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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.

Vocabulary

Rift – (der) Riss

Mayoral elections – (die) Oberbürgermeisterwahl

Border situation – (die) Grenzlage

Election posters – (die) Wahlplakate

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POLICE

EXPLAINED: What you need to know about gun laws in Germany

Germany is known for having some of the world’s strictest gun laws, but shooting incidents continue to cause concern.

EXPLAINED: What you need to know about gun laws in Germany

Is it difficult to get a gun in Germany?

To get a gun in Germany you firstly have to obtain a firearms ownership license (Waffenbesitzkarte) – and you may need a different one for each weapon you buy – or a license to carry (Waffenschein).

Applicants for a license must be at least 18-years-old and undergo what’s called a reliability check. This includes checking for criminal records, whether the person is an alcohol or drug addict, whether they have a mental illness or any other attributes that might make them owning a gun a potential concern for authorities.

They also have to pass a “specialised knowledge test” on guns and people younger than 25 applying for their first license must go through a psychiatric evaluation.

Crucially, applicants must also prove a specific and approved “need“ for the weapon, which is mainly limited to use by hunters, competitive marksmen, collectors and security workers – not for self-defence.

Once you have a license, you’re also limited in the number of and kinds of guns you may own, depending on what kind of license you have: Fully automatic weapons are banned for everyone, while semiautomatic firearms are banned for anything other than hunting or competitive shooting.

A revolver lies on an application for the issuance of a firearms license. Photo: picture alliance / Carsten Rehder/dpa | Carsten Rehder

How many legal guns are there in Germany? 

According to the latest figures from the Federal Ministry of the Interior, as of May 31st, 2022, there were 5.018,963 registered guns in Germany, and 946,546 gun owners entered in the National Weapons Register (NWR).

Where are the most guns in Germany?

Most legal guns are found in rural areas and are used in hunting or shooting sports. Guns are also more widespread in the western States than in the states that make up the former East Germany, where private gun ownership was extremely limited. 

READ ALSO: German prosecutors say poaching led to double police murder

What about undocumented guns in Germany?

One problem in Germany is so-called ‘old’ weapons. It’s impossible to estimate how many weapons from the two world wars are still in circulation and such antiques have appeared in a number of high-profile incidents in the last few years.

The pistol hidden in a Vienna airport by Bundeswehr officer Franco A was a Unique pistol from 1917 and the 2007 murder of a police officer in Heilbronn involved a Wehrmacht pistol. 

In 2009, around 200,000 weapons were returned in a gun amnesty, but it is still unclear how many illegal weapons are still out there.

Does Germany have a gun violence problem?

Gun crime is relatively rare in Germany, which has some of the strictest gun laws in Europe and, according to the latest figures from the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA), gun-related crimes in Germany are decreasing.

In 2021, there were 9.8 percent fewer crimes committed with a firearm than the previous year, while the number of cases recorded by the police in which a firearm was used to threaten fell by 11.2 percent. Shots were fired in 4,074 of the total number of recorded cases, down 8.5 percent from 2021.

An armored weapons cabinet filled with long guns. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Friso Gentsch

Despite this, there have been several mass shootings within the past two decades, which have had a big impact on public consciousness and on gun control policy. 

Between 2002 and 2009 there were three major incidents of young men carrying out shootings at their former high schools and, in 2020, a racially motivated gunman shot and killed 11 people and injured numerous others in an attack on two shisha bars in Hanau. The perpetrator was allowed to legally possess firearms, although he had previously sent letters with right-wing extremist content to authorities.

Recently there were also shootings at Heidelberg University in southwestern Germany and at a supermarket in Schwalmstadt in Hesse.

Are German gun laws about to change?

The German parliament reacted to the mass shooting incidents in the early 2000s by tightening the gun laws, and, in the wake of the Hanau attack, a new amendment is in the works, which aims to shift focus towards monitoring gun owners with extremist, right-wing views.

READ ALSO: Germany marks a year since deadly racist shooting in Hanau

In December 2021, Federal Interior Minister Nancy Faeser (SPD) announced her intention to further tighten gun laws, as part of a plan to tackle right-wing extremism.

The authorities in charge of the protection of the constitution have been warning for some time that neo-Nazis are deliberately joining shooting clubs to obtain guns and the Federal Ministry of the Interior reports that 1.500 suspected right-wing extremists among legal gun owners.

Campaigners say more needs to be done to stop gun crime. 

Dagmar Ellerbrock, a historian and expert on weapons history at the Technical University of Dresden said: “It is high time that we try to at least make it more difficult for these political groups to find their way through the shooting associations.”

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