A Field Guide to Neo-Nazis

Sorry not to have posted much lately, I took a little trip to Rome, where I learned that the main Italian Communist party wants to provide everyone with free DSL internet. Refreshingly forward-looking of them!

But now back to Germany. I’ve lived almost three years here, and I have yet to see a neo-nazi. I’m a bit disappointed. They’re hard to find. Neo-nazis have about the same position here as they do in the States: they’re part of a miniscule sub-group that occasionally gets headlines, but plays a marginal role in daily life, unless you happen to live near them and not have white skin. They’re especially rare in relatively prosperous parts of former West Germany, where I live.

But maybe I have seen a few, and didn’t know it. They’re hard to spot, since German law bans symbols commonly associated with the Third Reich. The ban creates a game of cat-and-mouse: the authorities ban a symbol or slogan, only to have right-wing groups replace it with a coded substitute which has so many meanings (or whose meaning is so obscure), that the courts rule it has no direct connection to the Third Reich.

Yesterday, I picked up a field guide to these codes at my local bookstore: Versteckspiel: Lifestyle, Symbole, und Codes von neonazistischen und extrem rechten Gruppen ("Hide and Seek: Lifestyles, Symbols and Codes of Neo-Nazi and Extreme Right Groups"), published by the non-profit group "Agency for Social Perspectives."

Mainstays of the iconography are derivatives of Nazi symbols, such as swastikas that have 3 or 12 arms instead of 4, or which have otherwise been slightly altered. Propaganda posters featuring tanks divisions, rows of square-jawed heroes or hordes of young men marching in uniform never seem to go out of style, even if now the youths are marching for the "Folk-Faithful Northern Youth Movement of Germany"  References to Nordic mythology and runes are also popular, especially when accompanied by drawings that look like heavy-metal album covers.

And now to fashion. Doc Martens are as popular as ever, especially with white laces. The clothing brand Lonsdale is worn because the "nsda" in the middle of the name is four of the five German initials (NSDAP) of the Nazi party. After Lonsdale got a little nervous about its popularity among neo-nazis and stopped shipping to certain stores, an enterprising fellow in Landshut, Germany began the "Consdaple" line of clothing (get it?). German-American relations are healthy here; right-wing groups get some funding from comrades in the U.S., and jackets with slogans like RaHoWa (Racial Holy War) are on view.

The most interesting parts are the number codes. Most are based on the ordinal numbers of letters in the alphabet: 18 stands for AH, the initials of a certain controversial German statesman. 88 stands for the greeting (Heil! you-know-who; one Berliner even taught his poor dog (G) to make the Hitler salute, which got him — but not his dog Adolf — hauled into court), 28 for the banned right-wing group "Blood & Honor." Another popular number code is 168:1. This is the "score" of the Oklahoma City bombing; 168 dead victims against 1 dead Timothy McVeigh.

So now you’re equipped for some neo-nazi spotting of your own! Hint: you may want to travel to the east, where the environmental conditions (hopelessness, high unemployment and xenophobia) are more prevalent…

10 thoughts on “A Field Guide to Neo-Nazis

  1. Useful guide! I haven´t seen no Neo Nazi too.. And If i´ve seen I might not be here to tell the story 😉

    Many people ask me if in Germany there is a neonazi in every corner, some say they would be afraid of travelling to Germany and be hit by a neonazi. Well, guess what? Last monday those same people where afraid of leaving their houses in their own lovely city:


  2. unfortunately, my english isn’t that good, so i write my comment in german. hope you don’t mind :).

    richtig absurd werden die verbote von (neo)nazi-symbolen, wenn sie in ihr gegenteil umschlagen: das tragen von anti-nazi-symbolen wie durchgestrichene hakenkreuze oder hakenkreuze in der mülltonne wird dann genauso als “verwendung verfassungswidriger kennzeichen” angesehen – und verurteilt. nachlesen kann man einen solchen fall z.b. hier: https://www.spiegel.de/unispiegel/wunderbar/0,1518,407112,00.html .

    dass neonazis der kahlköpfigen, prügelnden sorte nicht die mehrheit sind (und mancherorts nur aus den medien bekannt), ist nicht neu. in vielerlei hinsicht schlimmer und gefährlicher ist die schleichende (oder vielleicht: schon immer vorhandene?) xenophobie in der gesellschaft, die stillschweigende akzeptanz von teilen rechten gedankenguts (nein, natürlich nicht die gewalttaten! aber man muss sich nur manchmal in der u-bahn oder der kneipe umhören, was die leute so reden…) sowie die dezidiert rechten, mit kalkül handelnden “hintermänner”. und diese dinge findet man leider überall in deutschland.

    übrigens, wenn es gerade um das thema symbolik geht: kann mir jemand erklären, was es mit der vorliebe für die schwarze billiardkugel (nummer 8!) in der rockabilly-szene auf sich hat?


  3. The reactions of Germans are great if it comes to Nazi demonstrations.

    Sadly many don’t care. But everytime a Group like the NPD party gets visible you see great counter reactions.
    I remember a scene in Freiburg where zome NPD Nazis (about 50 of them) tried to make a march through the city.
    The march was legal because NPD is not illegal (yet) and it was announced and granted by oficials.

    It was great. They did not march a single centimeter. Hundreds of young people, families and regular citicens around them counter-protesting.

    Well i know Freiburg (In the South-West) is definitely not the best place for Neo-Nazis in germany.
    Some protests are more voilent (left wing groups looking for conflicts) and support in de community is not everywhere so great. But it’s great to know that it is allways a scandal if Nazis emerge in the public.

    So i’m sorry to say that even we with our history lesson have nazis in our community but no one likes them. 😉

    By the way. By far the greatest insult for a ordinary German is to call him a Nazi. Especially if you are foreign. Avoid trouble. It’s even dificult to make a joke about if you know together well.


  4. They are out there. Believe me. You just need to go to one of the small towns of Brandenburg and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and you will see them. At the local bus stop. In their red and rusty 80s Volkswagen with a huge “Böse Onkelz” banner in the rear window. And they don’t look like the old-fashioned Hollywood Nazis, but rather like disoriented adolescents with bald heads and expressionless faces. You might feel sorry, but still you wouldn’t want to come so close as to see the colour of their shoe laces.


  5. another number – often combined with the standard 88 – is 14, that stand for “14 words”. the 14 words themselves say something like: “to secure a future for our white children” or some pretentious crap. 1488 is often used in the ns-black metal scene (there seems to be neo-nazis in many rock-subgenres), while i still wonder how the ideas of black metal and securing children work together – maybe a mystery never to be solved…


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