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‘Donald Trump brought me here today’: Counterprotesters rout neo-Nazi rally in Berlin

Neo-Nazis rallied in Berlin on Saturday, one week after a protest in Virginia turned deadly. A banner, which read “I regret nothing,” announced the message of the march. (Isaac Stanley-Becker/The Washington Post)

BERLIN — “There is only one side — the good side,” cried Eva Kese, mustering a smile as she fought back tears. “Your hate has no place here.”

Kese, 30, stood Saturday facing a crowd of about 500 neo-Nazis. They were gathered on the outskirts of the German capital to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the death of Rudolf Hess, a deputy to Adolf Hitler. The demonstration marked another, more recent anniversary: one week since a march by neo-Nazis and white supremacists in Virginia left one counterprotester dead.

Kese held up a sign with a hand-drawn pink heart to the neo-Nazis, who countered with a giant banner of their own, reading, “I regret nothing.”

Choosing her words carefully, she repeated: “There is only one side.”

President Trump, she said, had drawn her to the streets of the German capital to counter the demonstration. She was incensed by his reaction to the violence in Charlottesville last weekend, in which he blamed “hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides.”

“Donald Trump brought me here today,” said Kese, a mother of two who was born in Germany. “You can't stand for an ideology that says one side is inferior.”

The rally in Berlin was planned before global attention turned to Charlottesville, but it took on new meaning after a week dominated by discussion of the Nazi past. Counterprotesters, who numbered more than 1,000, said they felt new urgency to denounce Germany's dark history — particularly in the former capital of the Third Reich — after watching it reemerge like a phantom and haunt an American college town.

“It's dangerous everywhere, not just in Germany,” said Sabine Sauer, 55.

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Among the crowd of neo-Nazis, most of whom declined to be interviewed, an elderly man with glasses and a button-down shirt under a white T-shirt said he had been watching events in the United States with delight.

“They're finally standing up,” said the man, who declined to give his name as other members of the crowd encircled him, preventing him from speaking further. Refusing media interviews was among the directives issued to demonstrators by organizers of the march, German media reported.

Scuffles broke out between neo-Nazis and counterprotesters in Berlin on Aug. 19. (Video: Twitter/MartinAdam via Storyful)

The guidelines for the march stipulated by authorities were also extensive — and made for a scene starkly at odds with the violent confrontation in Charlottesville. Speech is more strictly policed in Germany than it is in the United States, in large part to keep Nazi ideology at bay.

Following strict laws put into place after World War II, demonstrators were forbidden from chanting Nazi slogans, displaying swastikas and wearing certain military uniforms. They couldn't carry weapons.

Torches were also forbidden, an organizer announced before the march, and only one flag was allowed for every 50 people.

The Hess apologists were restricted in how they could talk about the prominent Nazi politician, who was convicted of crimes against peace after the war. They were barred from quoting him or playing his speeches.

The destination of the march was the former site of Spandau Prison, where Hess committed suicide in 1987. Soon after, it was demolished — ground to powder that was scattered in the North Sea — to prevent it from becoming a pilgrimage site for neo-Nazis.

That didn't stop it from being the focus of Saturday's march, whose participants advance the conspiracy theory that Hess was killed covertly by the British.

But the neo-Nazis never reached the location of the former prison. They proceeded haltingly, flanked by police who kept counterprotesters behind metal barricades. The neo-Nazis remained mostly quiet, carrying the black, white and red flags of the German Empire.

“Nazis out,” counterprotesters shouted, as a large crowd moved to block the road.

After a two-hour stalemate, in which opposing sides were separated by a 30-yard no man's land guarded by police, authorities led the neo-Nazis away from their intended destination, down a side street and back around to the transit station where they had begun.