The far-right National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD) has a packed agenda for its party conference this weekend. It's got to discuss what do about the legal bid to outlaw it, how to handle its dire finances and what its campaign strategy will be for the September general election.
As if those weren't enough problems, it's been having trouble finding a venue to hold the meeting. It's not an uncommon challenge for the party: Conference hall managers tend to refuse to permit NPD gatherings because of the party's far-right, xenophobic stance and the danger of violent clashes with anti-Nazi protestors.
This year, the NPD has found no other alternative to holding its meeting on a privately-owned parking lot in a tent, in the village of Rottenbach in Bavaria. The car park belongs to a "long-standing comrade," according to a regional NPD website. His name is Hermann Schwede, the son of Franz Schwede, the former Nazi Party Gauleiter for the region of Pomerania.
Schwede junior, who tried and failed to get into parliament for the NPD in the 2005 general election, received an NPD award last September for his "decades of work and membership."
Some 400 NPD members are expected to attend the party conference in the tent. However, the tent has yet to be erected and it's unclear how they will be able to access the parking lot because the adjoining road has been dug up for major construction work, which is scheduled to last until next Tuesday.
"It is evident that the construction measures are being taken because of us," says NPD spokesman Frank Franz. The regional council insists, however, that the work was scheduled long ago and says it has no intention of postponing it.
"We will definitely stick to this site," says Franz. The NPD doesn't appear to have an alternative venue. Time is running out. It needs to put the tent up by Thursday afternoon or the building safety authority won't be able to permit its use for a public gathering.
Anti-Nazi Protests Planned
A government-commissioned report last year labeled the NPD as having an "anti-Semitic, racist and xenophobic position" and being "related" to National Socialism. But the council can't ban the meeting because it will be held on private land. But locals are worried. "We have had calls from Rottenbach residents who are afraid that there could be violence," said Dieter Pillmann, spokesman for the council. Left-wing extremists are planning to disrupt the conference and a large number of police will be drafted in to prevent trouble.
"We're not going to tolerate violence -- neither from the left nor the right," said Mayor Hermann Bühling of the conservative Christian Social Union. "We can't have the NPD staging events here every few weeks." The party held a summer festival on the parking lot last year and marched through the nearby town of Coburg in October.
"We can't prevent the NPD meeting but we can interrupt it," said René Hähnlein, who is running for the Left Party in the September election. He is part of a local anti-Nazi alliance that includes members of the Greens, Social Democrats and church groups.
The demonstrators plan to play rock music near the parking lot "as loud as technically possible," says Hähnlein. Chainsaws will also be used to add to the noise.
The "Network for Human Rights and Democracy," an anti-racism group, will join the demonstation and plans to put up hundreds of posters and distribute leaflets.
"We want to show that we won't abandon the small community of Lauterbach," said the group's regional manager, Stefan Hinterleitner. "There's no room here for far-right ideology."