Street artists fight back against neo-Nazi propaganda in Germany

One of the neo-Nazi slogans was covered up to display a beautiful landscape of a lush, green, flower-filled meadow with the words: "Our Colors are beautiful"

Graffiti artist Ibo Omari poses for a portrait in his shop in Berlin, Germany August 18, 2017 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Graffiti artist Ibo Omari poses for a portrait in his shop in Berlin, Germany August 18, 2017
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Street artists all across Germany are fighting far-Right neo-Nazi views with street art, turning hateful graffiti into artistic works of inclusiveness.
The neo-Nazi graffiti, which is aimed at spreading anti-migrant propaganda as well as intimidating passersby who don't share the same views as these groups, have been showing up in neighborhoods all over Germany - as the far-Right movement has conquered some of these areas into becoming safe havens for neo-Nazi groups.
In the Dortsfeld District of Dortmund, or the so-called "Nazi Neighborhood," police are supervising street artists to cover up hateful slogans, after city authorities approved an initiative by a group called Association for Diversity, Tolerance and Democracy to commission street artists with the task of brightening up the streets with colorful works of art - in order to protect the artists and keep the initiative moving forward.
"We will also in the future thwart any plans to create a space of threat and intimidation in Dorstfeld or elsewhere," said Dortmund police chief Gregory Lange.
One of the neo-Nazi slogans was covered up with a beautiful landscape of a lush, green, flower-filled meadow and the words: "Our Colors are beautiful."
"You cannot let neo-Nazis take a millimeter of room," said Interior Minister Herbert Reul. "That's why it's a great thing for the citizens, the city and the police to stand up against the racist hurlers and remove their disgusting smear."
For years, the district police have put the fight against right-wing transgression at the forefront of their efforts. In 2015, they formed a special commission to fight this type of extremism, according to the German news site WDR.
The police claim that right-wing extremist crimes have fallen by 40% since then. Video surveillance efforts are also being put into play in the coming months in these neighborhoods to further deter hate crimes there.
In Berlin, a similar effort is being spearheaded by a group called "The Cultural Heirs" led by club founder and paint shop owner Ibo Omari. They are using the hashtag #PaintBack, which has been shared over 100,000 times, to display the works of art that their street artists are creating to cover symbols of hate, as well as running other initiatives to bring German youths from immigrant backgrounds together - using everything from street art to skateboarding.
"We as street artists wanted to send the message: you're abusing graffiti," said Omari, according to The Local de. "Graffiti's got nothing to do with racism - it's about bright colors and diverse backgrounds."
Omari and his volunteer group teaches teen members how to practice turning Nazi swastikas into brand new works of art - such as Rubik's cubes, cats in a window, mosquitoes, rabbits and more.
"It's not hard to come up with ideas," said 17-year-old Klemens Reichelt. "I like it because I think swastikas don't belong in Berlin - it's a city open to the world and I want to defend that."
According to Omari, the project started when a local resident came into his shop looking for paint to cover up a swastika spray painted on a children's playground.
"He didn't look like a graffiti artist, so I asked him why he wanted them and he said he needed them to cover up a swastika that had been sprayed on a children's playground," Omari said. "We were pretty shocked that someone had done that, especially here in Schöneberg."
Omari, whose parents are of Lebanese descent, now says that neighborhoods report swastikas they find spray painted around the streets directly to the club instead of local authorities - allowing them to recreate over 20 swastikas since the project's beginning, turning them into "cheeky images."
Although not under the supervision of police, the members of the club get permission from local authorities and property owners before starting their transformative work - creating an initiative and hashtag that has spread to other cities across Germany.
"The last swastikas I had seen were more than 20 years ago, so this was a new, unpleasant development," Omari said. "Unfortunately, the zeitgeist changed in the last few years and we have to explain things to young people that actually [didn't happen] that long ago.
"We thought long and hard about how to react to such ugly sentiments, and then we said: we'll answer with humor and love," he said. "We chose sweet, cheeky images, most of them drawn by kids, so even beginners who aren't graffiti artists could reproduce them."
There has been a 7% rise in "politically motivated crimes" in Germany since 2016, with many being identified as "propaganda offenses." The extremist movements began to rise in 2015 when German Chancellor Angela Merkel let in over a million asylum seekers from the Middle East that year, according to domestic intelligence agencies and The Local de.