Sorry not to have posted much lately, I took a little trip to Rome, where I learned that the main Italian Communist party wants to provide everyone with free DSL internet. Refreshingly forward-looking of them!
But now back to Germany. I've lived almost three years here, and I have yet to see a neo-nazi. I'm a bit disappointed. They're hard to find. Neo-nazis have about the same position here as they do in the States: they're part of a miniscule sub-group that occasionally gets headlines, but plays a marginal role in daily life, unless you happen to live near them and not have white skin. They're especially rare in relatively prosperous parts of former West Germany, where I live.
But maybe I have seen a few, and didn't know it. They're hard to spot, since German law bans symbols commonly associated with the Third Reich. The ban creates a game of cat-and-mouse: the authorities ban a symbol or slogan, only to have right-wing groups replace it with a coded substitute which has so many meanings (or whose meaning is so obscure), that the courts rule it has no direct connection to the Third Reich.
Yesterday, I picked up a field guide to these codes at my local bookstore: Versteckspiel: Lifestyle, Symbole, und Codes von neonazistischen und extrem rechten Gruppen ("Hide and Seek: Lifestyles, Symbols and Codes of Neo-Nazi and Extreme Right Groups"), published by the non-profit group "Agency for Social Perspectives."
Mainstays of the iconography are derivatives of Nazi symbols, such as swastikas that have 3 or 12 arms instead of 4, or which have otherwise been slightly altered. Propaganda posters featuring tanks divisions, rows of square-jawed heroes or hordes of young men marching in uniform never seem to go out of style, even if now the youths are marching for the "Folk-Faithful Northern Youth Movement of Germany" References to Nordic mythology and runes are also popular, especially when accompanied by drawings that look like heavy-metal album covers.
And now to fashion. Doc Martens are as popular as ever, especially with white laces. The clothing brand Lonsdale is worn because the "nsda" in the middle of the name is four of the five German initials (NSDAP) of the Nazi party. After Lonsdale got a little nervous about its popularity among neo-nazis and stopped shipping to certain stores, an enterprising fellow in Landshut, Germany began the "Consdaple" line of clothing (get it?). German-American relations are healthy here; right-wing groups get some funding from comrades in the U.S., and jackets with slogans like RaHoWa (Racial Holy War) are on view.
The most interesting parts are the number codes. Most are based on the ordinal numbers of letters in the alphabet: 18 stands for AH, the initials of a certain controversial German statesman. 88 stands for the greeting (Heil! you-know-who; one Berliner even taught his poor dog (G) to make the Hitler salute, which got him -- but not his dog Adolf -- hauled into court), 28 for the banned right-wing group "Blood & Honor." Another popular number code is 168:1. This is the "score" of the Oklahoma City bombing; 168 dead victims against 1 dead Timothy McVeigh.
So now you're equipped for some neo-nazi spotting of your own! Hint: you may want to travel to the east, where the environmental conditions (hopelessness, high unemployment and xenophobia) are more prevalent...