‘Ku Klux Klan Brandenburg’ was emblazoned across the black T-shirt on a guy in line behind me at the Total petrol station in Peitz, 90 minutes south of Berlin. I considered asking why he liked the KKK but thought better of it after noting his girth and the grimace he gave me.
Popularity of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party and neo-Nazi groups is surging in eastern Germany. The AfD is now the second strongest party in nationwide opinion polls after the opposition Christian Democrats and ahead of Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democrats. It is anti-immigrant, pro-Russian, anti-American and demands Germany quit the euro. The head of Germany’s domestic intelligence service, the Verfassungsschutz, says the AfD is ‘spreading hatred and hate speech against all types of minorities.’ The party targets Muslims and Jews with subtle messages skirting German defamation laws. An AfD election poster showing two women in bikinis has the words: ‘Burqas? We like bikinis.’ Earlier this year, the AfD demanded a ban on kosher and halal animal slaughter in Germany.
‘In contrast to Le Pen in France, the AfD keeps getting more and more radical,’ said the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in a leader.
In three eastern German states that hold regional elections next year, the AfD tops the polls, including in my home state of Brandenburg. Saxony and Thuringia also vote in 2024. AfD candidates are winning direct elections for the first time and no longer slip into parliament via Germany’s proportional voting law that give seats to parties winning at least 5 per cent. In June, the AfD won its first directly elected chief administrator, or Landrat, in a small district council in eastern Thuringia. In July, the party won its first directly elected mayor in eastern Saxony-Anhalt state. Both victories strengthen the AfD by showing voters that ballots cast for it aren’t wasted on politicians doomed to opposition.