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An American tourist gave the Nazi salute in Germany — so a stranger beat him up, police say

Sculptures by artist Rainer Opolka in front of the Church of Our Lady in Dresden, eastern Germany, on March 18, 2016. (Jens Meyer/AP)
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An American tourist in Germany was beaten up by a passer-by after he began giving the Nazi salute outside a cafe in Dresden, police said Sunday.

The incident occurred about 8:15 a.m. Saturday as the man left a cafe called Europe in the Neustadt district of Dresden, police said in a statement. The district is known to be a liberal part of the town and a popular meeting spot for students.

The tourist was identified only as a 41-year-old American man who was “severely drunk,” according to police. He suffered minor injuries, while the stranger who assailed him fled the scene, police said.

Police said the U.S. national is under investigation for violating German laws prohibiting Nazi symbols and that they are still seeking the passer-by for causing personal injury, according to the Associated Press.

The Nazi salute — the right arm straight and angled slightly up, palm down — was used as a greeting and a way of expressing devotion to Adolf Hitler under the Third Reich. Germany outlawed the salute after World War II, along with Holocaust denial and other symbols and signals associated with the Nazis. A conviction can carry a prison sentence of up to three years, although courts often impose fines instead.

Austrian lawmakers seize house Hitler was born in. (Video: Reuters)

The Dresden incident occurred just a week after two Chinese tourists were detained for giving Nazi salutes outside Berlin's Reichstag, once home to the Imperial Diet. The two tourists were fined nearly $600 each but were permitted to leave the country with their tour group, police said. Similarly, a 30-year-old Canadian tourist was detained in 2011 after being photographed giving the Nazi salute outside the Reichstag. He, too, got off with a fine.

Germany is not the only European country to ban the salute. Earlier this month, Switzerland’s Supreme Court upheld the conviction of a man who appeared in 2013 photos making the Nazi salute outside a Geneva synagogue.

In Dresden, memories of World War II and Nazi practices have provoked clashes and divisions for decades.

Every year, hundreds of right-wing protesters from across Europe march in the eastern German city on February 13 to commemorate its bombardment by allied forces toward the end of World War II. Dresden had no strategic military significance and its destruction remains a dark chapter for the allied forces, which has been used by the far-right to stoke anti-American tensions.

In recent decades, the February 13 commemorations have repeatedly escalated into large-scale violent clashes between Nazis and participants of counter-protests, who fear that the far-right could hijack the city’s destruction during World War II for its political purposes.

Members of the region’s far-right movements have also made no secret out of their fascination with Hitler. The leader of a Dresden-based anti-migration group, Pegida, was once photographed with a Hitler mustache, for example. And last year, a group of Nazis on a train near Dresden forced a 32-year old Indian to perform a Hitler salute, raising fears of anti-immigrant attacks in the region.

Isaac Stanley-Becker contributed to this report.

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