Nowhere else did the AfD win as many votes as in the Görlitz district. Many young people here also voted for the right. How are those who oppose it doing?

An old building in a market square.

A disputed location in Saxony: Zittau town hall, Görlitz district Photo: Gabriele Hanke/imago

ZITTAU/GÖRLITZ taz | Peace and quiet still reigns around Zittau town hall. The neo-Renaissance building casts long shadows in the afternoon sun, a few passersby walk along the street and the sound of buttonholes against the flagpoles can be heard. A total of six flags hang in front of the arch of the town hall: on the one hand, the EU, the state of Saxony, the district of Görlitz, and on the other, the Czech Republic, Poland and Germany. The city of 25,000 inhabitants is located in the border triangle, a short distance from Europe.

Alena, Lothar and Johanna are sitting on the warm cobblestones of the market square. They are waiting for a seventh flag to be added. At 6 pm this Monday, Mayor Thomas Zenker plans to raise the Pride flag on the city's most important building at the start of this year's Christopher Street Day. The mood is still very normal. It's the day after the elections. Electoral hangover.

“You feel a little unnecessary,” Alena says. “Almost as if the vote itself was worthless.” In the Görlitz district, where Zittau is also located, the AfD won more votes in local and European elections than anywhere else in Germany. Alena and Lothar are 17 years old, Johanna is 16. All three voted for the first time. They are not surprised, they are more depressed.

And at that time they missed school a little bit, because there they could always discuss that kind of things well and openly. They are currently doing internships: two in the restaurant sector, one in the veterinarian. “And of course it is completely clear that many colleagues voted for the AfD and we do not want to mess with them,” says Johanna. “I like them all too.”

When they are not doing internships, the three of them go to school together, a school with an alternative learning concept: flat hierarchies, a cosmopolitan orientation. Far-right classmates are not a problem. Things are different for a group of girls who have come together in the meantime. You are not in internship and that morning you had to argue with one of your classmates in German class.

“Our teacher asked us if we needed to be informed and the boy said that the queer environment bothers him a lot and that straight people are having their right to exist restricted. And that eventually we will have to close the borders with Poland and the Czech Republic.” It was just this student, but they are also here today because of people like him.

Cooperation between the left and the AfD

People at a demonstration.

Proof and counter-demonstration on Monday. Photo: Leonie Gubela

When at six o'clock in the afternoon two young CSD organizers stood on a bench in front of the town hall and asked the dozens of listeners not to lose courage here and now, at the same time a trumpet concert began on the other side of the town hall. Nobody even raises an eyebrow, after all it's Monday. For years, hundreds of right-wingers have gathered in the back and agitated against the government, immigrants and the system. As in so many other places in Saxony, the old protest against coronavirus measures has radicalized here.

A special feature of Zittau is that democratic civil society takes an equally routine stance against him. Today including the mayor, who in his CSD speech warns that we should not be convinced that something was wrong in the elections or that someone who was elected by democratic means is per se a democrat. Zenker preaches to the converted, one gets the feeling that his speech would be better on the other side of City Hall.

However, the applause is euphoric, the voting group “Zittau can more” (Zkm), led by Zenker, has a lot of support in the city. Although the AfD gained around 8 percentage points, Zkm barely lost any votes with posters such as “Zittau can tolerate more… people” or “Zittau can do more… than bad moods.”

Hours before the start of the CSD, Zenker appears calm in his office at the city hall. Although a little disorienting. Since last night he has been busy trying to figure out “what the situation is like.” There are special purpose joint associations with neighboring communities for the commercial area, for wastewater, forming a tourist area community and, and, and.

“It is extremely important to know how stable your companions are. Can they still make safe decisions or will everything they do soon be questioned at city hall? He has already experienced enough deadlock situations in his nine years in office, especially when the AfD and sectors of the left came together for a time. A “quite strange situation” for which he would have liked to receive more media attention.

75% of the school votes AfD

However, what happened during a city council meeting in April 2023 received too much attention. At the time, anti-refugee activists stormed the council chamber to protest against the asylum accommodation plans. Zenker stoically opposed them at the time and has long since put the incident aside. However, what happens Monday after Monday in the back of City Hall “cannot be tolerated as part of everyday life.” These days the building will be quieter no later than lunchtime and colleagues will start working from home.

A 16-year-old satisfied with the AfD's record results

“I am not dissatisfied with Zittau in general, but with all foreigners”

Hannah and Nadja, ages 13 and 16, find nothing threatening about right-wing marches. In the last row they are close to each other and applaud with a slight delay, while on stage a member of the “Die Basis” party explains his plans for a “new form of democracy” “in which everyone can participate.” On Mondays, whenever they have time, the two girls come here by moped from one of the surrounding villages. They look very good in the election results: in the under-18 elections at their school, 75 percent voted for the AfD.

They are both upset with the teachers, who always act very disappointed and try to direct the students. “I'm not unhappy with Zittau in general, but with all foreigners,” says Nadja, who, like Hannah, also has another name. She was recently groped at the club and luckily some boys came to rescue her from it. “I just think a lot of people are afraid of this flood of asylum seekers; we've let too many foreigners in.”

The next day in the next largest city, Görlitz. At the train station, two boys about 14 years old elbow each other in the ribs as they walk together toward the exit. The colorful Pride Month billboard isn't even in sight when they're already raising their snot. They stop just short of it, spit at the “Show Colors” sign, and continue walking toward the tram.

“They are all fashionable Nazis”

A few hundred meters further on, on Wilhelmsplatz, Elias, 19, Michael, 18, Henning, 18, and Theo, 18, are together. Nothing is further from their hearts than spitting on rainbow signs. The AfD won 37.2 percent in the city council. All the young people who voted for the right “are all fashionable Nazis,” they believe. “They repeat it on Tiktok, there is so much crap.” A friend of Elías was just as leftist as him his entire life, then he stopped smoking marijuana and said he was now a Nazi. “His mother was always more left-wing than him. He is the perfect example of a fashionable Nazi.”

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Dorothea Schneider sees things differently with fashionable Nazis. The 39-year-old woman is president of the “Augen auf” association. She has been committed to fighting right-wing extremism in the region since her youth. No matter which of the many anti-right protests taking place weekly in the district, Schneider is already there and managing the situation. Last winter, some students asked her to help them organize counter-protests on Mondays in front of Zittau's town hall. Since then, Ella Schneider has organized, networked, mentored and encouraged young people to step up to the microphone again and again.

He observes how his young comrades in arms have become more and more confident in themselves and how the common struggle has become a kind of “lifeline.” He saw the election results coming, as well as the rightward shift among the younger generation. She doesn't think this is just a trend. “In general, you have to be very open to right-wing positions.”

Of course, the worldview that prevails in the parental home, in daycare, at school influences, and she also observes that young girls in particular really like right-wing behavior, style, toxic masculinity.

More and more people are registering demos.

But self-efficacy is certainly particularly important, “that those who are in their groups notice that they are strong, that they are present, that they are intimidating. And that is why their self-efficacy is so important for young people who have been working tirelessly.” On Mondays for months next to the town hall.

Schneider just let them do it and then came under fire for waving Antifa flags. That might scare people. “And I think to myself that the young people here are persecuted around the city, they no longer have a youth club they can easily go to, they meet in private and they are still being persecuted.”

The protest has become almost too bourgeois for her; She would like young people to shout “Alert!” again, “because I know exactly what this moment has in store for them.”

Schneider, who came to Zittau from Dresden when she was 16 and was completely overwhelmed by the violence she encountered here, is grateful that initiatives like “Augen auf” existed. She now she is in the process of rebuilding the people a little bit after the elections. “Young people in particular are frustrated and think that the whole protest has apparently accomplished nothing.”

But she feels confident when more and more people tell her they've signed up for a demo. If she is insulted and threatened in public, if she reads posts that incite hatred against herself, these are indicators of success for her. It means that her commitment to democracy still activates people.