democrat leader Christian Lindner has been accused of giving Nazis everywhere "the pretext to harass people of color." Lindner had been trying to make a point about immigration policy.
Christian Lindner, the charismatic young leader of the business-friendly Free Democratic Party (FDP), provoked criticism and ridicule on social media after talking about foreigners ordering bread during a speech at a party convention in Berlin on Saturday.
At one point in his wide-ranging speech to delegates, Lindner described tensions between Germans and foreigners in a bakery waiting line to make a point about the FDP's immigration policy.
"When you're standing in line in the bakery and someone in front of you orders a sandwich in broken German," Lindner said, "you can't discern whether he is a highly qualified artificial intelligence engineer from India or a foreigner who is being tolerated here illegally."
This difficulty, he added, underscored the importance of an immigration policy based on "liberalism" and the "rule of law."
"The others in line need to be confident that everyone who is here is staying here legally to ensure that they don't fear this [foreigner] or look at him skeptically," he said.
'Pretext to harass people of color'
The comments quickly drew fire on social media.
"We're allowed to look at people who speak broken German skeptically because we can't be sure they came here legally?" Marek Dutschke, the son of the German student activist Rudi Dutschke, wrote on Twitter. "This is an endorsement for people to behave aggressively and hostile toward strangers," he added.
Lindner's words also led one FDP member, Chris Pyak, to renounce his membership of the party.
"I've just left the FDP," he wrote on Twitter. "Christian Lindner's speech gave Nazis everywhere the pretext to harass people of color," he added.
Others poked fun at Lindner's story.
"I don't want to live in a country where you have to present your passport at the bakery," wrote one Twitter user. "This is a completely unrealistic anecdote," wrote another Twitter user. "As if anyone in Germany would wait in line."
On Twitter, the FDP chief responded to the outcry in a video statement.
Lindner said he stood by his bakery comments and that they were inspired by a true story about a foreigner who had experienced xenophobia in a German bakery because of the "migrant crisis," a reference to the millions of immigrants and refugees who have arrived in Germany from the Middle East and Africa in recent years.
"Whoever thinks my comments were racist or populist," he said, "is being hysterical."