There’s got to be a better way to stop the Nazis

Thousands  of counter-protestors successfully halted a neo-Nazi march on the anniversary of Rudolf Hess’s death on the outskirts of Berlin last Saturday. International media is largely hailing this as a victory for the left and praising the efforts of the brave protestors. What they’re not talking about, however, is how the counter-demonstrators accomplished this feat.

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500 right-wing extremists march towards Berlin Spandau. Photo: dpa
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Workers survey the damage to a train signal outside of Berlin after protestors set fire to it in order to stop a train of Nazis from entering Berlin. Photo: DPA

Anti-Nazi counter-protestors set fire to a train signal outside of Berlin last Saturday morning in order to prevent a train full of neo-Nazis who came to participate in the march from reaching its destination. The fire was successful in stopping that train – and all of the trains that were scheduled on that route for the next three days. This included two of the most highly traveled routes in Germany: Berlin-Hamburg and Berlin-Hannover.

Why do I care? Because me and my parents were scheduled to take one of those trains. And because the fire resulted in canceled trains and massive delays, my parents missed their flight home. Overall, this little stunt cost my family about $500.

Back up one second – isn’t Nazi stuff illegal in Germany?

Yes and no. Although certain Nazi-related symbols are outright banned, in principle everyone has a right to free speech – no matter how despicable that speech is. In this case, protestors were not allowed to display swastikas, use the Hitler salute, or “glorify the Third Reich” in any way. In fact, police went a step further by banning chanting, drums and military music. Citizens aren’t allowed to carry guns anyway on the streets in Germany, and police made sure no weapons of any sort were smuggled in.

So the march consisted of about 500 neo-Nazi protestors waving the former flag of the German empire, marching peacefully and refraining from shouting anything too offensive – in essence, behaving rather well. Just 500 Nazis, compared to 1,000 counter-protestors and another 1,000 police officers. The actual Nazis were outnumbered four to one.

As Berlin’s interior senator Andreas Geisel put it, “I would have been delighted with a ban. But we looked into the matter very carefully and concluded that, unfortunately, assholes also get to benefit from democratic freedoms.”

Nazis mit Flaggen des Deutschen Kaiserreichs
Far-right extremists gathered in Berlin’s western district of Spandau on Saturday to commemorate the death of Hitler’s deputy Rudolf Hess. Photo: Maurizio Gambarini/DPA, via Associated Press

Missing the flight

My parents had been visiting me for three weeks in Germany for what had otherwise been a perfectly planned trip. After wrapping up the journey with a few days sightseeing in Berlin, we were to get up early Sunday morning, take a fast train to Hamburg, and be at the airport three hours before my parents’ the 2 p.m. flight. We’d say goodbye at the airport, and my parents would fly to Seattle via Reykjavik to get home.

We arrived at the Berlin main train station with plenty of time, only to discover our train had been canceled. A loudspeaker announcement advised us to take the next train to Hamburg, departing just 20 minutes later. The platform was crowded, and as I realized two trains’ worth of passengers were now cramming into one train, I worried that we wouldn’t get a seat.

No sooner had we gotten our luggage stowed on the overhead shelves and settled into our seats, and the conductor announced that this train was also affected by the vandalism on the tracks and, as a result, would be rerouted. The length of the journey would be over four hours, not less than two. I did the math, and realized this would give my parents less than half an hour at the airport to check their bags, check in and catch their flight.

“Get off the train,” I told my parents, voice deceptively calm. “We’re getting off now.”

After unsuccessful excursions to the customer service center, a nearby airport and back to the main train station in a desperate attempt to get to Hamburg on time, we finally gave in and had to reschedule the flight. My parents were now to depart Tuesday afternoon from Hamburg. Relieved, we boarded the next train to Hamburg.

After sitting on the tracks for an hour waiting for a conductor, we finally arrived in Hamburg in the late afternoon, two and a half hours after the initial flight had departed. My parents booked a hotel for two nights. All in all, they had to pay $316 in fees for changing the flight, and €216 for the hotel – nearly €500 in total.

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But hey, we got to spend more time together as a family!

But at least they stopped the Nazis, right?

I have been criticized as being petty for getting upset over a delayed train when in fact, the train was delayed for a very good reason: so that antifa protestors could stop the Nazis.

Well, here’s what happened. The train in question, unable to reach Berlin-Spandau where the demonstration was to take place, got stuck in a small town outside of Berlin. Undeterred, its occupants walked to the nearby train station of Falkensee, where they then met up with two busloads of incoming Neo-Nazis who had also wanted to go to Berlin. The groups proceeded with their march, shouting offensive slogans and smashing a shop window before being eventually stopped by the police.

So rather than preventing a Nazi march, by setting fire to the train signal, the counter-protestors actually created two Nazi marches.  And unlike the demonstration in Spandau, which was planned in advance, registered with police, and which residents knew to anticipate, the march in Falkensee was spontaneous, the police were unprepared, and the participants caused damage.

Granted, the counter-protestors in Spandau prevented the Nazis from reaching their destination, the prison where Hess had died, by forming a mostly-peaceful human blockade. But the ones who set fire to the train signals in Falkensee committed an act of arson, which is at best vandalism, at worst terrorism, in order to prevent people they didn’t agree with from exercising their democratic rights to free speech. All they prevented was thousands of Deutsche Bahn passengers from reaching their destinations on time for the next three days as trains were delayed, canceled and re-routed. This is not to mention the thousands of euro of taxpayer money that will be spent repairing the signals, refunding people’s train tickets, and processing refund claims.

Which leads me to the question: Surely there are better ways of stopping Nazis than by setting fire to the public infrastructure?

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