It's been a great summer for Storch Heinar , the satirical stork. In June, the hardworking mascot of neo-Nazi opponents went on a book tour for its recently published biography. It tirelessly rampaged on concert stages across northern Germany while on tour with its band "Storchkraft" ("Stork Power"). And even the T-shirts bearing the image of the cartoonish character with the Hitler-esque moustache have unexpectedly been runaway best-sellers.
Time for a break, one might think. But not for Storch Heinar. On Sept. 4, the northeastern German state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania will hold parliamentary elections. And Heinar has some hard campaigning to do before he can take a well-deserved rest.
"We're on the home stretch. The stork is giving its all to keep right-wing extremist idiots outside the door," says Mathias Brodkorb, a Social Democrat state parliamentarian and one of the people behind the left-leaning website Endstation Rechts, which translates as "last stop for the right wing." Brodkorb came up with the idea for the stork with Julian Barlen and Robert Patejdl. Their aim: to force members of the right-wing extremist National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD) out of the state parliament of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania -- and keep them out.
There's still plenty to do in the final days before the election. The NPD currently holds six seats in the parliament, and it is using an aggressive campaign strategy to avoid losing any of those seats. The party has put up hundreds of campaign posters along the main thoroughfare leading into the port city of Rostock, the largest population center in the state.
Fighting Extremists to Attract Tourists
Each morning, Rostock native Benjamin Weiss has to run the gauntlet of these posters, with their pithy sayings and clownish slogans, on the way to the hotel he runs. The trip recently started making him even angrier than usual. So, he decided to act.
"I don't have any more desire to see my guests welcomed with slogans like 'Tourists Welcome -- Foreigners Out!'" Weiss says. Things like that hurt the city's image, he adds, thereby directly damaging the tourism industry as well.
But how can he fight back? Taking down the posters would be illegal and almost logistically impossible. Weiss says that some of the NPD posters are put on road signs up to four meters (13 feet) high "so that they can't be ruined."
Instead, Weiss has decided to fight back by making significant donations to the Storch Heinar camp and offering free lodging to Matthias Brodkorb and his colleagues. Weiss has also provided the funds needed for one final poster campaign shortly before the election and recruited the volunteers to put them up from among his friends and employees. And, of course, he's also putting up his fair share of posters, too. All told, his team plans to put up 300 of them in the area surrounding the hotel.
Their ambitious goal is to put up a Storch Heinar poster with an appropriate slogan wherever they find an NPD poster raging against immigrants and multi-culturalism at prominent locations around the city. Brodkorb insists that the supporters of his campaign will not cover over their opponents' posters with their own. But he does say they will try to "put them as close as is allowed."
In the short term, Weiss hopes his actions will help deliver a setback to the NPD. In the longer term, though, he wants to advance a gradual change in northeastern Germany's image as a vacation destination. "It already hurts when a few die-hards damage the reputation of an entire state," he says.
NPD Efforts to Block the Campaign
That sentiment is shared by the state's association of hotels and restaurants, which suddenly affiliated itself with the stork campaign. "Xenophobia and racism can't be allowed to have a place. I would accordingly call upon our member companies to also lend their support to the 'Storch Heinar" campaign," said association spokesman Uwe Barsewitz.
As Brodkorb sees it, the poster campaign in Rostock is the last chapter of a campaign that has already seen the "Storch Heinar Division" distribute more than 100,000 flyers, put up roughly 5,000 posters and hand out 15,000 party badges to the public.
These activities very nearly led the NPD to engage in a legal confrontation with the Heinar camp. According to Endstation Rechts, David Petereit, the deputy head of the NPD's organization in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, tried to get Heinar posters outlawed on the grounds that they allegedly broke campaign laws by having commercial goals. He was correct in the sense that the organization does earn money from sales of its stork merchandise. But the effort failed when the state's Interior Ministry responded to Petereit's request by saying it wasn't responsible for "censoring party campaigns."
Petereit's effort was not the first time that people in the far-right extremist camp have taken legal steps against the stork. The clothing and accessories of the Storch Heinar campaign makes a mockery of the products of Thor Steiner, a clothing label that numbers among the brands of choice for neo-Nazis.
The Final Stretch
Mediatex GmbH, the company that owns Thor Steiner, hasn't found the satirical attacks very funny. According to one court spokesman, the company saw itself as being "belittled and disparaged in an impertinent way." Mediatex took its case all the way to a district court in Bavaria, but the judge recommended that the company withdraw its complaint after finding no reasonable grounds for it.
Now, in the next loss for the far-right camp, the stork is being allowed to continue with its poster campaign and to excitedly look forward to the final contest in early September. If it really does succeed in delivering a setback to the NPD candidates, the big, overworked bird might finally be able to put its feet up and relax for a while.
But, Brodkorb says, not before the team enjoys some serious celebration.