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Mitte gegen Rechts

Project Overview

A group of neighbors fighting a right-wing fashion label in Berlin.

Identifying the Problem

In recent years, the Neo-Nazi scene has experienced a powerful resurgence not only in Germany, but across Europe. With Neo-Nazis beginning to overshadow the once predominate right-wing skinhead scene, new and different right-leaning youth cultures now coexist. “Through this shift—away from a specific scene and towards a broader youth movement—diverse musical directions and dress codes have found their way into the Neo-Nazi movement,” Anna-Delia explains. There is a decreasing interest in demonstrating a clear, stylistic distinctiveness from the rest of society, and new decentered dress codes have developed. Given these parameters, a new series of brands have been created, which try to serve this new sense of identity. 

Thor Steinar is a clothing brand that originated in Königs-Wusterhausen in Brandenburg and is sold across Germany through distributors from the neo-fascist scene. Towards the end of 2004, the brand was convicted for violating § 86a - the law prohibiting symbols associated with unconstitutional organizations – due to the similarity of its logo to symbols from banned Nazi organizations. After this brief setback, Thor Steinar reentered the national market in 2005 with a new logo, one that represents a Germanic Rune not used during the Nazi era. The clothing can still be purchased in many stores and clothing chains not associated with the extreme right, yet as it has fought several legal battles, the brand’s right wing background has become explicitly clear. As of February 2008, the Thor Steinar clothing brand was also on sale in Rosa-Luxemburg-Straße, home to Anna-Delia.

Anna-Delia and others wanted to make a statement against the presence of Neo-Nazis in their neighborhood, which had been increasing between 2008 and 2010. They wanted to emphasize the atrocities that occurred in their district from 1933 to 1945 while also stressing that the Neo-Nazis’ embrace of old Germanic Runes was alarmingly similar to the use of these same symbols and emblems by mass-murderers and criminals during the time of National Socialism. While a prominent Jewish population had once flourished in their neighborhood, it was brutally obliterated by National Socialists’ systematic persecution and murder of European Jews.

In the 1920s, one of the centers of Jewish life in Berlin existed at and around Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz (formerly Bülowplatz). In 1925, 17.94% of Berlin Jews lived in the district. Anna-Delia and others living in the Scheuenviertel believed that Germany history imposed on them a duty to not only engage against Neo-Nazis, but to engage against all busi¬nesses that specifically cater to the desires of Neo-Na¬zis. “We also wanted to shake up those neighbors who were indifferent to the events of the National Socialist time or the daily racism of today,” says Anna-Delia.

Creating A Solution

Anna-Delia created “Mitte gegen Rechts” [“Mitte against Right-Wing Extremists”], an initiative that used artistic means and direct confrontation to bring attention to and combat the growing Neo-Nazi presence in the neighborhood. The project consisted of several phases. 

First, there was the installation of three shipping containers at strategic points up and down Rosa-Luxemburg-Sraße, lasting nine months. The shipping containers carried information about Thor Steinar and the history of both the square and the entire neighborhood during the Weimar Republic and Third Reich. The next step was to lay the Stumbling Stones, designed by artist Gunter Demning. The stones were inserted into the pavement outside the Thor-Steinar store in Rosa-Luxemburg-Straße and commemorated seven Jewish victims of the Shoah who had lived in the building until their deportation to Auschwitz and Riga. “Mitte gegen Rechts” subsequently held a ceremony for the victims during which Cantor Zkorenblut of the Jewish community sang psalms. For over six weeks, “Mitte gegen Rechts” displayed information about these victims outside the Thor-Steinar store. The display consisted of the only available information about these seven former tenants of the building: their deportation orders, their occupation as slave laborers and the reports on the valuation of their possessions compiled after their deportation. None of the seven tenants survived the Holocaust.

“Mitte gegen Rechts” then organized a street festival and mass demonstration against Thor-Steinar in February and May 2008. Inside the containers, movies and documentaries were screened, depicting right-wing extremism in Germany and Austria as well as anti-Semitism, xenophobia and racism in everyday life in Germany. The award-winning documentary "Shoah" by Claude Lanzmann and "Night and Fog" by Alain Resnais were also shown. The initiative then encouraged tenants of the building shared with Thor-Steinar to put pressure on their landlord to reduce their rent because of “ideological pollution,” a theory supported by a ruling that had just come down from Berlin’s High Court.

In 2010, Thor-Steinar was evicted after a ruling by the Federal High Court of Justice.

Lessons Learned

For anyone else interested in carrying out a similar project, Anna-Delia has four pieces of advice: 

1. Try to maintain a friendly relationship with the authorities on as many levels as possible. If the local authorities have to make difficult decisions in your favor, it is very helpful to have someone from a higher governmental level who supports the decision of the local authorities. This can be accomplished by contacting members of youth organizations or party bases associated with influential political parties and encouraging them to bring the issue to the attention of the people in charge. But also try not to be associated too closely with one political party. “Ask for their help,” suggests Anna-Delia. “Let them know that their engagement is important, but don’t become their project, as this will deter possible new members and supporters.” You want to attract as many people and organizations as possible, and many potential supports don’t want to be associated with a specific political party! 

2. All your activities must be legal! It is important to be aware of the local rules governing the organization of demonstrations or public meetings. Anna-Delia stresses the importance of applying for a permit if it is required, and of also letting the authorities and local police department know of your plans. She also encourages you to learn if your local laws allow for permits to be granted retroactively.  

3. Appeal to the media. Write a press release about each of your activities and stay in touch with the journalists who have already reported on your endeavors. Media coverage is extremely helpful to acquire funds and public awareness, and it also offers protection. Anna-Delia points out that people who are present in the media are less vulnerable when it comes to assaults and offences. “Try not to name names, but make sure to let people know if the authorities are cooperative or not!” she says.

4. Anticipate the time you will need! Time is a crucial factor. It can become a full-time job to write press releases, organize activities, apply for funds, file and submit applications and meet with old and new members of your team. Be conscious of how long each activity will take, as well as your own time constraints.

Funding

Everyone on Rosa-Luxemburg-Straße was very helpful as this project progressed. Anna-Delia is grateful to the store owners, restaurant owners, managing directors of cultural and educational facilities and private individuals for their support. “Mitte gegen Rechts” raised $12,000 as well as multiple in-kind donations. The Kunstverein am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz facilitated the flow of donations by helping to set up a donations account. Journalists living on Rosa-Luxemburg-Straße contributed by writing pieces on “Mitte gegen Rechts” and the Thor-Steinar store.

Awards & Recognition

"Mitte gegen Rechts" was recognized as an extraordinary Senior Fellow project at the First Annual Humanity in Action International Conference, held in Amsterdam.

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About This Project

HIA Program:

Germany Germany 2007

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