He got the details right, down to the hair and mustache.
A man dressed as Adolf Hitler was spotted wandering around the Nazi dictator's birthplace in Austria. Most recently, he was seen browsing the World War II section of a local bookstore. Locals say he's introduced himself at bars as “Harald Hitler.” At least one canny photographer caught him standing outside the house where Hitler was born.
“I have often seen this gentlemen in Braunau and wonder if this means something,” a local resident wrote on his Facebook page, alongside a picture he snapped of the man.
That set Austrian authorities are on the hunt. It's illegal to glorify Hitler or Nazis in the country. That's also true in Germany. In France, you can get arrested for waving a flag with a Nazi swastika. The Nazi salute is banned in Slovakia and the Czech Republic.
After a weekend search, police detained 25-year-old Harald Zenz in Braunau am Inn, Hitler’s birthplace. “It is definitely not a carnival joke or an art project,” an Austrian police spokesman said. “The young man knows exactly what he is doing.”
In other countries, the rules aren't so stringent. The rules of good taste, though, still apply.
Prince Harry expressed regret for a “poor choice of costume” after a photographer snapped him in a Nazi uniform (complete with swastika armband) a couple of years ago. A former Conservative British politician apologized after he attended a Nazi-themed bachelor party (journalists caught him sitting next to a man dressed as an SS guard). A school in Australia awarded a costume prize to a child dressed as Hitler, a decision it came to regret.
At one large costume trade show in England, a Dutch supplier flipped out when he noticed a small stand selling German military regalia. He “went berserk,” Sylvia Luckman of the British Costume Association told the BBC. “He had lost family in the camps. He refused to supply anyone stocking such items.”
In Asia, the look carries much less of a taboo — one local blogger compared it to an American wearing a Che Guevara T-shirt or Mao Zedong hat, symbols of the ruthless communist revolutionaries.
“For East Asian countries, World War II was not about the Nazis or Hitler but rather the Imperial Japanese forces. Comparatively little time is spent in Asian countries studying World War II Germany than in Europe or North America,” Institute for Security and Development Policy fellow Elliot Brennan told CNN. “'Nazi chic,' as it has become known, is an expression of subversion and its wearers in Asia are largely ignorant of its historical underpinnings.”
As such, you'll end up with scenes like the one in Taiwan, where a school dressed its students as Nazi soldiers, complete with banners and insignia. They carried cardboard tanks with German military markings and yelled “Heil Hitler.” Or Nazi-themed clothes and paraphernalia peppered throughout stores in Bangkok. Or a Japanese girl band wearing black capes and hats similar to the SS uniform during a stage performance.
One group that has fully eschewed the dress? Germany's neo-Nazis.
Members of that political party have shed the more ostentatious trappings of racism for a sleeker, almost covert, style. A recent report by Germany's Office for the Protection of the Constitution noted that the country's far right had abandoned its '90s-era skinhead image. “Members of the far right scene prefer to wear clothing or brands that orient themselves more towards general trends in youth fashion,” the report noted. “The more noticeable skinhead culture is becoming increasingly less interesting for far right extremist youths.”
Because of their ordinary appearance, far-right extremists blend into a crowd much more easily. They recognize each other using an array of secret codes, like displaying the number 88 on their clothing. (The 8 represents H, the eighth letter of the alphabet. It's a tricky shorthand for HH, or Heil Hitler.) Others wear the black and white Palestinian kaffiyeh scarf to show that they oppose Israel.
At one rally, locals said they dressed in the colors of the Conservative party. “These days, the neo-Nazis are almost invariably polite and they make an effort to look respectable,” Ute Lindenau told the Independent. “They seem to have realized that the skinhead look is a vote-loser.”