Earlier this year, a far-right German politician caused outrage when he called for the country to be more “positive” about its Nazi past and attacked the Holocaust memorial in Berlin. Björn Höcke, leader of Alternative for Germany in the eastern state of Thuringia, told supporters that Germans were the “only people in the world who planted a memorial of shame in the heart of their capital,” according to The Independent. “This laughable policy of coming to terms with the past is crippling us,” he added.
Reaction to the speech was swift and furious. The chairman of Germany’s Central Council of Jews, Josef Schuster, said that the party had “shown its true face with these anti-Semitic and utterly inhuman words”.
And now a group of political activists has come up with an incredible way of trolling the incendiary politician. The art collective Centre for Political Beauty has erected 24 large concrete slabs representing Berlin’s ‘Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe’ right next to Höcke’s house.
“We are doing our neighbourly duty,” the group’s leader, Philipp Ruch, told the Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper. “We hope he enjoys the view every day when he looks out the window. He will now have to deal with the fact that he has neighbours who don’t consider the Holocaust Memorial a ‘monument of shame’, but who try to remember what had happened, to prevent it from happening again,” Ruch added.
Speaking to Shortlist, Thilda Rosenfeld from the Centre for Political Beauty said: “It is our social responsibility to draw the right conclusions from the Holocaust and keep in mind that a democracy needs to be defended every day.
“The Holocaust is one of the driving forces that keeps the Center for Political Beauty working. We need active and truthful memory politics that empower society to stand strong against racism and authoritarian tendencies.
“A defensive democracy shouldn’t be afraid to shoulder responsibility for its past. The violent crimes of the Nazis urge us to heighten our vigilance against any kind of fascistic tendencies and historical revisionism as the AfD is practicing cannot remain unanswered.”
Speaking more broadly about German society, Thilda told me: “Nazis are being heard more and more in Germany nowadays, their propaganda becomes part of the daily discourse again. Our acts against them have to be determined and efficient, we cannot allow democracy to be eliminated for a second time.”
And who do they plan on targeting next? She said: “Everyone who acts against basic values of a liberal and open society. Right-wing populist Roger Köppel felt that in 2016. Last June we released leaflets against Erdogan at Gezi Park in Istanbul. For now we are waiting for Höcke to go down on his knees in front of the victims of the Holocaust.”
The real memorial in Berlin is made up of 2,700 grey blocks and is supposed to evoke the feeling of a cemetery. It commemorates the millions of people (mainly Jews but also homosexuals, disabled people, Romani, Soviets and others) who were murdered during the Nazi Holocaust. No action was taken against Höcke after his controversial speech and his party went on to win nearly 13% of the vote in September’s general election.
Protest leader Ruch revealed the group had secretly begun renting the property next door to the politician’s house in the village of Bornhagen before building the protest art. And they’ve now crowdfunded £25,000 to keep the protest going for two years.
According to their website, the Center for Political Beauty “is an assault team that establishes moral beauty, political poetry and human greatness while aiming to preserve humanitarianism. The group’s basic understanding is that the legacy of the Holocaust is rendered void by political apathy, the rejection of refugees and cowardice. It believes that Germany should not only learn from its History but also take action.”
In a similar move, the German town of Wunsiedel, in northern Bavaria, found the perfect way of dealing with its own neo-Nazi problem. The town has suffered a fascism problem for a long time, since it is the former burial place of Adolf Hitler’s deputy, Rudolf Hess, with neo-Nazis marching there on a regular basis.
But in 2014, a bunch of sponsors agreed to start donating money for every step the neo-Nazis took, with all the money raised going to EXIT Deutschland, a group which helps re-educate neo-Nazis and bring them back to a reasonable way of thinking. And the best part is that the sponsors put up banners along the route for the ‘Nazis against Nazis walkathon.’
Shortlist has contacted Björn Höcke’s office for comment.