What's a small German town to do when white supremacists are intent on holding an annual march through your streets to memorialize a dead Nazi?
If you’re a resident of Wunsiedel, you get creative.
Ever since Hitler’s deputy, Rudolf Hess, was buried in Wunsiedel in 1988, neo-Nazis have regarded the small Bavarian town as a “place of pilgrimage,” much to the consternation of its residents and, at times, the federal government. Banning the marches proved short-lived, and often attracted even more skinheads to Wunsiedel. Even removing the dead Nazi from his grave—as the Hess family agreed to do in 2011—didn’t stop the racists’ annual junket.
So this year, when a crowd of 250 neo-Nazis descended on Wunsiedel, they were met with colorful banners, rainbow confetti, and cheering crowds, informing them that, for every meter marched through Wunsiedel, they would raise ten euros for the nonprofit program “EXIT Deutschland,” which rehabilitates former extremists.
The skinheads had a choice: either abort the march and admit defeat, or plunge ahead and raise money for a cause that works actively against them.
They chose to march.
Organizers from the group “Right against Right” had raised pledge money for “Germany’s most involuntary Walkathon” in advance from various individuals, companies and other non-governmental organizations. Their cheerfully colored banners—with slogans such as “If only the Führer knew!” and “Thank you for your donation!”—adorned the entire parade route, evoking sour cringes from the confused, grim marchers and cheers and laughter from observers.
International media coverage of the event has been extensive, thanks in large part to the organizers’ professional, yet whimsical media strategy, replete with a professionally filmed, cheekily narrated video of the prank. “Bananas are being handed out as sustenance,” the narrator notes, “so that even the most unfit neo-Fascist will manage to goosestep their way across the finish line.”
In all, the “involuntary walkers” raised €10,000 for EXIT Deutschland.