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Germany: Racist video from island of Sylt causes outrage

May 25, 2024

A video from a nightclub on Sylt showing young people chanting right-wing slogans and making Nazi-related gestures has caused an uproar. Politicians have reacted with dismay and a criminal investigation is underway.

The Pony nightclub on the island of Sylt.
The video shows young people outside the Pony nightclub on the well-to-do island of Sylt chanting racist slogansImage: Carsten Rehder/dpa/picture alliance

The video, which is now causing a stir in Berlin's political circles, is just 15 seconds long. It shows young people on the terrace of an expensive restaurant on Sylt, the North Sea island much frequented by wealthy German holidaymakers.

The short sequence was recorded on what appears to be a mild early summer evening, with the first glow of sunset in the background. The young people are wearing smart-casual clothes and dancing. Five of them are chanting: "Germany for the Germans, foreigners out."

And at least one of the participants appears to be giving the Hitler salute, holding two fingers between his upper lip and nose, as if to imitate Adolf Hitler's prominent mustache.

Nightclub owner: 'Everyone is welcome here!'

On Thursday, the Pony nightclub in the posh town of Kampen on the island distanced itself from the video on Instagram. The video was made outside the nightclub, apparently without the proprietors' knowledge.

"We are deeply shocked," owner Tim Becker said in a statement. "Every guest is welcome here, regardless of ethnicity." The club now knows the names of the people in the video. "We will report this disgusting behavior and make use of all available means under criminal law."

On Thursday evening, police in Flensburg on the German-Danish border became aware of the video, which was probably recorded during the bank holiday weekend a week ago.

Flensburg police spokesperson Arne Hennig told DW: "The charges are incitement to hatred and the use of symbols of unconstitutional organizations. The video shows a person raising their right arm." An investigation is already underway.

Faeser: A 'disgrace for Germany'

By Friday, the scandal had reached politicians in Berlin.

"Anyone who shouts Nazi slogans like 'Germany for the Germans, foreigners out' is a disgrace to Germany." Interior Minister Nancy Faeser told the Funke media group.

"The question arises as to whether we are dealing with people here who live in a parallel society neglected because of their wealth and trampling on the values of our constitution," she added.

And, on behalf of Berlin's governing neoliberal Free Democrats (FDP), Secretary General Bijan Djir-Sarai said: "It's shocking to see something like this." This is especially true in view of the current debate on how to better protect democracy in Germany.

Two traditional German roofed wicker beach chairs on Sylt, with the North Sea in the background
Sylt is a popular vacation destination for well-off Germans in particularImage: Lea Sarah Albert/dpa/picture alliance

Island idyll for the rich and powerful

Strong stuff. One reason why the uproar is so great is because the bars and nightclubs on Sylt have been a meeting place for the rich and powerful since the 1960s. Numerous business leaders, politicians, film and television stars have homes here. The young people in the video also appear to be well-heeled.

Does this demographic have a problem with right-wing extremist and xenophobic attitudes? That conclusion could be drawn from the statements made by state politicians from Schleswig-Holstein who have commented on the video.

The state's Education Minister Karim Priem spoke of a "sign of having been neglected on account of their wealth," while the state's Integration Minister Aminata Touré told the RND news network: "This is not a stupid boy's prank, but the worst kind of Nazi ranting by adults on an open stage. Disgusting. They should be ashamed of themselves! Criminal investigations must now follow."

Tim Becker now fears that the incident will now be associated with his club, and the island as a whole. He told the dpa agency that in future guests would be encouraged to report racist incidents to security staff.

The incident has affected the whole island. "Everyone is sad that this happened," said Becker. He is convinced that the five people involved will not only be banned from the Pony for life. "We don't want to see them on Sylt anymore. We have lots of friendly restaurateurs."

This article was originally written in German. 

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Jens Thurau Jens Thurau is a senior political correspondent covering Germany's environment and climate policies.@JensThurau