RVA Global: No Need to Punch Nazis: Lessons From Berlin

by | Aug 6, 2018 | RVA GLOBAL

Just a couple years ago, most Americans assumed that Nazis had been firmly relegated to the past, never to reappear outside the confines of history books. When Nazis did preoccupy the American mind they kindly restricted themselves to playing the role of evil villains in video games or on the silver screen. Unlike the fictitious Nazis of our entertainment media whose escapades always ended in defeat, the explosion of neo-Nazis after the electoral victory of Donald Trump mainstreamed the alt-right two years ago presents the first real chance for the vast majority of Americans to confront a Nazi in person. After the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville last summer ended with a white supremacist murdering a peaceful protester, the question of how to deal with Nazis has rebounded back to relevance for the first time in over seven decades.

The far-right loves to provoke. They live off of alarming and outraging headlines that win them the publicity they use to fundraise and recruit. Anyone who has ever listened to American intelligence officials talk about Al-Qaeda or Islamic State will recognize this is the go-to strategy of any extremist group. Most far-right provocations in America take place online through racist, neo-Confederate, and anti-semitic Facebook groups or Twitter rants. However, these movements of hate also frequently spill over into the real world. A prime example of such childish provocation came last September when a neo-Nazi walked around downtown Seattle in a leather jacket and a swastika armband “spewing racist vitriol” and hoping to get a reaction. By the time police arrived, the neo-Nazi had been punched to the ground and America was once again convulsed with the debate of whether one should or should not punch Nazis.


Germans have been grappling with their own far-right populist insurgency ever since the AFD, short for die Alternative für Deutschland / “the Alternative for Germany,” metastasized from an austerity-minded, anti-Euro movement to a party of xenophobic, homophobic, and pro-Putin trolls. Since the 2015 wave of refugees who fled Syria’s civil war and sought asylum in Europe, the normally bland world of German politics has been set ablaze by questions of how to differentiate between economic immigrants and fleeing refugees, whether Islam has a place in German society, and how a country that has spent the last 70 years atoning for Nazism should handle the resurgence of a far-right political party.

The people of Berlin have the answer.

Seeking to show off its newfound power after becoming the main opposition party in Germany’s Bundestag, or parliament, in 2017, the AFD declared it would host a march on the capital and invited its supporters to flood Berlin on May 27. In response 70 of Berlin’s most beloved clubs decided to close their doors in May that day and instead throw a party to celebrate everything they love about Berlin and Germany. “We’re everything the Nazis aren’t: We’re progressive, queer, feminist, anti-racist, inclusive, colorful, and we have unicorns,” stated the clubs as they called on their fans to join them in a day of peaceful protest through partying. Under the motto “No Dancefloor for Nazis: Let’s Blow the AFD Away with our Bass,” Berlin’s response to the far-right was born.

The AFD wanted their march to send a message to Angela Merkel and to set the tone in the capital in time for the beginning of the 2018 German legislative session. Through its calls to action on social media, the AFD claims it was able to rally 8,000 supporters to the march—less than 0.01 percent of the German population. Any American, however, is well-aware that the far-right likes to overstate their crowd sizes. Indeed, Berlin state police who closely monitored the event revealed that only 5,000 people were in attendance.

Poster for anti-fascist party

On the same day, the clubs’ Fest der Offenheit, or “Party of Openness,” sprawled across central Berlin from the Brandenburg Gate to the Victory Column in the middle of Tiergarten park. The clubs even organized a parade that featured 32 colorfully decorated floats, all blasting loud techno, house, or trance beats. In total, roughly 70,000 people turned out on Berlin’s streets to dance for hours, covered in glitter, and to show the AFD where they belong: on the sidelines of German politics.

Following their monumental embarrassment, the AFD then turned to another one of the far-right’s favorite tricks: playing the victim. They complained their “Meinungsfreiheit”—the German right to an opinion—and their right to protest had been infringed upon by the clubbers. Supporters of an open, welcoming Germany retorted that “Hate was never an opinion, hate isn’t an opinion, and hate will never be an opinion because hate isn’t reflective or constructive the way opinions are.”  The partiers never intruded upon the AFD march; they simply disrupted it with their loud bass beats and stole the headlines.

Berliners are renown for their “Schnauze”—the gruff, charming, and humorful way in which residents of the capital approach life and each other. It’s no wonder Berliners would choose to take down the far-right with their unique combination of confidence and wit. Last month while the leader of the AFD was swimming at a local lake, a Berliner stole his clothes and ran away crying, “No swimming fun for Nazis!”  While we in America argue over whether it’s OK to punch Nazis, Berliners will continue to show us the way by partying, making jokes, and exposing the far-right as the ludicrous movement it is.

Wyatt Gordon

Wyatt Gordon

Wyatt Gordon is a born-and-raised Richmonder who holds a master's degree in urban planning from the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa and a bachelor's degree in international politics from the American University in D.C. Wyatt is an urban planner and community organizer working to foster safer, more sustainable cities and greater civic participation in local government.

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