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Robert and Storch Heinar. Together against right-wing extremism. Source: greifswald.de

There they were. In the middle of the World Forum, a giant stork with the notorious Hitler-mustache and a guy in Wehrmacht-uniform with a megaphone. What seems like a PR-coup of right-wing parties turns out to be one of the most promising initiatives to fight extremism in Germany. Storch Heinar, in allusion to the Neo-Nazi brand Thor Steinar, and Robert Pateijdl confront Neo-Nazis on events, demonstrations and online, using humor as a weapon (click here to read more). Sometimes only the police separated the duo from the Nazi-mob’s anger.

Robert Pateijdl: A man, a mission

What drives people like Robert Pateijdl to put their head on the line? For him the answer is clear: “A lot of things were going terribly wrong. I had the possibility to make a difference, instead of leaning back and watch the world fall apart. I do this since I am 16. This is one of the things that have not changed in my life.” To get to the roots of his motivation, we have to take a look back to the north-east of Germany in the mid-nineties. The socialist German Democratic Republic has fallen apart just a few years earlier and since it controlled every aspect of life, it left a huge societal gap behind. At the time rural areas became deserted, unemployment was rising, while public investment went mainly to the cities.

Tediousness blended with poor socio-economic structures, a lack of public and cultural life, was laying ground for Nazi-organizations to set foot. “It was easy to blame the non-existing foreigners for the problems”, explains the 32-year-old. Right-wing organizations not only gained political support, they took over culture and social life. They tried to achieve cultural dominance”, describes Robert what happened. “In a region, where you drive 50 Kilometers to get a beer, where no events, no public life is happening, they started to organize  festivals and concerts, offering a place to go for young people.” Suddenly,people, previously not associated with the scene, got exposed to Nazi-philosophy, simply due to the lack of alternatives.

The hidden stork powers

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Robert Pateijdl

Nazism was on the rise, but a majority of the people disagreed with their ideology, but were too afraid to speak their mind publicly. The situation could easily escalate into violence. Nevertheless, an opposition was in the making. Storch Heinar, Robert Pateijdl and other supporters went face to face with Neo-Nazis, serving as an attachment figure for people to cling on to. Singing songs and using humor were their weapons against aggressiveness and hate.

Robert remembers with a smile when the power of the stork was unleashed: “We stood between the frontlines, singing a folk song. Protesters approached begging us to go away. ‘We would have a ‘deescalating effect’. We would ruin their demonstration.” The stork prevented the situation from boiling over. Thanks to people like Robert he never has to do this alone. Respect. Special for the German readers. Watch this short documentary from Deutsche Welle TV on Storch Heinar: