Talk to any of the dwindling band of Germans who remember the Second World War and they will tell you that the most fanatical Nazis could always be identified by the large sweat marks staining the right armpit of their brown party shirts – the more they saluted, the bigger the stain.
The sight has long since disappeared from Germany which banned both the Nazis and their salute after 1945. Yet the Berlin performance artist Jonathan Meese is now creating a stir for giving a Nazi salute during an experimental drama he produced earlier this year in which he also simulated sex with an alien daubed with a Swastika. Many in the audience walked out.
Mr Meese struck again last month when he gave two more Nazi salutes at an event called “Megalomania in the Art World” in Kassel.
Now he has been put on trial in the town for displaying the banned symbol of an “unconstitutional organisation”. Mr Meese admits that the salutes were provocative gestures made as part of a “discourse in art.”
He insists that he is innocent and that his actions are protected by constitutional clauses guaranteeing freedom of artistic expression. But critics, including Jewish groups, disagree.
They argue that the public display of Nazi salutes renders the gesture harmless and makes it more acceptable. Jonathan Meese is no Nazi but he has put his finger on one of Germany’s last post-war taboos. Kassel’s judges are expected to deliver a verdict at the end of the month.