June 26, 2014

A Neo-Nazi’s Political Rise Exposes a German City’s Ethnic Tensions

Siegfried Borchardt won a seat on Dortmund’s City Council pushing an anti-immigration “Germany for Germans” agenda. Credit Gordon Welters for The New York Times
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DORTMUND, Germany — He is known here as SS-Siggi, and with his bulky frame and “Germania” tattoos, he certainly looks the part.
For 30 years, which have included several brushes with the law, Siegfried Borchardt — a.k.a. SS-Siggi and who can bear a passing resemblance to Hulk Hogan — has been involved in the far right in this bleak city of 600,000, working from the political fringe. This month, to the horror of the political establishment and many residents, he took his seat on the 94-member City Council.
His ascent has punctured Germany’s image of itself as a country allergic to the nationalism and populism gaining ground elsewhere in Europe. That Germany — in Bavaria, in the southwest, around Frankfurt — is Europe’s economic powerhouse, with low unemployment, booming exports and gleaming stores oozing prosperity.
Dortmund is another Germany: a run-down former coal and steel hub in the industrial Ruhr heartland, with a scruffy north side, few jobs, higher than average crime in some districts, and a large center for registering asylum seekers, and where almost one in three inhabitants are of foreign descent.
Mr. Borchardt’s election in May both shocked and divided residents, and it has helped lay bare a host of tensions — not just between native Germans and more recent immigrants, but also among the city’s many immigrant groups themselves — that have arisen from the city’s profound demographic changes.
When Mr. Borchardt and about two dozen neo-Nazis tried to gain entry to a postelection party in May, it set off a brawl on the steps of City Hall. “Foreigners out!” one group screamed; “Nazis out!” the other yelled.
Amid a mist of pepper spray, 10 people were wounded, including Christian Gebel, 38, a computer graphics designer and City Council member for the Pirate Party, who still bears the small scar above his right eyebrow where a flying beer bottle struck him.
When Mr. Borchardt took his seat on the City Council last week, accompanied to City Hall by 15 of his friends, the police were taking no chances. “More police than politicians,” the local newspaper, the Ruhr Nachrichten, concluded on its live blog, as Mr. Borchardt and his cohort were greeted by 200 anti-Nazi protesters who had gathered to jeer him.


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