Roger Lloyd and his German girlfriend, Sabine, were barely aware of the figures at the bus shelter as they returned from a late-night stroll in the park to Sabine's flat in Pankow, a middle-class suburb of east Berlin. They did not register the skinhead haircuts, the black bomber jackets or the steel- reinforced boots.

It had been a frustrating day for Sven and Carsten. A neo-Nazi rally scheduled to be held in Berlin had been banned at the last minute while a counter anti-Fascist march had been allowed to go ahead. The police had been out in force to prevent any trouble. Sven and Carsten wanted revenge. Any weak target would do: a foreigner . . . better still, a leftie.

'Within seconds of passing them, they were up behind us, kicking me in the legs and then, harder, in the backside,' says Roger, 26, an architect who moved to Berlin a year ago and who, at the time of the attack in May, had long, frizzy hair. 'Sabine pleaded with them to stop and asked them why they were persecuting us. One of them just said: 'You are worthless scum. You stink.' '

Suddenly the kicks stopped. The two attackers, both 20, had noticed a police car approaching. 'You are lucky this time,' they cried. Then, for good measure: 'Heil Hitler]'

The respite was brief. Despite Sabine's shrieks for help, the police patrol did not stop. The skinheads, who had temporarily returned to the bus shelter, raced back and set to with a vengeance. While Carsten held Sabine back, Sven punched Roger in the ribs and then delivered a hefty kick to his chin.

The blow drew blood instantly. Reeling in the street, Roger, too, started calling for help. 'I was petrified,' he says. 'My attacker betrayed no emotion but was totally concentrated. He wanted one thing only - to kick my face in.'

Luckily the police car returned and this time stopped. Sven and Carsten were detained and later charged with grievous bodily harm and uttering illegal slogans. Last week a Berlin judge sentenced Sven, who had a history of offences including publicly calling for Jews to be gassed, to one year's imprisonment. Carsten was given four weeks. During their trial, neither expressed the slightest regret.

The attack against Roger Lloyd was one of more than 2,000 in Germany this year by right-wing extremists on foreigners and people perceived to be leftist opponents.

As a white Briton, Roger never thought it could happen to him. 'I have lived in Liverpool, Hull and London and thought I was pretty street-wise,' he says. 'I had heard about the racist violence here but didn't imagine it was any worse than back home. I certainly never saw myself as a likely victim.'

In Roger's case, the attack was probably sparked off by his appearance (long hair being associated with the left) rather than the fact that he was foreign. But the scars run a lot deeper than the small mark testifying to the stitches he needed to his chin during two days of hospital treatment.

As well as having had what he terms a 'security haircut', Roger hardly ever returns to Pankow, where Sabine still lives. Boarding an underground train, he will not enter a carriage until he is certain there are no skinheads on board. And he never travels anywhere without a canister of tear gas.

'I feel I need to protect myself and am constantly on the alert,' he says. 'I see skinheads everywhere. Before, I didn't really notice them. The incident taught me that you do not need to look very different in order to be attacked. It really could happen to anyone. If the face doesn't fit, you have had it.'

Despite the good professional prospects and vibrant night-life offered by Berlin, Roger will almost certainly return to Britain next year. 'Although I still think there is a lot going for the city, I just cannot feel comfortable here any more,' he says. 'Right-wing violence - against foreigners, left-wingers, handicapped people, the homeless - is on the increase and I am not convinced that the political will to stop it is great enough. Of course, the chances of being hit remain small. But one time is enough. I don't want to give them a second chance.'

The couple's names have been changed.