Jamel – Where right-wing extremism and resistance meet
Aaquib Khan is an independent journalist based in Bombay. He was recently in Germany as a Robert Bosch Stiftung Media Ambassador. He tweets @kaqibb.
No other village in Germany is as famous as this hamlet of about eleven old and crumbling red brick Prussian-era houses, surrounded by fields, farmlands and lush forests, pristine lakes and gently rolling hills. With its sixty inhabitants, the village is only a few kilometers inland from the historic Baltic port city of Wismar, in the state of Mecklenburg-West Pomerania recognized by UNESCO as a world cultural heritage site. These blissful surroundings are not the reason for its popularity: the place, in fact, is famous because of its villagers. God left this beatific place a long time ago and now, against this serene landscape, there are leather boots, shiny shaved heads and tattoos.
Welcome to the village of Jamel.
In the summer of 1992, hundreds of violent neo-Nazis set ablaze an asylum-seeker’s hostel in Rostock, one of the main cities of the state: this is considered one of the worst episodes of right-wing violence in Germany since the end of the Second World War. 75 km away from Rostock lies the tiny village of Jamel. If racism, anti-semitism and neo-Nazism have a home in Eastern Germany, then this is the place. With meandering streams, meadows, wetlands and beaches, Mecklenburg-West Pomerania is one of the least populated and poorest States in Germany. Chancellor Angela Merkel held the Pomeranian town of Straslund as her constituency since she entered the Bundestag in 1990. But her popularity in the area has declined in the last few years, especially since she opened the borders to refugees in 2015. The far-rightwing party Alternative for Deutschland (AfD) is now the second largest party in the Landtag (State Parliament) and the state Mecklenburg- Vorpommem (Mecklenburg-West Pomerania) has been the stronghold of right-wing nationalists for a long time. In the summer of 1992, hundreds of violent neo-Nazis set ablaze an asylum-seeker’s hostel in Rostock, one of the main cities of the state: this is considered one of the worst episodes of right-wing violence in Germany since the end of the Second World War. 75 km away from Rostock lies the tiny village of Jamel.
Neo-Nazis consider Jamel as a ‘nationally liberated zone:’ a non-German or a person of a different ethnicity would fear to walk there; it is a no-go zone where venturing in without police protection could be unsafe. Here the majority of people vote for far-right parties like the Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands or National Democratic Party (NPD): three decades after East and West Germany’s reunification, Jamel is a worrying sign of the crisis of democracy.
The unofficial village chief, a convicted neo-Nazi and once a politician, Sven Krüger is the undisputed boss of this little enclave and the main driving force behind Jamel’s conversion into a neo-Nazi village. He was born and grew up in Jamel with a radical right-wing father who made him salute in the snow every winter morning. As a loner, Krüger spent his days without friends until he came in contact with far-right and skinhead groups. Now, a beefy bald man with a goatee, Krüger is a demolition contractor; his company, Krüger Demolition, has the slogan ‘We do the dirty work’ and the company’s logo is a sledgehammer shattering what appears to be a Jewish Star of David.
While he was strolling around in the village I approached him, but he refused to talk.
Krüger was voted and elected as a local councilor in the region of north-west Mecklenburg in 2009 from the far-right NPD. The police consider Krüger a dangerous man, who was convicted for various criminal activities. In 2011 he wasarrested and spent four years in jail on charges of illegally possessing a submachine gun and an automatic pistol and for concealing stolen properties. He was released in 2016. The NPD dissociated itself from him, but the party’s regional headquarters still share the same premises with Krüger’s demolition company.
The Third Reich has established itself strongly in this settlement. The black, white and red imperial flag, a far-right symbol and a common substitute for the illegal swastika banner, flies in Krüger’s home. A mural with Nordic and National Socialist iconography on the Krüger’s garage wall dominates the middle of the village. The mural is accompanied by a Gothic inscription that reads: “True are Mecklenburg hearts/The wind sings freedom”. The composition is similar to one of the 1942’s propaganda posters produced by the National Socialist German Worker’s Party (NSDAP) or the Nazi Party where the heraldic eagle is depicted as the protector of the happy, farming Aryan family.
Close by, a handmade wooden sign post points to Braunau am Inn (855 km from Jamel), Adolf Hitler’s birthplace in present-day Austria. Hitler lived there for the first three years of his life before his parents moved to Passau, Germany. The sign post refers Austria as Ostmark (908KMs), its name during the Third Reich. The sign also points to other cities that Germany lost in the Second World War, including historic Prussian city Königsberg (732 km) renamed as Kaliningrad (now in Russia) and Breslau (570 km), now in Poland. A display case next to the sign showcases a pamphlet that reads ‘Race Matters — Race is Real’. In the corner there is also a postcard-size picture of convicted Nazi and Hitler’s deputy Rudolf Walter Richard Hess, sitting in Spandau prison in Berlin, with the message Unvergessen— Unforgotten.
But not everything is irreparably dark and bitter here— yet.
A few steps away from Sven Krüger’s far-right stronghold live Horst and Birgit Lohmeyer, a couple in their mid 50s who place themselves on the opposite end of the political spectrum.
Birgit is a writer and Horst is a musician. The couple struggled to find a home they could call their own. After several months of house-hunting, they found one in Jamel in 2004, it was dilapidated but inexpensive and surrounded by apple-laden orchards, lime and maple trees and a huge open space: the perfect dream home, as they always wanted to spend their life in the countryside away from the chaos of the city. Their joy, however, didn’t last long and slowly things turned ugly.
Krüger was the only known far-right extremist in the village when the Lohmeyers moved from Hamburg to Jamel.
The Lohmeyers picked an unusual and challenging alternative: unlike other villagers, they refused to stay silent or vacate the village, but instead decided to fight back the far-right ideology. In 2017, they started organizing a non-profit open air music festival, the Jamel Rockt den Förster (Rock the Forester), on their two-acre property. “Before we bought the house, we were informed by people who lived here that a neo-Nazi lived in this village”. Birgit told me. The couple thought they could deal with one man. But the Lohmeyers couldn’t foresee what was going to come for them in the village. Following a pre-planned strategy, Krüger invited other rightwing extremists and sympathizers to buy or rent properties in the village. And now, out of a total of eleven houses, eight are occupied by neo-Nazis. As the far-right supporters’ number increased so did the harassment against the Lohmeyers. They were followed, insulted and verbally attacked as their neighbors continuously tried to convince the couple to either sell their property or leave the village. Once, one of the men from the village came by their house and asked Birgit in a threatening tone to sell their house to him while they still could. The continuous intimidation left the couple with very few choices. The Lohmeyers picked an unusual and challenging alternative: unlike other villagers, they refused to stay silent or vacate the village, but instead decided to fight back the far-right ideology. In 20017, they started organizing a non-profit open air music festival, the Jamel Rockt den Förster (Rock the Forester), on their two-acre property. Since then, the festival takes place every year in the last week of August a celebration of democracy, tolerance and humanity.
“The music festival has now become the purpose of our life,” Birgit said.
Jamel Rockt den Förster is not just a gathering of music-loving people, it is a protest against neo-Nazism and an act of solidarity towards the Lohmeyers. The annual two-day music festival attracts activists, youngsters, punks, artists and, of course, musicians. Jamel Rockt den Förster is not just a gathering of music-loving people, it is a protest against neo-Nazism and an act of solidarity towards the Lohmeyers. The annual two-day music festival attracts activists, youngsters, punks, artists and, of course, musicians. They come here to voice their contempt against neo-Nazis and right-wing extremism, which is steeply rising in Germany. For some, the participation to the festival has very emotional roots. “My grandma was from Silesia, which is now in Poland, but was part of Germany during the Second World War. She was raped and lost her brother and best friend in the war. She always told me: ‘Anesja do anything you can for war never to happen again. She said, never let fascism and racism return. Never again’,.” 23-year-old Anesja, who travelled almost 900 km from Freiburg to go to the festival, told me. Her voice was shaking in anger after looking at the situation in the village. “The easiest thing to do is to leave, but the Lohmeyers are fighting against the neo-Nazis. And I am here to support them,” Anesja said.
Police also camp in the village, especially for the protection of the festival-goers. According to Jamel Police Department spokesperson, Jessica Lerke, who is the in-charge and has been going to the village for three times since the festival started, “there are two different ideologies clashing here and we are here to make sure that the festival can take place without any disturbance.” A local activist told me that about a hundred policemen are in standby for any type of emergency, including a handful of special anti-terrorism forces.
When I visited the 2019 edition, a crowd of more than 1,200 visitors from different corners of Germany attended the festival with tickets sold-out within hours already in February. The name of the bands playing at the festival remains secret before their appearance. Outside the festival area, few hundreds meters away, the open space is transformed into a city of tents for two days. Hundreds of people barbecue, sing and dance and sleep under the stars. Inside the main area, different grassroot human rights organizations from Germany provide information and workshops to the attendees regarding the far-right movement and the situation of refugees in Germany. Some stalls sell anti-fascist merchandise like T-shirts, bags, badges, and there are also food stalls.
Has anything changed since the Lohmeyers started their unique form of resistance?
“I can’t change these rightwing people’s minds. We want to reach out to the other citizens in Germany through this music festival. We want to show that it’s worth to be courageous in such situations and to protect our democratic values,” Birgit has her own reasons to celebrate the diversity that the festival gathers every year.
To counter the music festival, Krüger and his cronies organize a barbecue party during the same days of the festival that is sometimes attended by hundreds of skinheads and right-wing extremists. This year not more than 70 of them were present. One of the volunteers who was part of the festival organising committee told me that next morning, they found out that tires of some of the vehicles from people attending the festival were slashed — participants to the festival were sure that this was the doing of Krüger’s friends.
Acts of bullyism in Jamel are nothing new. While the Lohmeyers’ activism received applause and support from different sections of German society, years of harassments turned violent one night in 2015. Soon after the announcement that they were awarded with the 2015 Georg-Leber-Prize for their civil courage by the German trade union Bauen-Agrar-Umwelt,their barn turned into ashes. Investigators found traces of fire accelerator in the remains of the burned down barn, but the police couldn’t arrest the culprits. Senior political reporter Hans Pfeifer from the Deutsche Welle, who has been covering right-wing extremism in Germany for a long time, has serious concerns about Jamel and its notorious far-right proclivities that violate Germany’s democratic and constitutional values. “Of course, Jamel is not representative of German society as a whole. If neo-Nazis attack the villagers, it’s not a threat to the people in general, but it is a threat to the core principles of the German constitution because these villagers should have the same rights and the same protection from physical harm as every other German citizen. And if local or federal authorities cannot guarantee their safety, this means that politicians have started to accept that Article 2 of Germany’s Basic Law is not in effect for everybody. This law states that every person shall have the right to free development of their personality,” he told me.
The Lohmyeres are worried about their life, but are firm in their commitment to keep spreading the values of democracy and tolerance and are clear that they are not going to be intimidated by their neighbors. “All those people who like to live in a democratic society should get up against rightwing extremism and fight for their rights,” Birgit told me before going for an interview with another reporter also interested in their story.
There is a growing organized and silent far-right cultural movement in Germany’s rural areas since the late 1990s. The Völkisch Landnahme (ethno-nationalist settlers) settle down in villages and slowly infiltrate the local community and spread right-wing ideologies. They buy houses and farms in regions affected by rural depopulation: several towns and villages in Germany are grappling with dwindling population and declining birth rate, as people move to bigger cities in search of a better life. In big cities, these Völkisch settlers would be confronted with the diverse and modern forms of life that they reject.
In rural areas there are not many foreigners and the presence of civil society organizations is also limited, thus providing a safe space for right-wing extremists to stay undetected and live a life less economically dependent on modern and urban supply structures. They move in deserted regions with the intention to establish a ‘racially’ influenced society. The Völkisch settlement projects are based on racist, xenophobic, anti-semitic ideas with an aim to mold everyday life altering the current German democratic system and the revive the Blut und Boden (Blood and Soil).
It also sheds light on previously held misunderstandings — such as that right-wing radicalism and an environment-friendly lifestyle negate each other. Many far-right politicians are climate change deniers and Völkisch Landnahme are in conflict with them. This neo-Nazi strategy is not a purely East German phenomenon, but is particularly effective in North-Eastern Germany where neo-Nazis from North Rhine-Westphalia, Lower Saxony and Bavaria settled after the fall of communism. In their recent book Völkische Landnahme: Alte Sippen, junge Siedler, rechte Ökos (Ethnic Land Seizure: Old clans, young settlers, right-wing ecosystems) journalist and researcher Andrea Röpke and Andreas Speit explains this phenomenon in detail. The book reveals the systemic plans of neo-Nazis of buying real estate in villages. It also sheds light on previously held misunderstandings — such as that right-wing radicalism and an environment-friendly lifestyle negate each other. Many far-right politicians are climate change deniers and Völkisch Landnahme are in conflict with them. Röpke and Speit explain that the protection of nature, the environment and the homeland played an important role during the time of National Socialism. In the Nazi propaganda machinery, farmers were instrumental because of the regime’s policy of self-sufficiency in economy, production of food and other essential raw materials.
The settlers take care of land and livestock and cultivate the community spirit in local sports clubs and music groups. They spread their right-wing ideologies among the people in the rural regions and try to establish new settlements with other like-minded people. The men often wear beards and carpenter’s trousers, women have long hair and skirts; they often have many children; are engaged in organic farming, are traders or blacksmiths, others work as educators, midwives, firefighters or gardeners. Refugees, homosexuals, people with disabilities are not welcome and are seen as degraded.They strive to install themselves at a social level with active involvement in the local affairs. In this way they can have a say in the long term and shape decisions in the community. This tactic is as effective as it is problematic. When slogans like “refugees are not welcome” resonate there is rarely a dissenting voice to counter their arguments.
Some of the settlers own logistics companies, and when a member of their group buys a dilapidated building, he can ask from his far-right friends for help with the necessary equipment and manpower. Like Sven Krüger in Jamel, who immediately intervenes and supports other members with his demolition company.
Occupying and converting an entire village as their base by buying one house at a time is quite a successful far-right strategy. According to an estimate, there are about 1,000 ethnic settlers in Germany and specifically in Schleswig-Holstein, Lower Saxony, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Hesse, Saxony-Anhalt, Brandenburg, Thuringia, Saxony and Bavaria. There are no exact figures available since the issue needs more research and scrutiny. Also these communities avoid integrating with the outside world. Jamel is an exception because the Lohmeyers activism uncovered their agenda.
The question is: does Germany have enough Lohmyers to resist, confront the far-right ideology of destruction and to stop these children walking on the same path as their parents? Back to the festival evening in Jamel, a young girl 3-5 years old, from the neo-Nazi camp sat on top of a haystack right on the buffer zone between the Lohmeyers’ and their far-right neighbors, where the police and paramedics’ vehicles were parked. She was looking towards the festival with wishful eyes. A young generation of Germans are brainwashed in these hamlets and are growing up in an environment that incites hate, lawlessness and extremism. The question is: does Germany have enough Lohmyers to resist, confront the far-right ideology of destruction and to stop these children walking on the same path as their parents?