Saxony and Thuringia – Strongholds of White Power Music in Germany

Photograph: Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters

The announcements for the next large White Power Music festivals in Saxony (“Skinheads Back to the Roots” in March; “Schild & Schwert” festival in June) and Thuringia (“Tage der nationalen Bewegung” in July) have just been released. Even though the number of visitors decreased by the end of the year 2018 (6,000, 2,200 and 1,100 for three biggest events in Themar; 2,200 and 700 for the two events in Ostritz; both within the last two years) these festivals can still expect four-digit attendances. That means they are still social and cultural gravitational centres for the extreme right movement and especially for the White Power Music scene. With these events (public) images and identities are shaped and reproduced to keep the scene stable and alive. Even more important: After the NPD did not succeed to reenter the state parliaments in Saxony and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and narrowly failed to enter the state parliaments in Thuringia and Saxony-Anhalt in the late 2000s and early 2010s, these events also became an important financial source for scene and even more for the whole movement. Due to the close links of the White Power Music scene to the NPD and the neo-Nazi groupuscules (“Freie Kameradschaften”), particularly in Saxony and Thuringia (For example: the organizers of the festivals mentioned above, Thorsten Heise, Tommy Frenck, Sebastian Schmidkte and Patrick Schröder are/were all members of the NPD and held or still hold party posts, in most cases on a state level but also on the federal level), the extreme right movement was able to sustain activities, relying on reciprocal support of party members and activists of the groupuscules. (These activities encompass f.e. party politics (NPD), event culture (Blood & Honour/Hammerskins), political violence respectively street politics by the establishment of so called “National befreite Zonen” (hegemonial areas of extreme right) (groupuscules: Skinheads Sächsiche Schweiz/Thüringer Heimatschutz) and (support of) right-wing terrorism (Combat18/NSU)).

But why did Saxony and Thuringia become hotspots for the scene and the movement? (The reasons why other regional scenes did not become hotspots goes beyond the constraints of this contribution) Some reasons and causes can be found in the past, predominantly in the aftermath of the German reunification, but as well in the collapsing GDR of the late 1980s. The center of the extreme right skinhead scene in the GDR was located in and around Berlin, where the Ministry of State Security of the GDR (MfS) filed 695 skinheads (Berlin and Brandenburg) of the GDR-wide 1067 counted ones in 1988. In Saxony (139) and Thuringia (103) there were only a few of them but the first White Power Music bands come from these two states. Pitbull (later remaned Bomber) came from Meerane/Saxony and Brutale Haie (Brutal Sharks) came from Erfurt/Thuringia. The fall of the Berlin wall was a catalyzer for the development of an all-German scene. While most of the (bigger and mire successful) bands and merchants/distributors came from the West, the shows often took place in the East, above all the bigger events with more than 1,000 attendees (f.e. 30th May 1992 in Kirchmöser/Brandenburg). New, mostly short lived bands were formed, recorded a lot of tapes, LPs and CDs, played many shows and finally attracted public attention that resulted in the first wave of criminal prosecution and repression by the German law enforcement agencies. The activists and bands, who were socialized in these times and weathered the storm are called the “Generation Hoyerswerda”[i] referring to the xenophobically motivated riots in the Saxon town of Hoyerswerda in 1991. They continued to build structures rooted in the scene that could withstand repression by the state but enable the scene to continue to grow and radicalize. The founding of the German division of Blood & Honour in 1994 was one of the results of this development. While the divisional headquarter and place of foundation was in Berlin, the most powerful sections evolved in Saxony and Thuringia. Until this point the differences between the regional scenes in the states were not substantial. The number of concerts and active bands reached a certain comparable level in each of the new eastern states (Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania was a slightly “underdeveloped” exception). With the growing structures of Blood & Honour the sections in Saxony and Thuringia took a pioneering role in the scene and the movement, as they increased the number and quality (e.g. foreign bands, better venue etc) of concerts, supported the production of sound storage media, founded the first record labels rooted in the scene (WB-Versand and Movement Records), established a support structure for political violence and terrorist activities as well an own suborganisation (Combat 18) for this purpose. These are the core features and functions the scenes are still known for today.

After the ban of Blood & Honour in Germany in the year 2000 the structures survived and contributed to the growth and strength of the scenes in the two states. The activists learned their lessons from former repressions (ban of: organizations, bands, recordings, concerts) and developed flexible strategies to be able to react to possible sanctions. Regarding the organizations most of the activists rely on old (and new) informal networks, i.e. organizations without formal structures. Those cannot be banned (too easily) and it is often difficult to separate personal from joint property that might be affected by sanctions or bans. Bands make up their mind about how to position themselves in the scene: If they take the “legal” path, specialized lawyers check the lyrics regarding the accordance with the law. If they choose the “illegal” path, they try to keep their identities secret. Regarding the concerts the organizers have found many ways to avoid repression by the executive authorities: 1. They use venues owned by activists or people who have sympathies for their political agenda or who are just interested in money-making. But the uniting factor of all these landlords: they will not cancel the show for political reasons; 2. Organizers add political speakers to the program and declare it a public demonstration in accordance with the Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany; 3. They use party conferences or party rallies and announce the concert as a supporting program. These few measures are just the idea of a sketch of what the extreme right movement and the White Power Music scene can do to act in the way they do in Thuringia and Saxony.

The result is the existence of two powerful strongholds of White Power Music in Germany. This observation becomes manifest if one takes a look at the numbers of the bands, the concerts and the records labels/distributors. Since 1994 an average of approximately 15 to 20% of all the White Power Music bands from Germany are located in Saxony and about 10% come from Thuringia (ups and downs included). But one has to admit that the most famous bands (f.e. Endstufe, Stahlgewitter etc) still come from the West, while the relatively(!) new music styles in White Power Music, National Socialist Hardcore and National Socialist Black Metal, have their centres in these two states. Regarding the concerts it becomes clear that the scene in Saxony focused more on small and medium-sized concerts with 100 to 300 attendees while Thuringia is best known for bigger events with more than 1,000 attendees. The respective average share of all German White Power Music concerts from 1994 until 2017 amounts to 20-25% in Saxony and about 8-12% in Thuringia. (The shares just refer to the number of concerts, not to the numbers of attendees!). Furthermore nearly all relevant (financially and/or with close ties to the scene) record companies are located in East Germany. In Saxony not only the market leader, PC-Records, but also Front Records, Nordsachsenversand and OPOS-Records (only until the end of 2016) are registered there. In Thuringia there are only three companies of a relevant size and importance: WB-Versand, Germaniaversand and Druck18.

To sum up the results: Saxony is a stable, well-developed stronghold of White Power Music, where organizational and financial structures have grown and evolved. The activist and structures have proven a high level of resilience, so that f.e. executive measures can only stop them temporarily. Taken these strong structures into consideration, there is no reason to predict a significant loss of importance in the near future. The situation in Thuringia is different. While the scene there is still among the most active it is not as strong and important as the one in Saxony. The specialties of the regional scene are bigger shows or festivals. Regarding the bands and the record labels/distributors the scene in Thuringia ranks in the upper third. To sum up, it could be said that except for famous bands, Saxony and Thuringia are the heart of the German White Power Music scene. The reasons for this development are multifarious and subject to further investigation. Parts of the puzzle have been revealed in the course of the NSU trial in Munich and they include the role of the intelligence agencies (federal and state agencies), the role of the civil society and the agenda of the governing parties, to name only three out of many.

Mr Maximilian Kreter is a Doctoral Fellow at CARR and a Doctoral candidate at the Hannah Arendt Institute for Research on Totalitarianism at University of Technology Dresden. His profile can be found here.

© Maximilian Kreter. Views expressed on this website are individual contributors and do not necessarily reflect that of the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). We are pleased to share previously unpublished materials with the community under creative commons license 4.0 (Attribution-NoDerivatives).

[i] Heike Kleffner/Anna Spangenberg (ed.), Generation Hoyerswerda. Das Netzwerk militanter Neonazis in Brandenburg, Berlin 2016.