A quiet city centre somewhere in Germany. Too quiet. Where are all the shoppers? A few policemen in riot gear guard the empty streets. Suddenly, there is a tromping of heavy boots, and a column comprised mostly of teenagers and twentysomethings marches into sight. Their hair is pomaded into accurate side partings, and they are dressed entirely in black, except for the red arm bands, which sport a white circle containing a black....apple?
Their red banner waving over their heads, the figures in black quickly fan out. Their leader steps forward, dressed like his followers, except for the black steel helmet. He growls into a megaphone. 'Was gibt der deutschen Jugend Kraft?' The others shout back 'Apfelsaft! Apfelsaft!', pumping their fists in the air. This short exchange - 'What gives strength to German youth? Apple juice! Apple juice!' - puzzles the onlookers, and it annoys the real neo-Nazis, who had organised the demonstration.
So Who Are These Gatecrashers?
The 'official' story of the Front Deutscher Äpfel - often abbreviated to Apfelfront or simply FDÄ - is quite simple. The official website states that it was founded as the 'Nationale Initiative gegen die Überfremdung des deutschen Obstbestandes und gegen faul herumlungerndes Fallobst' - the 'national initiative against foreign infiltration of German fruit crops and against rotten windfall layabouts'.
'Keine Überfremdung des deutschen Obstbestandes mehr! In der Vergangenheit wurden rein deutsche Obstsorten wieder und wieder durch das Aufpropfen fremder Arten verunreinigt. Schluss damit!'
No more foreign infiltration of the German fruit crop! In the past, German fruit has sometimes been contaminated by grafting of foreign varieties. End it now!
'Südfrüchte raus! Es kann nicht angehen, dass deutsche Kinder mit Bananen und Apfelsinen aufwachsen und den Nährwert eines guten deutschen Apfels oder einer reinen saftigen Birne nicht mehr zu schätzen wissen. Deshalb: Grenzen dicht für Fremdobst!'
Tropical fruits out! German children must not grow up with bananas and oranges, no longer able to appreciate the nutritional value of a good German apple or a pure, juicy pear. Consequently: Close the borders to foreign fruit!
'Weg mit faulem Fallobst! Unter unseren deutschen Bäumen lungert immer mehr faules Fallobst herum. Egal, ob es ehedem an deutschen Bäumen hing, muss es endlich einer der Volksgemeinschaft nützlichen Verwendung zugeführt werden. Macht Fallobst zu Mus!'
Eliminate the rotten windfall! There is ever more rotten windfall lurking under our German trees. No matter that it once grew on German trees, it must finally be put to use for the good of the people. Squash the windfall to applesauce!
This last point reveals something about the FDÄ's true goals - in their parlance, 'Fallobst' (Windfall) means 'neo-Nazi', an association made because these rotten apples are 'brown on the outside and rotten on the inside'. They are 'easily recognised by their brown exterior2 and their missing scalp hair.'
Fighting Fire With Satire
Unfortunately, recognising the Nazi sympathisers is no longer always that simple. The NPD3, a German white nationalist political party just about synonymous with the neo-Nazis, has steadily been gaining ground, especially in the former GDR. Alf Thum, founder of the FDÄ, recognises a worrying trend - the NPD, especially its youth chapter, the Junge Nationaldemokraten4 or JN is slowly taking over the look and feel of the extreme left wing Antifa, though with a very different agenda. According to Thum, their popularity is in part due to the fact that they've freed themselves of the 'Generalsmief', the militaristic pong surrounding the organisation, though he also attributes their successes to 'excellent lawyers', perhaps an allusion to the failed attempt to have the German Federal Constitutional Court ban the party outright in 2003.
However, there are plenty of 'old school' neo-Nazis left, and they tend to favour a very open and aggressive recruitment policy, relying on martialistic parades, rallies and demonstrations, usually held on historically significant dates, to gain the support of impressionable youths and intimidate their opponents. These events usually draw plenty of counter-demonstrators and protesters from more liberal groupings. Alf Thum was one of them, but found the usual shouts of 'Nazis raus!' (Nazis out!) to be ineffective, more a sign of the powerlessness of the protesters than any real opposition - and so, in September 2004, the Front Deutscher Äpfel was born, after the recent elections saw the NPD gaining ground in the Saxon Parliament.
If You Can't Beat Them, Caricature Them
Thum and his friends decided that people simply needed to see how silly the speeches and symbolism of the NPD are, and that the best way to break their power was to get others to laugh at them - like the Boggarts in Harry Potter. To an outsider, the NPD's entire demeanour is already so overwrought and full of pathos - in fact, the links leading from the Apfelfront website to actual NPD material describe it as 'self-parody' - that it doesn't take much to exaggerate it into pure caricature.
A general theme was quickly found - after all, not only is the apple an 'ur-German' fruit, the chairman of the NPD faction in the Saxon Parliament is named Holger Apfel. The apple, and more specifically the Boskop apple5, became both a running gag and a metaphor for the entire movment. The 'enemy' - tropical fruit - was a logical consequence, and the 'Kampf gegen Weltbananentum', the 'fight against world bananadom' had begun.
Allies include the Bund weicher Birnen or BwB, the 'women's chapter', which can be translated as 'League of Soft Pears' - Birne also being German slang for 'head' - and the 'youth chapter', Nationales Frischobst Deutschland or NFD, the 'German Nation's Fresh Fruit'.
The Apfelfront seeks to erode the power of Nazi symbols, so nearly every aspect is somehow taken up, exaggerated, and distorted. To this end, the FDÄ even has its own Minister of Propaganda.
Ranks and designations are borrowed from Nazi terminology. Alf Thum is referred to as the Führer - the German word for 'leader' or 'guide', which is now usually avoided for obvious reasons. Sub-chapters of the FDÄ are called Gaue - a Gau being a medieval administrative unit similar to a shire, a term later employed under the Nazi regime. However, they are further divided not into Kreise but into Kringel - a hastily scrawled loop rather than a circle. The inclusion of a women's and a youth organisation also mimics the structure of the Nazi party, though most current political parties include at least a youth chapter. Boskopedia refers to the NPD's JN as a 'bad copy of the Nationales Frischobst Deutschlands'.
Slogans employed by the neo-Nazis are subtly altered or amended, like the laws in Animal Farm. The popular NPD slogan 'Grenzen dicht!' - close the borders! - thus becomes 'Grenzen dicht für Fremdobst!' - close the borders to foreign fruit! Newly invented slogans at least adopt the style of their 'role models', usually rhyming and stuffed full of antiquated, emotional, nationalistic terms.
Fremde Früchte fallen ein, das Vaterland erzittert, beschmutzen edlen Apfelhain, Auf Jugend, kämpf erbittert!
('The foreign fruit invades our shores, Our fatherland it rattles, Our noble orchards are besmirched, Youth, fight the bitter battles!')
- A slogan for the 'Nationales Frischobst Deutschland'
These slogans are sometimes set to music similar to the marches and waltzes preferred by the Nazi regime.
The group's 'official' salutation, Boskop Heil!, is, of course, derived from the Nazi regime's salute 'Heil Hitler', but is also, through its reversal, connected to much older German sayings. Petri Heil is the traditional greeting employed when meeting a fisherman, with the traditional reply Petri Dank. In this context, the Heil - Hail - is a wish for the benevolence and aid of St Peter, patron of fishermen. Similar greetings exist for hunters, mountaineers, and a variety of other groups. Thus, Boskop Heil!6 can be read as an abbreviated genitive form, changing its meaning to something like 'May the Boskop (apple) be with you!'
Rhetoric and speech are borrowed from former fascist leaders - most notably Adolf Hitler and Joseph Goebbels - in an attempt to expose them for what they are - tools that can influence the reception of the content, no matter what that content actually is. Alf Thum generally addresses his 'troops' using an old megaphone to emulate the tone of Hitler's radio addresses, and goes so far as to imitate mannerisms - unusual pauses, speech defects, and accentuation - of several different current NPD leaders.
FDÄ members use the German language exclusively, even when this leads to rather contrived translations of terms that are usually borrowed from English. For example, the boxer shorts available in their webshop become Faustkämpferkurzhöschen, to be sold in the Weltnetzladen. This imitation of nationalistic language use shows how unreasonable attempting to keep the German language 'pure' is - especially as many of the replacement terms used show a definite, if slightly older French influence! However, it is also a criticism of the current tendency toward 'Denglish', using and abusing English words in an effort to be 'cool' when there are perfectly good - and normal - German words. A good example of this exaggerated use of German is the Apfelfront website, its Weltnetzpräsenz, where you can download a Weltnetzverweisstandarte - simply a banner to put on your own website.
The appearance of FDÄ members is, of course, influenced by the colours, poses, and shapes preferred by both the Nazis and the NPD - black suits, heavy boots, and red arm bands. However, they have gone a step further with the creation of the 'COFDÄPL' logo, a reference to German neo-Nazis' preference for the LONSDALE brand or the newly created German CONSDAPLE- when these brands are worn under a jacket, only the letters 'NSDA' or 'NSDAP' show, proclaiming the wearer's affinity for the Nazi party7. The FDÄ proclaims that it is the 'bestangezogenster, frisch geduschtester und best aussehendster schwarzer Block aller Zeiten' - the 'best-dressed, freshly-showerdest and best-looking black bloc of all times!'
Number codes are often employed by neo-Nazis to stand for phrases that are forbidden by German law. 88, for example, stands for 'Heil Hitler', H being the eighth letter of the alphabet8. The Apfelfront usually employs three different codes - 82 for 'Heil Boskop', 120 for 'Alfred Thum', and 16 for 'Apfelfront'. 82, especially, is considered an auspicious number - much like 42 is favoured by h2g2 Researchers - and is used in many matters related to the Boskopismus legend.
Art and graphics employ the aesthetic favoured by the Nazis, with eagles, laurel wreaths, and blackletter typefaces figuring prominently, though the group does refrain from printing its pamphlets in Fraktur9, likely for better readability. Besides the apple logo, FDÄ artists have also developed posters for various events, ranging from an old-fashioned oil painting depicting a soldier with an apple-shaped helmet to a pair of Barbie dolls wearing the Apfelfront uniform.
While the Apfelfront only had about 25 members in 2005, there are now about 500 active members and sympathisers, organised into over a dozen subgroups in eastern and southern Germany. Though women traditionally have a small and subservient role10 in fascist societies, they are well represented in the FDÄ. Members generally keep in touch and plan upcoming campaigns via the internet, using various webistes and messageboards.
Scores of FDÄ members will congregate at every major event, especially in the East, and especially at those events instigated by their favourite opponent, Christian Worch. This prominent neo-Nazi and Holocaust denier organises right-wing marches all over Germany. neo-Nazi rallies usually take place at historically significant sites and on important dates like 3 October, Germany's national holiday, 1 May, the Third Reich's national holiday, and 13 February, the anniversary of the bombing of Dresden. The Apfelfront's main mission to counter the neo-Nazi presence at these and other events, especially the traditional May Day riots, which have recently migrated from Berlin to Leipzig. They also attend and support government-sponsored diversity festivals and other anti-Nazi groups' events, answer questions, and hand out flyers11 to interested passers-by. Their 'propaganda' film, Boskopismus, has been shown at various film festivals, helping to spread the word.
The FDÄ identifies itself as 'anti-right' rather than left-wing, and as such declines to use the militant tactics of left extremist groups like the Antifa. Instead, they fight back by ridiculing the would-be Nazis, by obstructing them as much and as peacefully as possible, and by simply entertaining the other protesters and counterdemonstrators, as well as the police. They see themselves as artists rather than as a political organisation, and their pseudo-solemn speeches are often followed by fun activities like dancing and juggling, which help to draw attention, lighten the atmosphere, and encourage other peaceful protesters and passers-by to linger, thus lessening the impact of the neo-Nazis.
Victories are achieved by shouting over the speeches of the neo-Nazis or by preventing them from following their intended marching route. The latter is usually accomplished using sit-down blockades. Since the police are required to clear the streets for officially registered demonstrations, extreme measures like water cannons being employed against the passive resistance of the counterdemonstrators are not uncommon, leading Thum to conclude that the FDÄ's activities are also a protest against the government's monopoly on the use of force, and against the media, which like to focus on such violent scenes. The ensuing chaos, however, is often enough to have the route declared unsafe for the official demonstrators, so the goal of keeping them away from specific locations like the main square is usually reached.
Certainly, not everyone agrees with the methods employed by the Front Deutscher Äpfel. The neo-Nazis, obviously, are annoyed, but the other side doesn't always appreciate the support. Critics say that the extensive use of nearly Nazi symbolism makes it difficult for the uninitiated to recognise the group as anti-right, especially from a distance or for foreigners. In fact, both the German and the foreign media have often mistaken them for the real thing and taken their demands for an end to foreign fruit seriously, leading to much confusion. Some critics are also worried that the entire project is counterproductive, serving to strengthen the power of Nazi symbols rather than undermine them.
The FDÄ usually rebuts these arguments by saying that this confusion further serves to underline that things may not always be what they seem, pointing out that many Nazi sympathisers now use traditional left-wing symbols, including keffiyehs and Che Guevara t-shirts. There is also a debate as to whether the black symbol in a white circle on a red armband is close enough to Nazi symbology to be considered a verfassungsfeindliches Symbol - an unconstitutional symbol. After all, it has been ruled that even a crossed-out swastika such as those commonly worn on jackets and bags is still a swastika, and still illegal.
The police, too, have become involved, recording the red armbands, because uniforms or parts thereof are forbidden at political demonstrations. Video footage shows the FDÄ members lining up for the photo in a cheerful can-can chorus line. The Apfelfront is now demanding infiltration by a government spy, saying that it will give the organisation credibility.