By Philipp Wittrock in Gägelow, Germany
Getting here took them 15 years -- but 20 minutes was all the time they had. Cowering under umbrellas, the delegation from the state parliament of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania trudged through the village's muddy alleys. State Interior Minister Lorenz Caffier and his group listened in disbelief to the mayor's stories -- stories about newcomers driven out of the town, houses set on fire, pets impaled on the garden fence and gunshots in the woods.
The politicians had come to pay a visit to Jamel, a small hamlet in the bleak flats of northern Germany near the Baltic Sea coast. They finally wanted to see for themselves if the rumors were true -- if Jamel was indeed under the control of neo-Nazis.
They used words such as "haunting" and "depressing" to describe what they saw and heard. They pledged to craft an "overarching strategy against the right." As they departed from the village on that drab day in January, a man stood in front of his house and filmed the unusual visitors. It was 30-year-old Sven K. -- a demolition contractor known to be a neo-Nazi.
'All Right Wing'
People like Sven K. -- and his family and friends -- are the reason why Mayor Uwe Wandel says: "We have given up on Jamel." Wandel, 49, has been the mayor of Gägelow for less than six months, and far from being resigned, his words sound more like a matter-of-fact analysis. Not a single bank is still willing to issue credit for projects in Jamel, he says. Indeed, a reconstruction plan developed for the town years ago has been gathering dust since.
Wandel may not have been in office long, but he has lived in the area since 1983 and knows the history of Jamel all too well. None of it, he emphasizes, is exaggerated.
It all started in 1992, on April 19 -- Easter Sunday. About 120 neo-Nazis raised the Reichskriegsflagge, a symbol used by Hitler's Nazi party, in front of the old farmhouse at the end of Forststrasse. They wanted to celebrate the 103rd anniversary of Hitler's birth. "We'll smoke you out," the right-wing radicals allegedly told the G. family next door. The family had previously complained about constant neo-Nazi music. And it had paid a steep price for such complaints: break-ins and slashed tires came first. Then one day they found their chickens dead and hanging from the garden fence.
Partying with the Nazis
On Easter Sunday 1992, the family barricaded itself inside the house. The mayor at the time, Fritz Kalf, was there with them, armed with a shotgun. When the police were called, a mere four officers arrived -- and they didn't dare enter the farmhouse where the Nazis were partying. Later, three dozen more cops showed up and put an end to the revelries, but not before the doors and windows of the G. family's house had been destroyed along with Kalf's car. The culprits vanished in the darkness. Indeed, the only who received a citation that evening was the mayor -- for carrying a gun without a permit.
What followed resembles a chronology of terror -- terror against anyone who considered moving to this seemingly peaceful, out-of-the-way spot.
The G. family held out for three more years before leaving the village for good. New tenants wanted to move in, but they too were quickly driven out. The house in Forststrasse 10 was set fire to for the first time in 1996. Later there was a break-in and the furniture was demolished. Then, a few years ago, a non-German couple decided to spend tens of thousands to renovate the place -- despite having been received with the words "Piss Off" sprayed on a wall. The day they planned to move in, the house was set fire to again. Exasperated, the two gave up.
It was not the only case of arson. When two potential buyers took a look at a house on the edge of town, it too went up in flames the following night. An alcoholic from the town took responsibility, but nobody believed him. His trial ended in acquittal.
In 1996, the 200-year-old farmhouse where Hitler's birthday had been celebrated four years earlier was condemned for "safety reasons." Sven K. and his family left the village temporarily, but soon returned and moved into a house nearby. A new owner wanted to renovate the decrepit farmhouse and start a cozy bed and breakfast. It didn't take long for the idea to be shelved, the man driven away by threats and vandalism.
Then, in the spring of 2003, hunters reported that they had seen a neo-Nazi group training in the woods near Jamel. Considerable time passed before police looked into the report. But even several months later, officers found bullet casings littering the bottom of battlefield trenches, as well as a sign that read "Caution! Firearms in Use! The Kommandant." They discovered a camouflage-painted jeep in Jameln, decorated with symbols used by the Wehrmacht under Adolf Hitler. Inside were air guns and pistols.
Sven K. is "The Kommandant." In April 2004, the forest military exercises led to him being charged with the "formation of an armed group." It wasn't the first time he had run afoul of the law. The prosecutor's office has lost track of how often Sven K. has been the object of a criminal investigation -- the police department in Schwerin says merely "countless times." He has been accused of breaking and entering, of robbery and of wearing banned symbols like the swastika -- and has been convicted numerous times. He also stands accused of having instigated a neo-Nazi attack on a youth group in Western Germany.
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