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Neo-Nazi marchers in Berlin meet counterprotesters

August 19, 2017

Hundreds of far-right extremists were met by hundreds of anti-Nazi demonstrators at a planned rally in Berlin. The group of neo-Nazis hoped to mark the death of Hitler's deputy Rudolf Hess.

Neo-Nazis march in Berlin's Spandau
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Gambarini

After a group of neo-Nazis were controversially granted permission to hold a rally on Saturday to mark the anniversary of the death of Hitler's former deputy Rudolf Hess, they were met by a larger gathering of counterdemonstrators.

According to reporters on the scene, the leftist protesters chanted "Nazis out!" at the 700 or so white supremacists marching in the Spandau area of Berlin.

Their march was cut short, however, by counterdemonstrators who blocked the far-right protesters' route, leading them to end their demonstration around 5:00 p.m. local time. The protest was initially planned to last until 8:00 p.m. Authorities also reported some small clashes on the edges of the neo-Nazi march.

"We are still on the scene and are observing the outflow [of protesters]," Berlin police said on Twitter.

Some 1,000 police officers were deployed to prevent clashes in Spandau, where Hess died in prison. Sentenced to life in prison at the Nuremberg trials, Hess hung himself in his cell, though some right-wing extremists promote the conspiracy theory that he was assassinated by British intelligence.

Marches to mark his death have taken on various manifestations over the years. At one time they were held in the Bavarian town of Wunsiedel, where Hess was originally buried. However, because of these demonstrations, the authorities exhumed his body and had it cremated in order to prevent further memorials.

Hess was a close confidant of Hitler and the third most powerful politician in Nazi Germany before flying solo to Scotland in 1941 in a bid to negotiate a peace with the British before the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union. 

He was arrested and spent the remainder of the war in a British prison.

'I would have liked to ban the demonstration'

Although the display of Nazi symbols such as the swastika and "Hitler salute" are banned in Germany, the Spandau demonstration was allowed to go ahead as long as it complied with very strict criteria - including restrictions on words they can use in chants and what kind of banners they could carry. They were also banned from wearing military clothing.

With these regulations in place, Berlin authorities were forced to let the march go ahead under Germany's freedom of assembly laws.

"Though I would have liked to ban the demonstration, we have very carefully reviewed this and determined that the liberal and democratic fundamental order unfortunately also holds for assholes," Andreas Geisel, Berlin's state interior secretary told German radio station RBB.

Elizabeth Schumacher
Elizabeth Schumacher Elizabeth Schumacher reports on gender equity, immigration, poverty and education in Germany.