The tiny village of Fassberg, near Celle in the western German state of Lower Saxony has its first-ever squat. However, this is not a case of some punks looking for a free place to stay. Instead, the old Hotel Gerhus has been taken over by neo-Nazis who want to organize training sessions, conferences and even a youth camp there. Jürgen Rieger, deputy leader of the far-right National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD), alerted the building's receivers about the planned intrusion by fax last Friday.
The Hamburg lawyer and his fellow far-right extremists believe the law is on their side. On May 26, following lengthy negotiations, they signed a lease with the owners. However, the situation isn't quite that straightforward. The owners of the 80-room hotel have creditors breathing down their necks. And the hotel went into receivership just one day after the lease was signed. With this in mind, Rieger chose to send the fax to the receiver, Jens Wilhelm.
Wilhelm, for his part, has his doubts about the lease. He says it is unethical because it penalizes the creditors. The rent is set at just €600 ($850) a month and the lease is for 10 years. Rieger, however, told Wilhelm that there was no need to turn to the courts to decide if the contract is valid. He is convinced that it is legal.
The neo-Nazis, who claim they want to use the hotel as an education and training center, have prevented Wilhelm from entering the building, prompting him to file a complaint accusing the alleged squatters of damaging the property and trespassing. The local Cellesiche Zietung newspaper is reporting that the group has covered up anti-Nazi slogans painted on the entrance wall and put up a sign warning that there is a "dog that bites."
Evictions Take Time
"If the police don't clear them out then I will have to enlist legal help," Wilhelm says. The police have so far failed to visit the hotel and have passed on his complaint to the public prosecutor's office in nearby Lüneberg. The prosecutors will now have to decide if the police should move in or if Wilhelm and Rieger will first have to air their dispute in a civil court.
Forcing an eviction can take time -- time that the receiver doesn't have. An investor is waiting in the wings that the local village would much prefer to see take over the hotel. "It is simply exasperating," says Hans-Werner Schlitte, the 62-year-old mayor of Fassberg. The mayor himself held talks with the owners and introduced them in January to the investor who wanted to take over the hotel and convert it into a health care center. The potential buyer offered €750,000 and the local community backed the deal.
"We had the perfect solution with the investor and the facility conversion," say Schlitte. There is no lack of hotels in the area, and a health care facility could be useful. However, the owners turned down the offer, saying it was too low. "But it's actually a good offer," argues Schlitte, "completely fair in the current market." The property had been valued at €950,000 three years ago and Rieger had enticed the owners with an even higher offer of €1.2 million a year later. However, there was no sale because negotiations with the village's favored investor were also ongoing.
A Bidding War?
Schlitte is now seeking to hold new talks with the owners. He says they have to realize that the threatened forced auction would leave them a lot worse off. There is not exactly a queue of potential buyers, he says, and the hotel is likely to fetch a lot less than €750,000 at auction. The current interested investor is also unlikely to wait until the auction to make a bid.
This would allow Rieger to move in and make good on his threat to buy the hotel for a bargain price. The village would not be in any position to make its own bid, says Schlitte. The money simply isn't there.
This is not the first time Rieger has been involved in the real estate game. On a number of previous occasions, neo-Nazis have threatened to purchase a property, such as a hotel or bar, at inflated prices, which then prompts the locals to make a higher bid for the property to keep the NPD away.
Fassberg's mayor is assuming that the neo-Nazis' lease will be declared invalid. Yet if the owners remain stubborn, then Mayor Schlitte doesn't want to sit back and do nothing as neo-Nazis from outside the village take over the hotel. For now, local officials say they are going to keep a close eye on the place. "There are fire prevention, hospitality and hygiene regulations -- there is no way the hotel can continue to operate as before," Schlitte says, pointing out the methods in the community's arsenal it can use to make life difficult for the unwelcome intruders.