Neo-Nazis 'take over' tiny German village
Cries of "Sieg Heil" in the street, neo-Nazi rallies, far-right slogans on walls: welcome to Jamel, a tiny northeast German village locals say has been annexed by Nazi sympathisers.
Until recently a sign at the entrance to the village said visitors had arrived at the "community of Jamel: free, social, national," evoking the National Socialists or Nazis.
A wooden signpost pointed the way to Braunau am Inn, the Austrian birthplace of Adolf Hitler.
A campaign poster for the far-right NPD party is one of the first things visible in the hamlet of 10 or so tumbledown houses.
Around six of these houses are home to neo-Nazis, said Birgit and Horst Lohmeyer, a couple fighting a high-profile campaign to tell the world about Jamel.
Germany, Jamel: Birgit and Horst Lohmeyer pose outside their house in the hamlet of Jamel in the north east German state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern
Visitors can instantly see which houses belong to far-right extremists, said Birgit, a 52-year-old author. "They have all painted their houses the same colour: a sort of reddish-brown," she told AFP in her farmhouse kitchen.
The Lohmeyers moved here from Hamburg, Germany's second city and main port, in 2004, hoping to swap the big-town life for their dream of a rustic farmhouse in an idyllic country setting.
But that dream turned swiftly to a nightmare as far-right extremists moved to the village.
"We knew that a famous and convicted far-right extremist, Sven Krueger, lived here with his mother and sister, but we moved here anyway. We were convinced we could deal with it," said Birgit.
"Since then, the situation has got a lot worse. More of Krueger's far-right buddies have moved into the village. They see the village as theirs and they treat it as such. The atmosphere is one of extreme hostility."
Germany, Grevesmuehlen : The offices of the farright NPD party in Grevesmuehlen, near Jamel in the north east German state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern
Hitler salutes in the street.
The couple has heard reports of children greeting each other with Hitler salutes. They have themselves heard neo-Nazi songs ringing out into the street
"Adolf Hitler is our Fuehrer."
"We get big festivals here, far-right festivals where neo-Nazi songs are sung," Birgit said.
The Krueger in question is a senior NPD member and owns a demolition firm in nearby Grevesmuehlen whose company logo shows a man smashing what seems to be a Jewish Star of David.
"We're the boys for the dirty work," is the firm's slogan.
Police recently raided the premises.
"Authorities found a machine gun and 200 rounds of ammunition. He is now in custody," said Stefan Urbanek, a spokesman for prosecutors in nearby Schwerin, capital of the state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania.
Since that raid things have begun to change in Jamel. The "national" sign disappeared; the directions to Hitler's birthplace were taken down.
"We don't know if it was the authorities or Krueger's men," said Birgit.
Repeated efforts to contact Krueger were unsuccessful and an approach to one of the brown-red houses in the village was met with a volley of insults.
Germany, Jamel: A view of the centre square in the hamlet of Jamel is seen in the north east German state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern
Krueger's Grevesmuehlen office is protected by barbed wire, fierce guard dogs and a watchtower, complete with searchlight. "It's amazing, he's created his very own concentration camp," said Horst, shaking his head.
Back in Jamel, the Lohmeyers said they suffer from what they call a "constant, latent threat". People hiss "piss off" over the fence.
But they have decided to fight back. Every year they hold a large music festival "for democracy", attended by a few hundred people.
Last year, far-right sympathisers infiltrated the concert and broke someone's nose, they said.
They have received much unexpected recognition for their lonely stand. German President Christian Wulff has invited them to Berlin to tell him their plight and they won an award from the Jewish community for civil courage.
"With their extremely courageous stance in Jamel, they are not only giving a brave signal in the fight against far-right extremism, but also encouraging others ... not to give up," said Dieter Graumann, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany.
Still, the question remains. Why live in constant fear in such circumstances?
The answer is simple. The Lohmeyers see themselves as a bulwark against a creeping extremism they believe is becoming widespread in their part of eastern Germany.
"The problem in Jamel is actually not what we consider the biggest problem. The real problem is that the whole region is being overrun by far-right extremists ... Jamel is just a microcosm of the issue," said Birgit.
"They are slowly taking over small places like Jamel and infiltrating them with their ideology," she said. "It's a definite strategy," added her husband.
And despite the fear and the unpleasant atmosphere in the village, it has become a point of principle for the pair.
"Leave now? What sort of sign would that be for the right-wingers? Of course we're not leaving," said Birgit.
"This fight continues."AFP/ Richard Carter/ Expatica