Out-branding the Nazis in Germany

By Toby Axelrod, July 14, 2011
Models sporting Storch Heinar clothing, which parodies the neo-Nazi predilection for the Thor Steinar brand

Models sporting Storch Heinar clothing, which parodies the neo-Nazi predilection for the Thor Steinar brand

Neo-Nazis in Germany may be unified in their racism, antisemitism and hatred of foreigners. But these days, they do not all look the same.

No longer are right-wing extremists all wearing the Thor Steinar clothing brand, or sporting the skinhead look.

Observers of the far-right in Germany say that neo-Nazis are increasingly seen with piercings, graffiti-look tops, baggy trousers, mohawk haircuts and other accessories that might have led to them being beaten up by right-wing extremists only a few years ago.

Neo-Nazis are still able to recognise each other, says Frank Metzger, education expert at Berlin-based social watchdog group Agency for Social Perspectives. Subtle signs are now common, says Mr Metzger, including pins and pendants bearing the Iron Cross or the "Hammer of Thor", or the tartan-lined Harrington jacket.

But the fact that others do not recognise them can be very dangerous. Increasingly, neo-Nazi youths attending events or demonstrations will violently attack members of minority groups who never saw them coming, Mr Metzger said.

Another watchdog organisation, Last Stop for the Right Wing, has developed its own satirical answer to neo-Nazi fashion. The "Storch Heinar" clothing brand parodies Thor Steinar with its name, its logo - which depicts a stork laying an egg - and in the use of various other Nazi symbols, which are altered for comic effect. "We did it mostly to give people a chance to laugh at Nazis, but we also inform people about the strategies of the extreme right-wingers," said Julian Barlen, a co-founder of Last Stop for the Right Wing. The firm is based in the former East German state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, where the right-wing extremist National Democratic Party of Germany has six seats in the state parliament.

According to the German Office for Protection of the Constitution, violent neo-Nazism is on the rise, although membership in some neo-Nazi parties has dropped.

The office's annual report for 2010, released in May, showed that the number of neo-Nazis with violent tendencies rose markedly in 2010, to a total of 5,600.

The number of people identifying as right-wing extremists dropped from 31,000 in 2009 to 25,000 in 2010. But violence-prone "autonomous nationalists" increased by 200 in 2010, to a total of 1,000.

"Sure, these modern neo-Nazis don't look like Hitler," Mr Barlen said. "They use contemporary music, they use stylish clothes, they do all these things to be cool. And while we think Storch Heinar is a funny answer to that, the subtext is always that young people should be aware of the strategies of the far right."

Last updated: 2:02pm, July 14 2011