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 estimates that more than half of the village's three dozen residents are right-wing radicals. "This is all right-wing," he says, moving his ballpoint pen across the GoogleEarth map of the village on a computer monitor. "Yes, you can say we've given up," he says again and nods, as though expressing approval for his own assessment of the situation.
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.
Peace and Quiet in a Neo-Nazi World
The swastikas seen on a Jamel town sign not so long ago have now disappeared. "This is theirs, and so is this, and that," says Mayor Wandel, pointing to the few houses on bumpy Forststrasse. Various cars parked in the driveways feature the words "The Boys for the Rough Work" in gothic lettering. One car has a bumper sticker that reads: "Don't Complain, Fight!"
Just as during the January visit by the politicians, the rain makes the pleasantly green surroundings look depressing. Nobody is to be seen anywhere. Plastic buckets and shovels lie strewn about on the playground in the middle of the little roundabout on the edge of town. The farmhouse is a ruin, with the roof having partially collapsed. It is surrounded by a fence and the premises are filled with trash.
In September 2006, the house was sold at an auction for €18,000 ($25,000). Sven K. is said to have been one of the bidders, but the price climbed too high for him. The new owner soon got in touch with the police; he was scared. "He wanted to take a look at his new property and was concerned about going to Jamel on his own," Klaus Wiechmann, the spokesman of the police department in Schwerin, remembers. The new owner eventually took a look at the dreary ruin escorted by patrol cars. It remains unclear what his plans for the property are.
A few steps away from the farmhouse, wood and trash is piled up on a square by the edge of the village road for one of the periodic -- and illegal -- bonfires lit by locals.
Saving the Village from the Neo-Nazis
"Well, you know, that's how it is in small villages. People make a fire there every now and again," says Horst Lohmeyer, shrugging his shoulders. He and his wife Birgit have been living in Jamel for more than three years. The Lohmeyers have nothing to do with right-wing extremism. The musician with his long gray hair and the East German insignias on his lapels has built himself a home in the old 19th century forester's lodge on the edge of town with his wife, a writer. They eventually want to turn the barn into a cultural center. They only slowly began to realize a few years ago that Jamel was seen as a neo-Nazi village but didn't let that put them off. "We have never been threatened," says Lohmeyer and he has never had any dealings with Sven K.
And there is no reason why he should. The Lohmeyers live slightly out of the way in the part of the village -- sheltered by giant linden and maple trees -- the mayor believes is not dominated by right-wing radicals.
But despite this healthy distance, the Lohmeyers do not want to leave the village to the neo-Nazis. The couple organized a small music festival on their property in early July, bringing in rock, Latin and folk bands to perform on a small stage behind the forester's lodge. The weather was lousy and only about 100 people made the trip to the out-of-the-way village -- "but it was a nice start," Horst Lohmeyer says.
All the more so as everything remained calm -- with neither radical right-wingers nor militant left-wingers making their way to the village. Sven K., concerned that left-wing anti-fascists could use the festival as cover from which to launch an attack, sent a watchman to keep an eye on the proceedings. But when they didn't show up, even he came over for a beer with his family the next day -- "kids and all, completely normal and peaceful," as Lohmeyer recalls it.
Perhaps the concert really does mark a new beginning for Jamel, and perhaps the same can be said of the symbolic if long overdue visit by the politicians. Jamel has become quieter. "No investigations are ongoing at the moment, neither into political nor into regular crimes," says a police spokesman. Officers stepped up their presence in Jamel years ago, he emphasizes.
But Mayor Wandel knows the calm could be deceptive. The right-wingers, after all, have effectively brought the village under their control. Following his brief visit in January, state politician Robert Nieszery warned that "the only reason Jamel is quiet is because the town is populated almost exclusively by neo-Nazis."