About a thousand protesters poured into Berlin’s streets on Sunday night as exit polls revealed a huge gain for anti-immigration party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD).
But cheers and applause erupted inside the Traffic Club on Alexanderplatz, where supporters and representatives of the anti-immigration Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) discovered the polls had set the party on track to win 13.5 per cent of the votes and enter the German Parliament for the first time.
A few hundred people selected by the party were allowed inside the venue, in the centre of Berlin.
With media from around the world watching, supporters of the far-right populist AfD were in the mood for celebration and sang the German national anthem as the first results were announced.
Speaking to supporters, Beatrix von Storch, a leading member of the AfD and the granddaughter of Hitler’s finance minister, hailed the results “a revolution”, while Alexander Gauland, one of the party’s top two candidates, thanked the crowd for their trust and support and pledged “we will take back our country and our people”.
Goetz Froemming, a candidate for the AfD in Berlin and the party’s campaign organiser in the German capital, told The Independent: “This is a historic moment and a turning point for our party. It’s one thing to be part of local councils but now that we are going to enter the Bundestag, we will have more influence than ever and we will be able to be the real conservative opposition to the government.
“This was a really hard-fought campaign and our rivals have been unfair to us by calling us ‘Nazis’ and ‘against the constitution’, which is not true but the results are in line with our estimates.”
In the last leg of the campaign, the AfD, which capitalised on an anti-immigration sentiment across Germany following Ms Merkel’s open door policy that enabled more than a million refugees and migrants enter the country, saw its popularity rise to reach 13 per cent in the polls on the eve of the election.
The early results mean the party, which already has representatives in 13 out of the country’s 16 local states, could win more than 80 seats in the Bundestag and become the third biggest political force in Germany.
Timm Westmark, a 23-year-old AfD supporter who travelled from North Rhine-Westphalia to celebrate the results, said: “I was hoping we could do 14 per cent but I’m still really happy. We are now the third biggest force in the Bundestag. There is a bright future ahead and we will fight back against the Antifa and far-left extremists.”
But if inside the club overlooking Germany’s capital the mood was one of celebration, outside the venue thousands of people arrived to protest against the rise of the far-right party.
Riot police formed a human chain preventing the protesters from approaching the venue.
Barriers blocked the entrance to the club but protesters, who were moved on to the opposite side of the street by a heavy police presence, chanted: “Nazi pigs”, “Say it loud, say it clear refugees are welcome here” and “The entire Berlin hates the AfD".
Jörg Reichel, a Berlin resident who lives close to the club, said he came to show his opposition to the AfD, which he said “does not belong in the Berlin community”.
He said: “The AfD is not part of our community. The community here votes for the SPD and the greens, we vote for democracy. It is 70 years since a far-right party entered Parliament and we should be ashamed. It’s my right as a citizen to stand here and say this is not okay.
“The police came and asked for my ID,” he adds. “I won’t be charged, but how is this for democracy?”
Commenting on the fact the AfD would enter Parliament for the first time, he added: “There will be hard times ahead. It’s going to be tough for many of us, people on the left, but also homosexuals and people from ethnic minorities.”
Earlier in the day, AfD voters in Französisch-Buchholz, an area in Berlin’s eastern electoral district of Pankow 1 where the AfD took a large 22 per cent of the vote in last year’s local election in Berlin, were hopeful the party would receive at least 13 per cent of votes.
On his way to cast his vote, Jens Birkholz, 56, an AfD supporter who has always voted for nationalist parties in Germany, was unabashed about his support for the far-right group.
He told The Independent: “This is an important day for Germany. The government must go, today we are optimistic. The AfD could be the main opposition to the government.
“The problems [facing Germany] are Islam, Europe and the capitalist system. Islam as a religion is a problem. The Islamists want to wage a war against our civilisation and we must fight that.”
Christel Silg agreed. The 78-year-old, who has lived in East Berlin her entire life, describes herself as a “nationalist”. “I will vote AfD against Islam,” she said. “That’s the problem.”
At a primary school, which had been turned into a polling station, there was a calm atmosphere as parents with children and elderly people joined the small queues to cast their vote.
Kathi, 49, a voter in the area, did not believe the AfD would surge beyond the predicted 13 per cent in the polls.
Speaking to The Independent before the results, she said: “I don’t think the participation rate will be higher this year than previously and I don’t think the AfD will gain as many votes as some have said. I am definitely not afraid of that.”
One man, who asked not to be identified, added: “Today is an important day. It’s like we are back to the years before the war and the rise of Hitler. The fact the AfD could enter Parliament is a repeat of what happened with Hitler.”
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