While many Germans have welcomed record numbers of refugees to their country, the new arrivals have unleashed fear and fury in small eastern German towns such as Riesa, a centre of far-right support in a country ashamed of its Nazi past.
In Riesa, a distinctly ordinary steelmaking town about 135km south of Berlin, several hundred have marched down the cobbled streets at two radical right-wing protests in the last month to vent their anger at what they see as “foreign infiltration”.
Many people in the town, where the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD) has 6.3% support, about five times as much as it got in the last national election, fear they will have to pay for the rising numbers of asylum seekers arriving here.
“Germans have earned this money by the sweat of their brow, be it at a desk or at the steelworks here in Riesa... so that a distant and anti-grassroots government can hand out horns of plenty as if it’s the world’s social welfare office,” said Juergen Gansel, an NPD member of the town council.
The party sees the refugee crisis as an opportunity to broadcast its anti-immigrant message but the existence of less extreme right-wing groups and the continuing toxicity of the NPD brand mean struggles to win support outside its existing strongholds.
The sight of protesters in Riesa waving the black, red, and gold national flag while chanting “Germany for the Germans. Kick asylum fraudsters out!” contrasts with the images beamed around the world of Germans applauding the arrival of refugees at train stations.
With its relatively liberal asylum laws and generous benefits, Germany is the favoured destination for many on the move in Europe’s worst refugee crisis since the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s.
The government expects 800,000 new arrivals this year and the strain is beginning to show, Germany has introduced border controls to stem the flow and interior minister Thomas de Maiziere says the willingness of ordinary Germans to help “must not be overstrained”.
The crisis is giving the far-right ammunition and a spate of attacks on refugee homes has put it in the media spotlight.
In one of the most serious incidents, dozens of police were hurt in scuffles with right-wing protesters last month in Heidenau, also in eastern Germany.
Beyond the headlines the NPD, which is ostracised in Germany and won 1.3% of the vote in the 2013 national election, remains small.
Manfred Guellner, head of polling body Forsa, said support for the NPD was below 2% but the country still had some “brown spots that we can’t seem to erase”, a reference to the brown shirts worn by Nazi stormtroopers in the Sturmabteilung.
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