Is Germany one step closer to having its first far-right AfD mayor?

The eastern German border city of Görlitz is known for being a charming filming hub - and now for a popular Alternative for Germany (AfD) candidate who came out on top of Sunday's mayoral elections.

Is Germany one step closer to having its first far-right AfD mayor?
A look at Görlitz's old town, leading to the town hall. Photo: DPA

In mayoral elections held on Sunday, the AfD candidate Sebastian Wippel, 36, took 36.4 percent of the vote, followed by Christian Democratic Candidate Octavian Ursu, 51, who won 30.3 percent of the vote. Green Party candidate Franziska Schubert, 37, came in third place with 27.9 percent of the vote.

SEE ALSO: Meet the East German Greens candidate offering another alternative

However, because none of the candidates won an absolute majority, there will be another round of elections on June 16th. On Sunday, 58.6 percent of the city's 56,000 residents voted.

The results show a political rift in the population. The far-right populists here won 32.9 percent of the votes in the Bundestag (parliamentary) elections in 2017 and were 6 percentage points ahead of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

SEE ALSO: Far-right AfD marches into parliament with strong election results

AfD candidate Sebastian Wippel. Photo: DPA

'An Anti-European signal'

Stephan Meyer, parliamentary managing director of the Saxon CDU state parliamentary group, spoke of a “choice of direction for the whole of Germany”. The issue was whether Görlitz would continue to be shaped by “pro-European people” or send out an “anti-European signal”.

However, AfD candidate Wippel, a 36-year-old police superintendent, presents himself as European and sees Görlitz as a gateway to eastern Europe.

“The border situation is more of an opportunity than a burden. The inhabitants on both sides of the Neiße river can also grow together through partnerships,” said Wippel, adding that he has already met with the mayor of Görlitz' sister city of Zgorzelec, Poland.

Green Party candidate Schubert, 37, told The Local on Friday that she would offer another alternative to the “beautiful, European city”

“Görlitz deserves to have a friendly, open-minded image,” said Schubert, a member of Saxony's parliament who studied international relations. “With an AfD mayor from the right, we will lose people, students, enterprises and reputation.”

Her campaign also included cross-border cultural partnerships, upgrades to infrastructure and public transportation, and attracting and starting new jobs, including for the city's younger population.

Schubert told DPA she was considering whether to run again on the second ballot but added “I'm aware of my responsibility” to prevent the election of an AfD mayor.

The AfD is often viewed as a party of contradictions, with some members critical of the European Union to the point of calling for Germany to withdraw from it.

SEE ALSO: Far-right AfD to campaign on German EU Exit

Shining in the spotlight

Görlitz has also received many positive headlines. The municipality, which calls itself European City, often shines in the spotlight – quite literally.

Ever since Hollywood used it as the as a backdrop for productions such as The Grand Budapest Hotel and Inglorious Basterds, it has borne the name Görliwood.

SEE ALSO: Eastern German town of Görlitz named best filming location in Europe

Walking through the historic old town feels like being in an outdoor architecture museum – with all the essential styles from Gothic to Art Nouveau on display, and over 4,000 cultural monuments.

The city is therefore very popular with tourists and specifically recruits western German senior citizens so that they can spend their retirement in Görlitz at comparatively low rents.

Görlitz' charming centre brings in many tourists, and film directors. Photo: DPA

Tackling crime

Crime is an important topic in the election campaign. In a border town like Görlitz, it is more common than elsewhere, even twice as high as the national average, according to Wippel.

Especially with the abolition of border controls after Poland joined the EU in 2004, thefts and drug-related crime have skyrocketed. Wippel believes that “those in Berlin” don't care: “We are the victims of a great political goal”.

In the election campaign he advertises with the slogan “It's better to live with borders”. Ursu also wants to score points with the topic of security. He can be seen on billboards with video surveillance cameras.

This article was updated on Monday, May 27th at 10 am.


Rift – (der) Riss

Mayoral elections – (die) Oberbürgermeisterwahl

Border situation – (die) Grenzlage

Election posters – (die) Wahlplakate

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Fugitive far-left militant wanted for decades arrested in Berlin

A German activist of the notorious far-left Red Army Faction (RAF) wanted for more than 30 years for attempted murder and other crimes has been arrested in Berlin, prosecutors said on Tuesday.

Fugitive far-left militant wanted for decades arrested in Berlin

Daniela Klette, 65, was part of a notorious fugitive trio from the RAF, which carried out bombings, kidnappings and killings in Germany in the 1970s and 1980s.

Klette was arrested on Monday, a spokesman for prosecutors in Verden said, without giving further details.

Along with fellow RAF members Ernst-Volker Staub and Burhard Garweg, Klette is being investigated by the prosecutors in Verden for attempted murder and various serious robberies between 1999 and 2016.

The trio are believed to have been financing their lives on the run through robberies on money transporters and supermarket cash heists.

They are suspected of being behind the failed robbery of a money transporter in 2016 near the northern city of Bremen, among other offences.

In that incident, masked attackers armed with AK-47 automatic rifles and grenade-launcher opened fire but fled without cash when security guards locked themselves inside the armoured vehicle, which was carrying about one million euros ($1.1 million).

Plane hijacking

The anti-capitalist RAF, also known as the Baader-Meinhof gang, emerged out of the radicalised fringe of the 1960s student protest movement.

READ ALSO: What Germany’s Red Army Faction can tell the world about terror

The group, which had links to Middle Eastern militant organisations, declared itself disbanded in 1998.

At the height of its notoriety in 1977, the group kidnapped one of Germany’s top industrialists after opening fire with a machine-gun on his Mercedes.

After ambushing Hanns-Martin Schleyer’s convoy, they held him hostage for six weeks as the West German state negotiated for his release.

On October 13th, four militants of the RAF-allied Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine hijacked Mallorca-Frankfurt flight LH 181, demanding the release of 11 RAF members.

During a five-day odyssey which included seven refuelling stops in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, the cell’s leader, who called himself Captain Martyr Mahmud, shot dead the pilot, Juergen Schumann

German anti-terror commandos eventually stormed the Lufthansa jet in Somalia, shot its Palestinian hijackers and freed 90 hostages.

Schleyer, a former SS officer who became the head of Germany’s employers’ association, was then found dead in the boot of a car in eastern France.

‘Third generation’

Though the so-called German Autumn of 1977 marked the beginning of a long period of decline for the RAF, the group continued to operate for another two decades.

Staub, Garweg and Klette, alleged members of the RAF’s so-called “third generation” active during the 1980s and 1990s, are the chief suspects in a 1993 explosives attack against a prison under construction in Germany’s Hesse state.

Bombed RAF prison Hesse

An aerial photograph from March 28th, 1993 shows parts of the devastated prison building in Weiterstadt near Darmstadt. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | DB Jürgen Mahnke

In the attack, five RAF members climbed the prison walls, tied up and abducted the guards in a van, then returned to set off explosions that caused about €600,000 worth of property damage, according to German prosecutors.

Klette is also a suspect in two previous RAF operations.

Ten days ago, alarm was raised in Wuppertal when a man on a regional train was mistaken for Staub.

However, it turned out to be a case of mistaken identity, and he and Garweg remain on the run.

Although far-right extremism has been a bigger focus for Germany in recent years, far-left attacks have also continued to keep the authorities busy.

A court in Dresden in May sentenced a left-wing extremist woman to more than five years in jail for attacking neo-Nazis, with Germany’s interior minister warning against “vigilante justice”

The defendant, identified only as Lina E., and three other suspects were convicted of participating in a “criminal organisation” that carried out several assaults against right-wing extremists between 2018 and 2020.