Dresden, GERMANY – In the pouring rain, hundreds of neo-Nazis from Eastern Germany came here Sunday for the first of two days of a saber-rattling march.
Police, who estimated the number of right-wing protesters to be about 800, called in a show of force from around the nation.
Dresden Police spokesman Thomas Geithner said around 1,800 police officers from various federal states were deployed in the city for security. He said about 5,000 counter-protesters were also present.
Dresden Central Station was strictly monitored by police. Many trains were not running and public transport such as buses and trams were completely paralyzed. Police questioned people inside the station and conducted some searches.
In remarks before the event, Dresden’s Lord Mayor Dirk Hilbert said citizens “must not let up here.”
Promising to be present on Sunday with the counter protesters, Hilbert said, “We must not leave the commemoration of 13 February to the diehards who have learnt nothing from history. There is no better form of social coexistence than democracy. Standing up for it is worth every moment.”
On Tuesday, the neo-Nazi groups are expected to return to Dresden, but they will be met by a human chain of pro-democracy citizens encircling the city in a show of unity and a sign of peace.
Sunday’s march and demonstration took place not far from the Central Station in the center of the city.
Right-wing extremists with the Freie Kräfte Sachsen, or “Free Forces of Saxony,” called it a “mourning march” in memory of the citizens of Dresden who died in Allied bombing raids during World War II, or what they called the “Anglo American bombing attacks.”
Protesters demanded a “worthy” memorial for the dead, but the city already has a memorial to those lost in the horrors of the war and the bombing. It is currently closed, but the city has promised a new one.
The most agitated protesters seemed to be young men in their late teens and twenties, but middle-aged men and women also attended.
A police blockade controlled who entered the demonstration area and officers conducted body searches for weapons, fireworks or other prohibited materials.
During the march, right-wingers sang the German national anthem – including the nationalistic first verse, which is no longer considered socially acceptable.
Demonstrators carried wreaths with them, which they then lay down at a memorial. One of the wreaths had the colors of the flag of the German Empire, a popular symbol of the monarchist extremists.
On the wreaths is written: “In memory of the victims of the Allied bombing terror in February 1945.”
The reason for the bombing – to stop Hitler’s Nazi party and win the war – was never acknowledged, nor was the fact that Dresden was a city that produced weapons and was an important place for the deportation of Jews.
Banners minimized the Holocaust, offered false numbers of victims and gave confirmations of their Nazi allegiances.
Around 150 counter protesters attempted to storm the demonstration and block it by sitting down and forming a blockade. Police moved them into a “kettle,” penned the counter-protesters into a corner and held them for almost three hours.
At one point, the two sides strained towards each other, with many police officers keeping them apart. A few journalists, including a reporter from Youth Journalism International, were caught in the center.
Some rocks and other things went hurtling through the air, some of them hitting police. It is not clear who threw them. Police hurried the journalists safely away from the fray.
The counter demonstrators held their own protests. Afterwards, they handed out pizza and hot drinks to warm themselves up.
With a sign reading “Calzone Rivoluzione” (Calzone Revolution), they made an allusion to the humorous left-wing German rap song “Pizza.” On the sign, the letter A in the word “Calzone” is the anarchy symbol.
In the above photo at left, marchers from the Thüringens Jugend organization (Thuringia’s youth) carry an anti-American and anti-British banner harkening to the WWII Allied bombing campaign with the inscription: “Your bombs have not broken our spirit.” At right, the banner shows the ruins of Frauenkirche, a Dresden landmark destroyed in the WWII bombing, as well as a WWII memorial. But the number of dead is vastly exaggerated, claiming “350,000 murdered out of pure hatred,” when in reality about 25,000 people died.
At the end of their march, the right-wing demonstrators gathered around a stage. Organizers shared greetings from like-minded groups from the American states of Pennsylvania and Texas; from Norway; and the Avalon Community in Switzerland. There was a speaker from Austria’s right-wing extremist group Kameradschaft IV and a moment of silence.
Organizers put the crowd size at 1,200, describing them with nationalist words that average Germans would never use and might even find shocking.
They closed the event with the words, “Heil euch!,” a clear reference to the “Heil Hitler” salute.
Lina Marie Schulenkorf is a Junior Reporter with Youth Journalism International.