Several hundred neo-Nazis demonstrate in Dresden. The counterprotest is significantly larger. Its organizers criticize police tactics.

A masked protester holds a round sign in the shape of a stop sign with a crossed out swastika.  In the background, people with umbrellas and rainy weather.

Stop sign for Nazis: counter-protester against far-right march on anniversary of Dresden destruction Photo: Robert Michael/dpa

DRESDEN taz | They were on a side street near Dresden's main train station: several hundred neo-Nazis, lined up, mostly dressed in black and silent, without slogans and at first without music. Only the police helicopter flew audibly over the city shortly after 2:00 p.m. this Sunday. It was raining a lot.

Then the elevator began to move and immediately loud noises were heard from the side: “Alert, alert, anti-fascist!” Although the police have cordoned off the path of the neo-Nazis, some counter-protesters are already chanting slogans in sight and ear at the starting point. The neo-Nazis trot past and look at them silently but angrily. No slogans, that's what they announced, because the neo-Nazi march is supposed to be a commemorative march.

For more than 25 years, neo-Nazis have been mobilizing in Dresden to exploit the bombing of the city on February 13, 1945 in their own interest. At its peak, around 7,000 far-right people followed the call; This year it is estimated that there were up to 1,000. About 5,000 people opposed them. In several places, counter-protesters tried to block the passage of neo-Nazis, but without success. But nationwide protests against the right are also having repercussions in Dresden. This time the counterprotest was much more colorful than in previous years. But the number of protesters in Dresden was significantly lower than in previous weeks.

Colorful protest against the right

After about an hour, the neo-Nazis passed Georgplatz, north of the main train station. There, several thousand people waited on the side of the road and chanted: “There is no right to Nazi propaganda.” Also standing was Anne Herpertz (Pirates), who helped organize the protest. “We are glad that so many people took to the streets against the Nazis,” she said. However, the police operation left them stunned.

Herpertz considers the number of emergency services excessive. After an attempted blockade, around 150 counter-protesters remained in a cauldron for about three hours. Police officers identified 90 people and “initiated investigations against ten counterprotesters, including for disorderly conduct, physical assaults on law enforcement officers, and violations of the assembly law,” as police later explained in a statement. Press release. Elsewhere, police used pepper spray and had police officers ride horses in front of the counter-demonstration.

The mayor of Dresden, Dirk Hilbert (FDP), was also at Georgenplatz, armed against the inclement weather with a blue raincoat. He had already called on people to participate in the protests: “We must not leave the commemoration of February 13 to those who died yesterday.” He told the Taz that he was now grateful that so many people had taken to the streets. He also considers the brief blockades of the neo-Nazi march legitimate. This expresses: “You are not welcome here.”

Mayor Hilbert joins

Hilbert has held the position since 2015. In recent years he has repeatedly stressed that “Dresden was not an innocent city” and has criticized attempts to reinterpret history. He had already mobilized protests against the right at important events such as Pegida's birthday. But on February 13 he only called to participate in the human chain, not in the counter-protests, as was the case this year.

Anne Herpertz believes this is an improvement: “Until now, the human chain has been the focal point of civil protest.” However, this has become an “end in itself” and is no longer related to the right-wing march. “In recent years, Mayor Hilbert has not commented on the 'memorial march' or the counter-protest,” she says.

Could the mayor do more? Although he understands the desire to ban neo-Nazi protests, the right to demonstrate is a fundamental right, he responds, “and whoever starts to undermine it is also destroying democracy.”

Distortion of history through the “commemorative march”

Around four in the afternoon the neo-Nazi march returned to its starting point and broke the silence with speeches, as had been customary in previous years. The commemoration of the Allied bombing raids in Dresden has long been the subject of controversy. In the 1990s, far-right actors mobilized for the first time in Dresden. According to historical research, around 25,000 people died in the Allied air raids against Nazi Germany that hit Dresden between February 13 and 15, 1945.

On the other hand, an NPD banner said that there were 350,000 dead in the “bomb holocaust.” The exaggerated dimensions and trivialization of the industrially carried out mass murder of six million Jews repeatedly attracted several thousand fascists from Germany and other European countries to Dresden.

When around 6,500 far-right people took part in the so-called “funeral march” in Dresden in 2005, it was considered the largest neo-Nazi march in Europe. In the following years, increasing numbers of anti-fascists protested against this and successfully blocked the march for the first time in 2010.

The success of the human chain

That year, for the first time, the Dresden city leadership, under the presidency of Mayor Helma Orosz (CDU), no longer described the counterprotest as left-wing extremist. Instead, she asked Dresden residents to participate in the human chain that was to symbolically protect Dresden's old town from neo-Nazis. Around 10,000 people lined up.

In the following years, the number of neo-Nazis steadily decreased. Due to frustration over blockades and internal disputes, the march has dwindled to a few hundred neo-Nazis in recent years. In 2023 there were still between 650 and 800 participants in Dresden.