A prominent far-right leader who dismissed the Nazi era as mere bird poop on Germany’s 1,000-year history was swimming in a lake near his house one evening recently, when a man on the shore grabbed his clothes.
The thief’s parting words: “Nazis don’t need bathing fun!”
By the time the far-right politician, Alexander Gauland, a co-leader of the Alternative for Germany party, known as AfD, made it out of the water, the man had made off with the bundle and someone had already called the police.
The episode unleashed plenty of schadenfreude, and some criticism, on social media. Images of a dripping Mr. Gauland being escorted back to his house while wearing only a colorful pair of patterned swimming shorts spread rapidly, and a hashtag was born: #bathingfun.
Mr. Gauland told the Märkische Allgemeine, a local newspaper based in his hometown, Potsdam, which first reported the theft on Tuesday, “My belongings were stolen by someone as I was in the water, and other swimmers called the police without asking me.”
It was the second time in less than a week that Mr. Gauland, 77, had made the national news. Over the weekend, while addressing a gathering of his party’s youth movement in the eastern state of Thuringia, he made that comment about the Nazi era, which drew widespread condemnation as belittling the Holocaust.
After the bathing episode, which happened last week but was reported only recently, social media users had a field day. “1,000 years of dignity in one image,” read one post on Twitter. “Creative way to resist the far right in Germany,” read another.
But this being Germany, not everyone laughed. “All those who are retweeting the Gauland-in-swimming-shorts photo today and want to defend our basic law and human dignity tomorrow: Please think again,” tweeted Jochen Bittner, a commentator. Some warned that amusing images of the scantily clad leader must not serve as a distraction from his revisionist comments.
“We won’t show the undignified photo of Gauland,” tweeted Ulf Poschardt, the editor of Die Welt, the flagship daily of the Axel Springer media empire.
Mr. Gauland, a former member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats who later co-founded the AfD, is no stranger to controversy. Last year, he said Germans should be “proud” of what their soldiers achieved during the two world wars.
At one point, he joked about deporting Aydan Özoguz, a German politician from Hamburg with Turkish roots, to Anatolia.
In 2016, he insulted the German soccer player Jérôme Boateng, who is black. “People consider Boateng a good footballer,” he said, “but they don’t want to have him as a neighbor.”
Mr. Gauland, who grew up in East Germany and fled to the West as an 18-year-old, has also said that “not everyone who holds a German passport is German,” referring to people with non-German roots. He has called for a Muslim travel ban similar to the one President Trump has been trying to put in place in the United States.
As for the clothes theft, Mr. Gauland says he plans to press charges when the culprit is found. He had to change all locks in his house because his keys were in his trousers, he told the Märkische Allgemeine, a paper he once edited.
The police in Brandenburg State were investigating the robbery, saying it appeared to be “politically motivated.”
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