Kristallnacht marked by huge anti-Nazi march

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The Independent Online

On the bitter-sweet anniversary of Kristallnacht and the fall of the Berlin Wall, more than 100,000 people took to the streets yesterday all over Germany to denounce xenophobia and racist violence.

On the bitter-sweet anniversary of Kristallnacht and the fall of the Berlin Wall, more than 100,000 people took to the streets yesterday all over Germany to denounce xenophobia and racist violence.

The procession in Berlin, which wove its way from the golden-domed New Synagogue to the Brandenburg Gate, was led by Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and leaders of allthe parties represented in the national parliament. There was no sign of the triumphalismthat marked the date a year ago. In the intervening 12 months, Germany has been engulfed by the second waveof neo-Nazi violence sinceunification.

The event was designed to demonstrate the mainstream's disgust with the thugs who have kicked three foreigners to death so far this year, and attacked a string of synagogues. The organisers proclaimed: "November 9 is a date in German history, for better and for worse, which obliges us all permanently to defend democracy anew. We stand for a humane and tolerant Germany, open to the world."

The starting point of the march was a poignant reminder of both the good and the ugly in German history. The blackshirts had called at the New Synagogue on that terrible night in 1938, but found a lone policeman barring their way. It is this kind of "civil courage" Chancellor Schröder is asking his compatriots to show again, whenever they see a foreigner under attack.

Mr Schröder has called for an "uprising of decent people" against the neo-Nazi terror, and is urging Germans not to forget the evils of history.

Wolfgang Thierse, the parliamentary speaker, said at a solemn ceremony in the Reichstag: "Only when we understand what happened and how it happened, will we be in a position to draw on the lessons of our past."

Celebrities also turned out. Among the supporters of the movement called "We're making a stand" is the tennis star Steffi Graf. "I signed the appeal, because I want my country to be as humane and hospitable to foreigners as I have experienced in many countries where I was a guest," she declared.

But not everybody shared her vision of a multi-cultural Germany. Among those walking at the front were leading Christian Democrat politicians, such as Friedrich Merz, who had called on immigrants to succumb to Germany's " leitkultur", or "defining culture". As a consequence, many people in the crowd had come to protest against this kind of intolerance.

Alexander von Bülow, an elegantly dressed 44-year-old economist, carried a bannerwith seven flags, described as "my leitkulturs". Mr von Bülow had spent 17 years of his life in those seven countries, and cannot stomach Mr Merz's assertion of leitkultur. "Politicians bring up these slogans, and the people perpetrating violence against foreigners connect with them," he said.

Germany also remains divided over the question of what to do with far-right parties. On Wednesday the Cabinet decided to apply for a ban on National Democratic Party of Germany, NPD, an outfit with no more than 6,000 members but good contacts on the neo-Nazi scene.

Today the upper house is expected to back the motion, but several Länder are likely to abstain. It has yet to be decided whether the lower house will sign up to the motion, or strike a compromise formula of its own. Either way, the Constitutional Court will take years pondering the proposal.

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