Uproar in German town over lawyer's plan for neo-Nazi training camp

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The citizens of the small German town of Delmenhorst have failed at the last minute to thwart a notorious far-right group's plans to buy a hotel overlooking a park for use as a training centre for neo-Nazis from across the country.

Jürgen Rieger, a Hamburg lawyer and well-known neo-Nazi, was poised to buy the vacant €3.4m (£2.3m) City Park Hotel in Delmenhorst's centre yesterday despite frantic attempts by residents to raise enough cash to buy it themselves.

The setback for the townspeople came after the hotel's owner refused the idea of a residents' buyout and announced he was ready to donate the hotel to Mr Rieger to avoid paying an outstanding mortgage on it.

Timo Frers, spokesman for Delmenhorst city council, said there were fears that the town, whose only previous claim to fame is as the home of the pop star Sarah Connor, would become a rallying point for Germany's burgeoning neo-Nazi movement. "We are completely surprised and shocked, nobody expected this development," he said.

Carsten Schwettmann, Delmenhorst's mayor said: "Legally, there is nothing we can do. We cannot stop the owner from doing what he wants with his property."

Residents of Delmenhorst, a town of 79,000 people near the northern city of Bremen, had staged a series of protests in a bid to stop the project and had raised €625,000 in their attempt to buy the hotel themselves.

Gunter Feith, 58, a Delmenhorst architect who launched the campaign to thwart Mr Rieger, had argued that residents' lives would "no longer be normal" if a neo-Nazi organisation moved into the town. "Our phones have not stopped ringing," he said after yesterday's announcement. "We are facing an emergency."

Mr Rieger, who is well-known in Germany for defending Holocaust deniers and leading rallies in memory of Hitler's deputy, Rudolf Hess, aims to buy the hotel on behalf of the London-based Wilhelm Tietjen Foundation for Fertilisation Ltd - named after a former Nazi who made millions on the stock market. A neo-Nazi ideologue, who cherishes the idea of creating an Aryan master race, Mr Rieger is widely reported to have plans to turn the Delmenhorst hotel into a centre for neo-Nazis from across Germany. "There is a great shortage of premises for right-wing groups," he is reported to have said before announcing his plans to buy the hotel.

He heads an obscure group called the Germanic Faith Community for Life Creation and hit the headlines in Germany two years ago after he bought an abandoned mansion that was intended to house an Aryan fertilisation clinic. His plans for the building were not realised after they were given widespread publicity and provoked protest demonstrations.

This time, however, there appears to be nothing to prevent Mr Rieger going ahead at least with his plan to acquire the hotel. Günter Mergel, the hotel's owner said he rejected the idea of a residents' buyout because the sum raised was insufficient. "I am fed up with trying to work with the town," he said. "I am going ahead with my plans to donate the property as this will stop the town turning me into a pauper."

Opponents of the buyout vowed to continue fighting the project and said they would try to make Mr Rieger back down with a campaign of public protests.